If a woman is abused, in any way shape or form, we are very quick to encourage her to "get out." We don't question her, and we immediately think the worse. We assume she's not lying, and we don't want to delve deeper unless she's close to us or we're in a line of work that is required to do so. We think of how she must be broken, must need support, must need a safe shelter. We jump to sympathy immediately.
Men don't get the same reaction and can't claim the same treatment when the woman is the abuser. They are more likely to hide it and never talk about it, or they are confronted with, 1) disbelief, 2) judgement, 3) accusations of trying to hurt her (make her look bad, project, cast blame), the abuser herself. Why would they report the abuse if that's how we'll react?
We don't believe that a man can be broken like a woman can, and we still strongly hold a belief that a "man" can take care of himself. We forget that not all men are the same, not all men are capable of abuse themselves, and that abuse, as we know so well when it happens to women, breaks a person. Their self-esteem, hope, and will go down the drain. Male or female, abuse hurts, dismantles, destroys.
Some of us stepmoms/second-wives have seen this with our own husbands, myself included. Although he's a man, who looks strong (people assume he "must have been" a football player), no one would ever think that he could be abused. Although he's a man, who must be manly and tough, how could he really be effected by abuse? How could a man suffer like a woman could? Nah, not possible................Right?
And if she did abuse him, he should have been able to handle it. If she did abuse him, maybe he started it. If she did abuse him, maybe he really caused it by being a bad husband and hurting her at some point. If she did abuse him, he's strong- He could have fought back or protected himself.....
A man may have the strength to "fight back" or "protect himself," but given our biases, who ends up in jail? How about a man who would never fight a woman, doesn't have it in him, and wouldn't even raise a hand? How about a man who is broken by abuse and used to the abuse, and therefore doesn't even know to fight back- much like a woman broken by abuse? We've all seen weak men, but even a strong-looking man can be weak on the inside when his marriage and home becomes a hell for him.
And sometimes, men marry strong women. Women can be strong, and big, and powerful, too. Not to mention, physical objects can help a woman with causing physical abuse. Read some domestic violence police reports, and you'll learn that every object in the house becomes a way for a woman to physically aggress. Women can be bullies (as every woman knows very well), and women can be abusers. (Child abuse from mothers? What? That happens?...Yeah, it does. Daily.) And is it OK for men to be mentally and emotionally abused, but not women? Can a wife escape mental and emotional abuse, but a man should stay?
When is it that we approve of when a man "gets out" of his marriage due to abuse? Is it one year? Three years? A decade? Was it OK for my husband to escape after 8-9 years of "trying", which I found to be 8 years of him losing his self-esteem and, well, self? I discovered his brokenness, I helped him through it simply by recognizing it and addressing it with love, and with the grace of God, he is a strong man (in mind and spirit) now, though he still battles some prior marriage self-esteem relapses. He thought that he could also rescue the kids from the abuse, but was unsuccessful due to the biases and views we still continue to ignorantly hold. The kids are still abused today, and when we try to tell their story and my husband's story, we're met by apathy, disbelief, and questions that show that the person just doesn't think it's "important anymore". ("That was how long ago?", in a tone of "Yeah, well, that wasn't yesterday, so the abuser must be fine now! Oh, and you should be over it by now..." Can you imagine telling an abused wife that what happened to her doesn't matter today, because that was a while ago?)
And yet, I overhear and am a part of conversations monthly, if not more, with and about women who "got out" and won child custody in court due to the "abuse" (any type) they endured. We don't question them, and we deeply care with sympathy in return. We applaud them for their bravery, and shake our heads in dismay when she tells us she didn't get the kids for more time or that the dad still sees them occasionally.
These are the only people I've talked to that understand immediately, without judgement and question: 1) Divorced men themselves, who endured it themselves or have guy friends who have, 2) Stepmoms like me, who discovered what was going on deep down inside of their new husbands and then helped them back into the world, and 3) Family members (usually mothers) of the men who were abused in their marriages. These are the only people that seem to know the truth, and not hold the bias that a man should be strong and the false understanding that men don't get abused by their wives or that it's "not as bad", and therefore should be overlooked completely.
A man may not report to you what happened in his marriage and how he was harmed. He doesn't want to make himself look weak, and men don't even recognize when they're being abused by a woman. You'll hear it in different ways from him, like "she yells a lot" or "she gets angry" or in various small stories. The reason why I recognized what happened to my husband as what it was? I had been abused (just a bit, for a much shorter period of time) before and then learned more about what abuse was. The more I got to know my husband, the more I saw what he had gone through. I knew right away what it was, because I'm a woman and educators in our society focus on informing us, as women, what abuse is and how to see it. Men, on the other hand, know that the information is directed towards women or are not included in those info sessions. Why would they know what it is?
Be aware. Don't cast judgement on a man you don't know by asking questions that belittle his horrible experience. And know that some abusers claim that the other person was the abuser, in order to get scrutiny off of them. The children know which parent is the actual abuser, but can't report it to the court mediator, their other parent (even though the other parent will know what's going on)...because they will get abused. And some children are manipulated by the abuser to project it to the other parent. Children, as well as men, don't know that they're being abused and that they're in a cycle that keeps them from getting out.