It’s time to let the man cry

How many more Johnny Depps or Amber Heards do we need to realize that physical and emotional abuse of a man is a reality and we need to address it? And that it’s ok for men to give vent to their feelings?

When news of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case burst upon the world, everyone sat up and took notice. First, because it was two celebrities fighting it out in a highly-publicised court battle. Second, and this really caught the world’s attention, was the fact that the man, a highly-successful and much-loved Hollywood actor at that, was accusing his ex-wife of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and was openly talking about the mental and emotional abuse that she meted out to him.

It’s no breaking news that even men suffer physically, emotionally and mentally at the hands of violent, emotionally and mentally abusive spouses. However, hardly any man comes out and talks about it, because most of the time they are in denial of the abuse being meted out to them. And if by some chance, they are willing to face up to the fact that they are in an abusive relationship, particularly physical abuse, it is even more mortifying and traumatizing for a man to admit to IPV because of the unhelpful social response. In our patriarchal society it is considered “unmanly” to be dominated and abused by one’s wife, physically. So, if it comes out that one is facing IPV, then sadly, instead of getting any sympathy, the man will become a butt of unsavoury jokes.

So, when Hollywood superstar Depp revealed in court some shocking details of what his personal life was like, everyone sat up and took notice. His voice against IPV and emotional abuse by Amber when she was his wife was heard and taken seriously.

Talking about the violence he faced, Depp revealed that it was Amber who would “strike out” with a slap or a shove. During one argument, she threw a Vodka bottle at Depp, and when he tried to deflect it, the bottle cut off the top of his right middle finger, exposing the bone. The actor said he would remove himself from heated arguments, sometimes locking himself in a bedroom or bathroom, and never struck Heard. “My main goal was to retreat,” he testified.

However, Depp was not just at the receiving end of IPV, he was suffering emotional abuse too. He said they had frequent arguments that included “name calling” and “bullying” by Amber. “It seemed like pure hatred for me,” Depp said.

The fact that Depp came out on top in this case will hopefully give other men silently suffering in a similar way the courage to open up and seek help.  Because the woman is not always the victim! Men are abused too. And we, as a society, need to admit that.

Ask Save Indian Family Foundation, a men’s rights group where husbands, who are facing violence, mental and emotional harassment by their spouses go for counseling, help and support. Self-admittedly their numbers are growing exponentially, with “four or five people joining the group each week.”

The 2004 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) revealed that about 1.8% women in the country had resorted to violence against their husbands.

The story in rural India seems to be no different if data are anything to go by. Sample this! In a study of married men in the age group of 21-49 in rural Haryana, 51.5% men have experienced torture or IPV while 10.5% men have experienced violence at the hands of their wives.

However, abusive relationships are not just about violence, they include emotional and mental abuse too. According to relationship experts, it is not easy for people to identify that they are in a psychologically and emotionally abusive relationship. Half the time they are not even aware of it. However, there are certain behavioural traits that marriage counselors and clinical psychologists identify with psychological and emotional abuse being perpetrated by a spouse.

For instance, you are in an abusive marriage if your spouse is hyper-critical or judgmental towards you. Nothing you achieve or do for them and your family is enough. They are rarely appreciative of your efforts to make them happy. Your spouse gets angry or upset when you don’t agree to something they want. They are controlling, ignoring boundaries and invading your privacy by checking your emails, texts messages, social media, laptop or phone without permission.

You must realize that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship if your spouse is possessive and unreasonably jealous and constantly calls when you are not around, gets upset when you want to spend time by yourself or with family or friends alone. They are being abusive if they want to be the centre of your world and isolate you from other important people in your life like your parents, siblings, extended family, friends and/or activities you enjoy.

An abusive spouse accuses you of infidelity, checks up on you frequently and gives you guilt trips by telling you they have made a million sacrifices for you. They make you doubt yourself all the time, make you feel inadequate and threaten to commit suicide, or take the kids away from you. The emotionally abusive spouse generally tries to bring you down by belittling your achievements, hopes and dreams. They refuse to talk about their irrational behaviour or take responsibility for their own mistakes and actions. They blame you or someone else for their failure, are unreasonable, argumentative and withdraw affection when “you’ve done something wrong.”

