Great news: The New York Times reported that murders overall in Philadelphia decreased by 9% last year. The key word being overall. Because the news on the flip side is horrific: In 2009, domestic homicides went up by 67%. Philadelphia isn't the only place that saw a rise in domestic violence:
In May, the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation released a study indicating that 75 percent of the nation’s domestic violence shelters have reported an increase in women seeking help since September 2008. The report also found that 73 percent of these shelters attributed this rise to financial issues.
While I find this depressing, I also can't say that I am surprised. When finances get really tough, many families don't know how to cope. Men in traditionally "manly" jobs have been hardest hit by the recession. Many of these guys, who are used to being seen as the breadwinners and the rocks of the family, no longer feel as though they have a place. Since men are not encouraged to talk about feeling hopeless or depressed, there only outlets may be violence, a response that is more or less sanctioned by society.
As if the news wasn't grim enough, the financial hardship that is causing increases in domestic violence is also causing funding shortages to the organizations that provide services to families and women. Of course, the services that are need most - preventive services that work with families in crisis and can help the men learn to cope with their frustrations, anger, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that may push them over the edge - are the ones that go first. It's a cycle almost as vicious as domestic violence itself.
This week, BlogHer CE Megan Smith wrote about an article that Patrick Steward penned for The Guardian in which he described witnessing his mother's abuse and how it made him feel. Smith found the article to be incredible, in part because "it was written by a man. Men aren't supposed to talk about being frightened and helpless, even as children. So Stewart sets a good example for other men to follow."
This is really the key: helping men cope with their feelings. I've written in the past how strict gender dichotomies hurt everyone in many ways. When society insists that men must be strong, always, under all circumstances, and never feel like they are not in control, that sets most men up to fail. No one is ever in control of their lives 100% of the time. If men are denied access to their emotions - the very essence of their humanity - and not provided with the same outlets that women are permitted (and encouraged) to access, it leads to very dangerous and inappropriate expressions.
Shreyasi Singh at describes how a campaign in India is working with men to stop domestic violence. Singh notes that one in three Indian experiences violence at home. What's really scary is that almost 55% of women in India and slightly over half of men think that wife-beating is acceptable, according to a national survey cited by Singh. Breakthrough, an international nonprofit human rights organization, discovered that men in India would seek help on behalf of women they knew. Hence they targeted their ads to men, showing how they could create positive change by speaking out against domestic violence. (This sounds like a much better tactic than Denmark's Hit the Bitch campaign, but I promise to stop harping on that terrible idea one day.)
We can probably never fully stop domestic violence, just like we can never fully prevent other crimes. But if we understand and acknowledge the complexities that lead to partner abuse (including that within same-sex couples), we can decrease it dramatically. Men have feelings, too. Let's stop the stoic Marlboro Man-type bullshit and help men cope with the feelings and frustrations they naturally encounter as human beings. When that happens, we can decrease inappropriate responses to things like financial pressure, and perhaps also decrease one of the causes of domestic violence.
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