Words are powerful
I was initially happy to see this article purporting to warn about abusive relationships between men. Unfortunately, the author makes too many sweeping generalized statements and other logical errors for the piece to be of much use. It turns what should be a piece that brings light into a dark corner of male existence into a washout, descending into homophobia.
The author, Raymond Bechard, starts out stating that he was abused by women in romantic relationships and that he was slower to realize that some of the men in his life were also abusive, including his best friend. These are both powerful statements that need to be help up, because men are very reluctant to admit they can be victims. We are taught to not be forthcoming about our weaknesses, and far too many survivors of abuse look at what happened to them as being a fault of their own weakness.
Mr. Bechard gives us a list of “warning signs” for abuse in male/male relationships. The list is:
*They take charge of your life
*They have temper outbursts
*They use violent or demeaning language
*They have a sexist attitude
*They insult you
*They establish dependency
*They ridicule you
*They distance you from certain relationships
*They have an abusive background
*They blame other people
*They track you
*They are self centered
*They defame you
*They make threats
Full disclosure: I am a survivor a childhood abuse. I am also (in case you’ve never been here before) in a very happy and healthy female-led-relationship (FLR) and am sexually submissive and masochistic. There’s every chance that some of my objections are flavored by who I am and what I have experienced.
But some are not. Some are based on the idea that words are powerful things. There is an ocean of difference between “fucking” and “making love.” There is a difference between someone being a “jerk” and being a “complete asshole.” “Abuse” is an incredibly powerful word, jam-packed with emotions. It has come to encompass a lot more than it used to – and deservedly so. However, if we widen its meaning too much; then it becomes a useless tool of empty rhetoric. If, or when, that happens, then it becomes a tool of oppression instead of liberation. All people of good conscience should be able to clearly see why that would be a tragedy.
Nothing I say should be taken to defend anyone who is abusive in any way. What I am trying to do is to take an imperfect tool and improve it. There are three major problems with this list: 1) It is redundant; 2) It includes character traits or actions that are (or often can be) unrelated to abuse; and 3) the following paragraph shows it to be incomplete.
The redundancy is a technical issue, and a minor one. The problem is that it undermines credibility. For example, is it possible for someone to “take charge of your life” and not “establish dependency?” I honestly don’t see how that’s possible. What about “distance you from other relationships?” It seems like they are all part and parcel of the same process. Similarly, “they insult you” and “they ridicule you” are pretty much the same thing…if we want to get really technical, then ridicule is a type of insult, isn’t it? Let’s put “they defame you” in that same category.
Other things on the list really have nothing to do with abuse and everything to do with just being a regular jerk. “They have temper outbursts?” Really? Is there anyone short of the Dalai Lama who doesn’t have angry outbursts SOMETIMES? Being angry is not being abusive. Being so mad you yell and wave your arms isn’t abusive, if all you do is yell and wave your arms. I would argue that hitting some inanimate object isn’t being abusive, though I know there are plenty who disagree with that.*
The same thing is true for the next one “the use of violent or demeaning language.” So…can we talk about boxing without using violent language? Probably not. Is everyone who talks about boxing abusive or potentially abusive? Categorically not. Is everyone who doesn’t talk about boxing non-abusive? Categorically not. I have family who regularly talk about “mamby-pamby, bleeding-heart liberals.” As a person with fairly liberal views, I find that demeaning. But it isn’t abusive. I also have friends that regularly talk about “brain-dead, Fox-News-fed Conservatives.” On behalf of my family, I find that to be demeaning. It still isn’t abusive, though.
The same thing is true for the next item, “they have a sexist attitude.” Look, our entire freaking culture is a tangle of interlocking sexist attitudes. If we take this at face value; then everyone is abusive. Believe me, I will scream with the loudest that gender roles are restrictive and damaging. They hurt people. I could even be persuaded to say that they are abusive – but, again, if we expand the word to mean everything then it means nothing.
And if someone cheats on his wife or girlfriend, he isn’t abusing me. He’s abusing the trust she gives him. He’s setting everyone up for a world of hurt. He’s being an asshole. But he isn’t abusing me – particularly since I’m not involved.
I’m not going to catalog all of the issues I have with this, because I’m not trying to write a book. I will bring up one more, because it’s used in two places: “Abusers were bullies as kids” and “They have an abusive background” are variations of the same thing, and they are simply not true. Not all abusers were bullies, some were victims – as the second sentence indicates. Plus, the vast majority of people who survived abuse do not become abusers themselves…unless Mr. Bechard is also warning that he is abusive to others.
The last point I made is that the list isn’t complete with its own discussion. Immediately following this list is this:
And one other thing . . . They may want more than friendship. Does your friend want to become physical with you? Keep in mind, he is coming from a place that is not clear to even him. His desires to control, manipulate, and express his idea of a “Bromance,” may include an unwanted physical relationship with you, however fleeting.
I have gay friends. Without sounding narcissistic, I would guess that some of them find me attractive. Perhaps some – maybe one or two – even want to have sex with me. This is not abusive! This is people responding to their own innate desires! To imply otherwise is simply as abusive as anything the article warns about. Even if some random gay dude were to try to seduce me, it wouldn’t be abusive. If he continues after I turn him down or he tries to force himself on me; then yes, it is.
Beyond that, our culture is homophobic. I know grown men who have never gotten a hug from their father or brother. Statements like Mr. Bechard make support this emotionally-damaging distance. There is nothing wrong, and nothing even sexual, about a guy putting his arm around another guy’s neck in friendship.
In my own struggle to come to terms with abuse, I’ve had to face some horrible truths. The people who were suppose to protect and nurture me as a child, didn’t. I carry within me a skewed sense of what a normal relationship should be, because I learned dysfunction in place of normalcy. I’ve had to unlearn many things in order to purge myself of potentially abusive actions. My sexuality also forced me to put serious thought into some actions that were abusive at the hands of one person but not abusive at the hands of another. In other words, some characteristics of an abusive relationship are shared by non-abusive relationships. I don’t know that Mr. Bechard has fully learned that lesson.
Click here for a much better warning list of abusive behaviors.
*If I get mad, go downstairs and hit a punching bag until I work off the steam; then go back up and say, “I’m sorry I got so upset, can we get back to talking about it?” THAT isn’t abusive. If I come back up and say, “I did that so I wouldn’t hit you! In fact, I pretended that I was punching you in the face the whole time!” – well, that is another story. That is clearly abusive.