As we previously explained, male privilege can be seen in almost every aspect of our daily lives, from health care to the media to social norms. Domestic Violence Awareness Month gives us the opportunity to explore another facet of male privilege: how it impacts the way that we view and respond to domestic violence.
Anyone can be the victim of violence, and anyone can be a perpetrator of violence. But the majority of domestic violence crimes involve men abusing women. In fact, the research shows that 85% of victims of domestic violence are women. This isn’t to say that men cannot be victims of domestic violence at the hands of female or male partners. It is simply pointing out the reality that the overwhelming majority of the victims of domestic violence are women.
We also know that most abusers are men. According to the Department of Justice, approximately 80% of domestic violence offenders are men. Yet despite the fact that men are committing most of these crimes, domestic violence is seen as a women’s issue — and something for women to solve. This is a function of male privilege: even though men are the primary perpetrators of domestic violence, women — the primary victims of domestic violence — are expected to find a way to end it.
Because domestic violence is seen as a “woman’s issue,” our society tends to minimize it. The media reports incidents of domestic violence as “domestic disputes" — even when the victim is severely injured or killed. Domestic violence is one of the few crimes that is routinely downplayed by the media, as though being punched, stabbed, beaten or killed is somehow not as bad if it’s done by your boyfriend or husband instead of a stranger. That is male privilege at work: because domestic violence mostly affects women, it is treated as more of a family issue than a serious crime.
Male privilege is one of the root causes of domestic violence. It establishes the social norms and cultural expectations that led to the dynamics of power and control at the heart of domestic violence. Boys are often conditioned to solve problems with violence and aggression and to seek out power and control. Their actions are often excused with “boys will be boys.” When a boy commits an act of violence against another child, adults often look to what the child who was hurt did to cause it — instead of addressing the wrongful actions of the boy who used violence. Boys who attempt to gain power and control over others are called leaders, while girls who do the same are called bossy. As children grow into teens and then adults, these learned behaviors translate into men who seek power in their relationships — and who feel justified in using violence and aggression to get that control. Abusers often blame women for their actions, finding reasons why it is her fault (not his) that this is happening. Male privilege gives abusers the ability to shift responsibility to the victim for the acts he has committed. If the abuse comes to light, our society continues to place the blame on the victim, asking what she did to provoke it, or why she stayed — instead of focusing on the actions of the abuser. This is male privilege at work.
We can break this cycle by recognizing the ways that male privilege affects the way we view domestic violence — and taking steps to make a change. Start by viewing domestic violence as not just a women’s issue, and get involved with local organizations working to eradicate gender violence. Recognize domestic violence for the serious crime that it actually is, and call out media that minimizes abuse by calling it a “dispute.” If you have children or work with kids, make a conscious effort to challenge the social norms that encourage boys to use violence and aggression and to seek power over others. Never excuse anyone’s a boy’s or man’s actions by saying “boys will be boys.” If someone a woman you know has been abused, do not place the blame on her shoulders; recognize that domestic violence is never the victim’s fault. Offer support, kindness and encouragement instead of judgment.
Men can get involved in our mission to end gender violence by becoming an advocate for change in our community. You can join our Men As Allies group, donate to support our organization or volunteer in a number of capacities. Domestic violence is not just a women’s issue — and men can be an active part of solving this problem.