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Toxic Masculinity: A Review of Current Domestic Violence Practices & Their Outcomes

Toxic Masculinity: A Review of Current Domestic Violence Practices & Their Outcomes

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a phenomena that occurs all too often in our society. Domestic violence (DV) can have both short term and long term ramifications, impacting everything from relationships, to mental health, or even our interactions with the judicial system. It is estimated that roughly 20% of people in a dating relationship will experience IPV at some point during the relationship (Younger, 2011) . Further, three out of four adults know someone who has been involved in a DV situation (Younger, 2011) . Domestic abuse, without a doubt, is a terrible reality that is plaguing our society. 

There are many different forms of abuse. Most commonly we encounter abuse that is physical, psychological, or emotional (De Bem Machado et al., 2017). However, other types of abuse exist such as economic abuse, financial abuse, and secondary abuse (Younger, 2011)  – the last of these we will address later on in this paper. The most common form of abuse is psychological abuse. This type of abuse is defined as ‘exposing a person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or PTSD.’ (Drijber et al., 2012). Psychological abuse consists of bullying, ignoring, threatening or blackmailing ones partner (Drijber et al., 2012). Furthermore, there are two established forms of couples violence that is considered abusive. One is of the occasional outburst of violence, with the other being classified only as ‘patriarchal terrorism’ (Muelleman, n.d.). These differing acts of abuse both constitute forms of domestic violence and are impactful on the victim in a number of ways. 

It can be noted, that to be a survivor of DV is to go through a terrible ordeal. It can be assumed that the survivor will have multiple disparaging outcomes regarding their trauma. Broadly, experiencing DV has been shown to negatively impact ones mental health and overall well-being (Eichhorn, n.d.; Umberson et al., 1998). More specifically, research has shown a correlation between being a victim of abuse and having PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, psychosomatic symptoms and general psychological distress (De Bem Machado et al., 2017). Beyond this, victims of IPV are shown to have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse than their non-victim peers (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000 ; Umberson et al., 1998) . Externally, being involved in an IPV relationship has shown to have a negative impact on future relationships (romantic and otherwise) (Higgins et al., 2010). Overall, it can be decidedly shown that being the victim in an IPV relationship has a hugely impactful influence on ones life. 


If there is a silver lining to this stormy cloud, it is that there is an extensive amount of help and resources for women experiencing DV. In 1994, President Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women’s Act. This movement would go on to donate over 1.6 billion dollars towards women suffering from DV (Hines & Douglas, 2009). There are also laws protecting women survivors in all 50 states (Younger, 2011) . Most recent estimates show there to be over 2,000 domestic violence programs and shelters in place to aid women who are fleeing domestic violence situations (Clevenger & Roe-Sepowitz, 2009). In a recent study, 95% of women who took part in these programs reported that they were mostly or very satisfied with the services they received. Reasons for satisfaction included feeling validated and seen, they were able to hear other women’s experiences, and they received referrals for additional resources (Umberson et al., 1998). It can be well noted here that not only did these women receive care, but that that care was also adequate and impactful on the woman’s life. 

The issue at hand, however, boils down to the idea that all of these services are, at best, geared towards woman victims. At worst, these programs can create alienation with men victims – a community that is already sorely marginalized and forgotten. When discussing intimate partner violence, it is common that the average person will envision a battered house wife. While this is our go to idea regarding IPV, in actuality men are the victims in 25% to 50% of IPV situations (De Bem Machado et al., 2017; Hines & Douglas, 2016; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). The National Family Violence Survey, in their most recent iteration, found perpetration rates by women to be 12.4 per 100, and by men to be 12.2 per 100 (Muller et al., 2009). The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimated that 835,000 men are abused by their partners every year and a male is abused by his partner every 14.6 seconds (Younger, 2011) . Finally, studies show that approximately 1 in 5 men have experienced physical violence in an intimate relationship. This equates to about 19.3% of the population (De Bem Machado et al., 2017). These statistics, while shocking, help draw a picture for us that, not only are males sometimes victims of domestic violence, but the case could be made that they are just as often times the victims as women are. 


There are some distinct characteristics that separate abuse perpetrated by men and abuse perpetrated by women. Like women, psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse suffered by men. However, there are additional coercive and controlling behaviors not found in male perpetrated violence (Hines & Douglas, 2009). Secondary abuse, sometimes also known as legal-administrative abuse, occurs far more with women perpetrators than with male perpetrators. This form of abuse occurs when one partner uses the legal and judicial systems in order to hurt their victim (Hines & Douglas, 2009 ; Higgins et al., 2010). What transpires here is that female perpetrators manipulate the legal and judicial systems in an attempt to gain child custody, and enact restraining orders against their victims – often times using false allegations (Hines & Douglas, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). The occurrence of secondary abuse can have long lasting, negative impacts on male victims lives. They may lose their children, have restraining orders placed against them – impacting their careers, or even be arrested on false allegations. All of these situations create an egregiously harmful and disparaging situation for male victims. 

