*Note: In this post I will be using heterosexual relationships as the main example due to the ultimate point. However, this type of abuse is not discriminatory; it can — and does — occur in all romantic (and sometimes even platonic) relationships.
Coercive control is a type of domestic abuse in which the abuser uses the following tactics to keep the victim in line:
- Withholding affection as a form of punishment
- Degradation of character
When you search Google for “coercive control”, the very first option that comes up is an article from the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. In that article they ask the question, “What is coercive control?” The answer they provide struck me as biased in that it ignores an entire victim group:
“Coercive control is a strategic course of oppressive behavior designed to secure and expand gender-based privilege by depriving women of their rights and liberties and establishing a regime of domination in personal life.”
There is no doubt that women suffer greatly from domestic abuse of all kinds. Sadly, it is a very common occurrence in America. More than 90% of women who are victims of homicide are killed by a man that they know. Of those murders, 63% are murdered by an intimate partner.
This article is not meant to trivialize the horrific epidemic that is violence against women; it is only meant to bring awareness to the fact that men can be victims, too. By stating that only women are victims of coercive control, we are perpetuating harmful stereotypes against both men and women and making it even more difficult for men to feel comfortable speaking out.
This is so pervasive that it is a major part of our TV shows, movies and even commercials. Think about some of the most popular sitcoms in America; the characters in the shows commonly fall under certain tropes, namely the bossy wife and the idiot, “whipped” or childish husband. We see it so often that we have become accustomed to it.
Our society sees controlling wives as the norm and husbands who are treated badly by their wives as weak or dumb. I have two problems with this. First, it is toxic toward women in that it portrays all wives as controlling, manipulative and demanding. Second, it normalizes abuse against men and perpetuates the stereotype that any man who is in a relationship of this kind is not only not a victim, but they are actually lesser of a man.
When we discover that the man in a relationship is controlling, manipulative and/or tears down his spouse to keep them dependent upon him, we immediately call it abuse — because that is what it is.
Yet, when we discover that the woman in a relationship is doing those same exact things, at best we see it as normal and at worst we see the wife as a “bitch”, but we do not tend to see it as abuse.
When a man tells his friends that he can’t hang out because his wife won’t allow it, he is made fun of for being whipped or weak and/or told that’s just a normal part of marriage. When a woman tells her friends that she can’t hang out because her husband won’t allow it, she is told she is being abused and is encouraged to kick him to the curb.
Now, I am a firm believer in the idea that if you want a good spouse you have to be a good spouse. There are couples out there where the man doesn’t try and the woman is left to do everything. I am not talking about those couples. I’m talking about the couples in which the man does everything right and is still treated like either an idiot or as if he is unfaithful.
It is time for society to catch up and stop perpetuating these stereotypes which are harmful to both men and women. As a feminist, this issue is particularly important to me because I believe that we should treat everyone equally across the board. It is not right to ignore genuine issues that affect men just because they affect women more.
In my mind, abuse is abuse no matter the gender of the perpetrator and injustice is injustice, no matter the gender of the victim.