Recognizing that society often holds men to a very high and specific standard is obvious. We are surrounded by these very specific examples of what men are supposed to look and act like, the ways we expect them to react to different situations, and are also faced with the possibility of a social collapse when men stray from within these lines. We assume men are heterosexual, we assume they’re the dominant partners of all their relationships, including those in the workforce, and we often assume they’re made of steel. Of course, were we to peel back all of these assumptions, if we were willing to spend a very long time looking beneath each of these tiresome expectations, saying there is more to male-identified people isn’t too far-fetched. While men are incredibly privileged—and yes, we are often given a front seat view of those men who revel in all of that privilege—some men do need help. Some men have problems, too, and these very specific guidelines we’ve built for men over time don’t always leave room to ask for that help. A lot of these expectations come from living in a patriarchal society where men are taught they shouldn’t “act like” or “be like” women. These social policies often lead to the belief that any attitude other than that of a stoic one isn’t “manly” enough. (Although it’s important to note that having experiences of abuse doesn’t erase privilege.)
I’d like to start a conversation around what can be done to support men in crisis. As a starting point and a way to break down some of these bigger issues, I’d like to present a few things to think about.
1. What does it mean to listen to someone? While this question might seem obvious, there are a lot of different ways to listen and to fully hear what someone is saying. It’s common as we listen to a close friend retell recent difficult events in their lives, to want to add in relatable examples of things currently happening to us. While we typically do this in an effort to relate to our friend, perhaps the impact that has is different than we think. For one, it offers them the opportunity to deflect or minimize the possible severity of what they might be dealing with. We think we’re somehow validating their experiences while we might actually be taking away from them. Second, we introduce the idea that if other people are experiencing similar issues and surviving, they can do it, too, and have no reason to ask for help. We might be trying to offer solidarity or community, but it could be interpreted in a different way.
2. Telling someone you aren’t the only person to talk to about these things and that it’s good to ask for help is completely okay. And understandable. Resources exist for a reason. While it can be hard to look for them sometimes and even harder to keep them all straight in your head, they should never be forgotten as options. An example of a resource would be loveisrespect.org—a hotline that allows people in need, including men, to chat with them, text them, or give them a call. Not only are they an organization that openly advertises their inclusion of queer people, but their offering of multiple ways to communicate with them demonstrates their strong desire to help as many people as possible reach out to them.
3. Take care of yourself. Listening to someone talk about the difficult things they’re going through is never easy. Although detecting any negative impact from regularly listening to a friend talk about their troubles may not be immediately obvious, such an impact is always possible. Make sure you always have access to things that give your mind a break. Whether it’s a favorite television show, a two-hour nap, a run, or eating an entire pizza, knowing what will help rest your mind, ease your thoughts, and keep yourself in a good place is important.
The idea that men are impervious when it comes to trauma is unfair and untrue; the expectation that men aren’t still “strong” after going through abuse is also unfair and untrue. Being able to say men don’t have any reasons to fear reporting abuse or asking for help would be nice. However, that isn’t always the case. Whether in heterosexual or queer relationships, men are very often assumed to be able to take care of themselves. Their worry of appearing weak, of admitting they need to be supported by their partners, and their fear of being unable to survive without this support—whether emotional or financial—is very real and quite common.
So, did you realize men can be abused and how social stereotypes can greatly influence their quest for help? Because that realization is a good place to begin knocking down the barriers that keep men living in abusive situations, fearing the implications of reaching out, and unable to ask for support.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline
1.800.799.SAFE or thehotline.org
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
1.800.656.HOPE or rainn.org
Safe Place: Ending Sexual and Domestic Violence
512.267.SAFE or safeplace.org