Mental health wise, male victims are just as susceptible as female victims. Men who experience IPV are shown to have greater levels of depression, stress, psychological distress and PTSD than their non-abused peers (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; Younger, 2011) . Emotionally, men report feeling angry, hurt, shameful, and fearful as a result of the abuse they suffered (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Ultimately, male victims of IPV are more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts (Younger, 2011). This could be due to a number of factors, including lack of resources, stigma surrounding their abuse, feelings of shame and a loss of their masculinity, or increased negative mental health outcomes. 


It has easily been established that men experience similar, if not increased, distress as a result of suffering from IPV as women victims. However, they do not have the same benefits as the female survivors as listed above. Of the previous resources explained, not a single one of them catered to male survivors. This, in turn, creates a situation where an already isolated individual is further forced into isolation, shame and guilt for attempting to reach out (Higgins et al., 2010). Men face both external and internal barriers when it comes to reaching out for help (Umberson et al., 1998). Externally, men face issues such as a scarcity of appropriate resources, biases within the legal and judicial systems, stigmatization within the survivor community (De Bem Machado et al., 2017; Hines & Douglas, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Internally, they must overcome feelings of denial, shame, fear of not being believed, and internalized gender stereotypes (De Bem Machado et al., 2017). These factors, and their accompanying repercussions, lay out a detailed and somber framework that makes up the typical male survivor experience. Together, they show that not only have we not taken men seriously, we have gone a step further by, at best ignoring them, and at worst ridiculing them for being victims. 

A hugely impactful external factor that most domestic violence victims encounter is law enforcement. While law enforcement is already well known for not taking any domestic violence calls seriously (Umberson et al., 1998), they take it a step further when it comes to male IPV victims. Many male victims report that police are unwilling to take their report against the female perpetrator ( Drijber et al., 2012; Hines & Douglas, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; Umberson et al., 1998). Furthermore, some male victims describe situations where they are ridiculed by the police officers (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; Umberson et al., 1998). In an egregious turn of events, some male victims are actually arrested as the perpetrator after having called the police out (Higgins et al., 2010; Umberson et al., 1998). This heinous behavior is a contributing factor to the stigmatization and demoralization of male IPV survivors. When they turn for help and they are instead just met with anguish reinforces to these male victims that their pain means nothing and they have no one they can rely on.  

The situation is no better in the judicial system. On their very best day, our justice system shows a limited capacity of being able to understand or even recognize patterns of male victimization. This lack of empathy can at times exacerbate problems for male victims (Higgins et al., 2010). In addition, male survivors of IPV report experiencing a gender-stereotyped approach with their situations. Even in cases where the male victims had corroborating evidence of a violent female partner, they were subjected to harsh mistreatment, including lost of custody of their children and false allegations of abuse (Umberson et al., 1998). The instance in which the courts obvious bias is perhaps most evident is through the procurement of restraining orders. Studies have shown that, not only is there a sex-differentiation of court responses, but these protective orders are given in preferential treatment to women (Muller et al., 2009). This harsh mistreatment of male IPV survivors is just one piece in the puzzle that represents the barriers men IPV survivors must overcome in an effort to obtain justice. 

A reasonable next move for male victims is to seek more informal support. Often times this manifests through the man attempting to contact a survivors hotline. However, this outcome is not one that proves to be beneficial for male victims. When pressed about contacting victims hotlines, 67% of men reported that agencies were not helpful, often times being turned away for services (Umberson et al., 1998). Only 25% of male victims reported being connected to helpful resources (Umberson et al., 1998). In the most extreme cases, male victims were made out to be the perpetrators of abuse and were referred to batterers programs (Umberson et al., 1998). The accumulation of these experiences give us a substantial view into the lives of male victims and their inability to seek care in almost any situation. 

