Why My Work Helping Men Who Abuse Is Feminist
Today, and the other 363 days of the year except yesterday (Mother’s Day), belong to men. I spend much of my working life helping men who abuse. How’s that for equality? I might grant, for the sake of argument, that Mother’s day also constitutes a women’s holiday, but as it is an essentially patriarchal holiday (go make babies and then we’ll treat you nice, once a year), it’s up for debate.
I am a mother, so I guess I do get two days a year. That still leaves 363 days a year when men get higher wages, more legal rights (no one gets to borrow any of their body parts for nine months anywhere in the world without their consent), more representation in more government, and more power in their personal spheres. It’s those personal personal spheres I want to talk about today.
I am a mother of sons. I thought hard about trying again for a daughter, but didn’t want to be like my godparents, who tried seven times for a daughter and finally ended up adopting one. Yes, I love my sons. I love my sons beyond reason. That doesn’t change the little ache inside of me that (at my age) will always be unfulfilled. It does change how my feminism manifests in the world.
As a mother of sons, I have found that the way I express my feminism has changed. I don’t have ready access to a gaggle of teen-aged girls to corrupt, so instead, I have corrupted my sons, and I have worked to make a world where the patriarchy has less of an impact on them. “The patriarchy hurts men, too” applies here. My sons know how to express all emotions, not just anger and rage. They understand that households are a partnership, and everyone contributes to the upkeep. My oldest son surprised me last year by telling me he wanted to be a social worker. Before that, he had been considering nurse and teacher as professions. Clearly he believes that men can nurture.
When I first went into social work, a lot of people who knew me thought I would end up working with survivors of domestic violence or rape survivors, given my feminism. To my surprise and theirs, I found myself often and effectively working with sex offenders and violent men.
I found that by engaging with them and facing their anger and violence head on with kindness, firmness, and a willingness to listen, I was able to shift their views on women, and on themselves, deliberately and slowly. I did not endorse their views on women. Instead, I helped them to find discrepancies between what they wanted in life (often, satisfying relationships, companionship, pride in their work… you know, the usual) and what they were getting. I did not encourage their senses of entitlement. Instead I helped them to empathize with those they had hurt, and understand why spitting out a hurried “I’m sorry” is not enough.
In some small percentage of those men, they were able to shift their thinking. I did not shift their thinking, I only helped them see the path. And each of those men will have stronger relationships with the women in his life, less violent, less conflict oriented. Each of those men learned to express themselves in ways not endorsed by the patriarchy – crying, being honest and upfront about their intentions and feelings, expressing anger without abusing. Each of these men will live their lives day to day a little happier and more easily able to handle troubles effectively.
The way I look at it, for every man I helped, I helped a dozen or more women who come in contact with him regularly. He may not now be a saint, but now, at least, he tries a lot harder, he understands himself a bit better, and most importantly, he is able to feel what others feel. I like doing this. It makes me feel needed. So I will go on agreeing with the rest of the feminist world that sex crimes and violence against women is absolutely heinous, and I will also go on treating every man who comes before me with those issues with dignity, kindness, and patience, and help him find his way. It’s what I do.
- Clubs get $1m to fight domestic violence (smh.com.au)
- Domestic Violence (venitism.blogspot.com)
- Mayor’s support for rapist trivialises violence against women (crikey.com.au)
- Discussing Intimate Partner Violence (forwardthinking.ashford.edu)
- Domestic violence has different faces (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Understanding Domestic Violence (wreg.com)
- YWCA’s efforts against domestic violence honored by Verizon (wwlp.com)