Research shows that close to 43% husbands have contemplated suicide due to humiliation, harassment and frustration due to the ill-treatment meted out to them by the spouse! But even more shocking is the fact that according to the WHO, globally, the number of men who commit suicide is double than that of women.

I’m not saying that all suicides are because of an abusive spouse, but a very large percentage of them are, if statistics are anything to go by. As the numbers show, men are more vulnerable because they refuse to acknowledge that they are in an abusive relationship. They are in a state of denial and don’t talk about it. Even if they realize that they are in an abusive relationship they don’t seek help because they feel embarrassed to admit it even to themselves, let alone share it with another person. After all, how can a manly man be vulnerable or be manipulated or ill-treated by someone, especially a mere woman!!

But many more continue to suffer in silence as they have been raised to take suffering “like a man.” “Real men don’t cry.” “Real men don’t talk about their feelings.” Then there is the fear of “what will people say? They will call me a whimp or hen pecked if I let anyone know that my wife beats me or is emotionally abusing me.” Much like women, men, too, worry about the social and economic consequences of divorce, of the protracted legal battle, of losing access to their kids, of losing respect in the eyes of their peers and colleagues.

Worst of all is the fear of getting themselves and their families embroiled in a false case, because quite a few of the laws are skewed in the favour of women under the Indian Penal Code. And for good reason too, because a large majority of the women do need its protection! However, we cannot ignore the fact that quite a few women do tend to misuse the laws meant to protect them. Ask the family of the 31-year-old man from Gurugram who committed suicide in a hotel on May 6 because his wife and her family were harassing him and threatening to implicate him in a false case?

You may say that this argument about the need for more gender-neutral domestic violence laws and misuse of laws by women and the need to introduce the misuse provision in laws like Section 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) or Section 4 of the Dowry Act, has been done to death. But there is a crying need to hammer it in each time because sadly, the men who face violence and emotional abuse, at the hands of their spouse in India have nowhere to go, since the law doesn’t treat them as victims. Unlike most countries around the world, the laws in India against domestic violence don’t provide protection to both the sexes. For instance, harassed and abused husbands abroad can seek restraining orders from courts, but in India abused husbands don’t have that option. We are seeing so many positive changes in Indian society legally. Now, India, too, must be more supportive of men facing domestic violence or emotional and mental abuse at the hands of their spouses or family members, legally.

However, an unhelpful and unsympathetic legal system aside, can we, as a society, absolve ourselves of all blame? Are we also not equally at fault? Don’t we bring up our boys with an antiquated, even medieval notion of masculinity by always telling them to “be tough” and “take it like a man”? Don’t we also make fun of men who are in touch with their feelings and label them sissies? More than anyone, it is the men to blame for this because when a woman complains of IPV or mental abuse, the women in her life don’t laugh at her or dismiss her. They take it seriously and sympathise with her, comfort her and band about her. They even advise her to seek help and in certain cases get help for her. What do the men do? They laugh in disbelief and derision when they come to know that a man was beaten up by his wife and label him a wimp. So, is the bro-code only meant for drinking rounds and getting up to mischief? Where does the man-code go when another man is suffering domestic abuse? Why don’t men support each other in this area?

Have we ever thought that it is time to change this medieval mindset that “mard ko dard nahi hota” or “boys don’t cry”? Isn’t it high time that we, as a society become more sympathetic towards men who are suffering at the hands of their spouses? Just because a man keeps quiet to keep the peace or because he doesn’t want to lose his kids, does not make him less of a man. We should lend a helping hand or a sympathetic shoulder and not snigger or make fun of a man who is brave enough to admit that he is facing physical or emotional abuse from his spouse. Because it takes guts to even admit it to oneself, let alone others.

How many more Johnny Depps or Amber Heards do we need to realize that physical and emotional abuse of a man is a reality and we need to address it? How many more suicides do we need before we tell our men that it’s ok to talk about problems and seek help if they are in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship? It’s ok to cry and give vent to feelings?

It’s time to let the man cry!