In cases where the legal system is of no use, and helplines have turned them away, male survivors will often times turn to their social support network for guidance and reassurance. In fact, 62% of men share their experiences with a trusted loved one (Drijber et al., 2012). Unfortunately, their reactions are not always ones of positivity. According to male survivors, their loved ones reactions range from support, to surprise, and even to victim blaming (Hines & Douglas, 2009). Often times, loved ones hold a bias towards a gender-stereotyped reaction towards male victims that becomes evident with the male survivors admittance (De Bem Machado et al., 2020). These biases are linked with assumptions regarding the likelihood and plausibility of male IPV survivors. As addressed in the next section, their perceptions of masculinity conflict with the information being provided to them, creating a bias that they then react on (Hines & Douglas, 2009). This requirement for gender norms and the insistence upon masculinity create a scenario for the male survivor where they are forced to choose between the assumed masculinity, and their actual identity as a victim. This creates a turmoil within the survivor where they must eschew either their masculine identity or their identity as a victim. 


Internally, male victims also face a difficult battle encompassing stark internalized stigma and resulting gender-stereotypes. Men often face a variety of emotional factors when they consider reaching out for help. When addressing their emotions surrounding seeking help, men report feeling embarrassed (Drijber et al., 2012), shameful (Younger, 2011), or they feel that they will not be believed by the police or their loved ones (Hines & Douglas, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; Younger, 2011). In most normative spheres, it is expected that men will act and react in ways that will reinforce the masculine stereotypes that have been thrust upon us. This will include acting stoic, strong, and overall unemotionally. This ideation spills over into all aspects of our lives – including, as is evident here, male victims ability and confidence in seeking help for their domestic violence situations. This is shown in our research through the realization that men are often told to solve their own problems (Umberson et al., 1998) and that actually seeking care will not conclude in a way that will solve their problems (Younger, 2011). This designation can be so severe that, when asked, many men are not even able to even articulate what has happened to them. Instead of addressing their emotional response to those events (Hines & Douglas, 2009), they will just describe the events that have happen (Higgins et al., 2010). The occurrence of gender-stereotypes and gender norms place these men in such a poor situation that they feel unable to report  their abuse or risk becoming further victimized by the same people being tasked with supporting them. 

The Gender Paradigm

Much of this stigmatization is a result of the presence of the gender paradigm. The gender paradigm, sometimes called the patriarchal paradigm, is a set of beliefs that reside with the ideal that domestic violence occurs due to the presence of the patriarchy and male dominance. This paradigm has impacted all aspects of IPV responses, as it deepens the importance of female victims suffering, while minimizing the victimization felt by male survivors (Drijber et al., 2012). They posit that domestic violence is an example of power and control, with the perpetrator always exercising their control over their victims. To this end, the gender paradigm notes that men are unable to be victims of domestic violence, and women unable to be the perpetrators, due to the overall power imbalance that exists between men and women (Hines et al., 2007; Hines & Douglas, 2009; Younger, 2011, 2). As is evident above, these views can create a situation where it is almost impossible for a male victim to receive any sort of meaningful care and support.

This paradigm, and its resulting societal outcomes, have had a drastic impact on both the external and internal barriers that a male victim will encounter when seeking out resources (De Bem Machado et al., 2017). Externally, we can see the situations listed above where men either do not report their abuse, or they are ridiculed and shamed for doing so. It is exceedingly evident that these services highly support the victimization of women, while ignoring men’s victimization (Drijber et al., 2012). In addition to law enforcement, the judicial system, and DV resources, there is also evidence that this gender stereotype paradigm also exists within the mental health professionals field – further barring male survivors for seeking life saving care (Muller et al., 2009). Research has also shown us that the gender paradigm impacts how family and loved ones view male survivors (Higgins et al., 2010). When approaching loved ones for support, the loved one may in fact react negatively due to internalized biases they hold regarding men and domestic violence. The fact that one that knows us so well can be impacted to the point of disbelieving is just due to out gender truly highlights the power and influence this gender paradigm has. 

Internally, male survivors also face serious stigmatization. Many of these male survivors struggle with the idea that they may be a victim (De Bem Machado et al., 2017; Higgins et al., 2010; Hines & Douglas, 2009) due to the fact that men are commonly associated with being physically dominant (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). This lack of recognition comes from an internalized stigma that men are unable to be the victims of domestic violence purely due to their gender. They are taught that they must be tough and strong, and that when they are faced with violence from their female partner, they are just expected to take it. Even after expressing their situation, 76% of men reported not seeking help because they did not identify with the label of ‘victim’ (Hines & Douglas, 2009). Furthermore, this paradigm presupposes men to take on the role of being a loyal, loving partner (Hines & Douglas, 2009), not allowing room for any deviance that might result in the female partner being harmed in any way. This gender paradigm, and the gender-stereotyped norms that result from it, create a situation where men are unable to seek resources or support regarding their victimization. The gender paradigm heavily influences our social perceptions as IPV as something that only happens to women and that can only be perpetuated on by men. The end result, as evident above, is a society where men are unwilling or unable to receive care after experiencing domestic violence. 

Toxic Masculinity

As may seem evident, a major concept contained within the gender paradigm is that of masculinity. The idea of gender normed masculinity is at the forefront of what can be considered a major barrier stopping men from reporting their abuse. In some men’s mind, reporting IPV would have an impact on their masculinity, and would remove their power, control and dominance. In fact, when pressed for reasons they didn’t support, many men reported their abuse in ways that are consistent with ‘hegemonic masculinity’, directing their reports on their own power and resistance instead of the victimization they experiences (Hines & Douglas, 2009). To some, the very act of labeling their perpetrators actions may be considered to be emasculating (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). The desire to not be seen as weak, and to not be labeled as a victim, has a monumental impact on a male victims likelihood to report their abuse. To do so, they must over come years of programming and societal pressure to hold in their feelings and act in a masculine way. 

The occurrence of this gender paradigm exists well outside our psycho social world. It has also reached the world of research and academia. To date, there is little research into the concept of male victim IPV (Hines & Douglas, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000) mostly due to the gender paradigm that exists excluding its very exsistance. Furthermore, even when researching male IPV, researchers are put into a position where the instruments they have to gather data are either inappropriate or completely inadequate. More broadly, the typology used when surveying subjects may result in differing results, depending on the gender of the victim and perpetrator in question (Hines & Douglas, 2009). The most common surveys used by readers to establish domestic violence situations are The Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory, The Measure of Psychologically Abusive Behaviors, Coercive Control Scales, and the Power and Control Wheel (Hines & Douglas, 2009). It is incredibly important to note that all of these surveys were created using only accounts from women survivors.  Taking this into consideration, we can see from the get-go that men’s domestic violence situations are seen as significantly less important than those of women survivors. 


With the inclusion of all this data, it is fairly straightforward that men are not given the same resource and help seeking opportunities as their female counterparts. Presenting this in qualitative research, we are shown that men are often times less likely that women to seek help after experiencing domestic violence (Higgins et al., 2010; Muller et al., 2009; Umberson et al., 1998; Younger, 2011). This lack of researching out stems from a number of societal problems – both internal and external. There are many intertwining parts of this issue, each one being just small aspect and opportunity for impact. As is witnessed here, there are many different ways in which we can revamp and improve the system in an effort to overcome these issues regarding resource allocation.

External Opportunities

First and foremost, we need to identify what the exact issue entails. To take on the entirety of the gender paradigm is a substantial endeavor. However, we will never even make a dent if we don’t recognize where the main issues lie. To do this, it is evident that we need to pursue further research in all aspects of this concept. To begin with, we need to eliminate the usage and existantance of the blatantly sexist survey methods that currently exist, and continue to fund researchers who use a gender neutral approach. From there, we will gain a better understanding of what exactly we can do to help foster a better experience for them when reporting DV. To do so will be to not only recognize their experiences, but to validate them as well. 

From there, we must take a look at our judicial system. Between law enforcement being unresponsive, and the courts obviously gendered stance regarding sentencing, most men never have a stance at having a positive experience when interacting with them. We must make it our duty to strictly enforce gender neutral law enforcement responses to domestic violence. Whether this entails trainings, disciplinary actions, or new policies to be created is beyond the scope of this paper. However it should be strictly noted that nothing within the domestic violence field will change until police and the courts come to respond in a gender neutral way. Slightly broader than this, it is critical that we examine, refine, and reinforce laws protecting domestic violence victims. As stated above, there are 13 states where only women can be considered as a victim of domestic violence (Younger, 2011). By 2023, it is inexusible for such laws to exist for only half of the population. If, at this point, we are still only concerned with half of the populations suffering, well then we have failed as a society. 

Tangibly, it is also of great importance that we allocate some funding to be usable by men’s resource organizations as well. There has, it should be noted, been an attempt at the creation of these types of organizations. There have been a number of grassroots organizations making an attempt at these sorts of resources (Hines et al., 2007). In addition to this, in 2000 the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men was created (Hines et al., 2007). To date, this is the only DV helpline for men in existence. Barring this, and a few programs that will cater to both men and women, male victims have very little opportunity to receive support. It can clearly be seen that one of the main ways that we can increase support for men would be through the creation of resources specifically geared towards them. To do so would be to allow them the opportunity to seek care in their own way in their own time. 

Now, the creation of these resources and trainings, and the formation of these organizations does not happen within a vacuum. There is, of course, the need for funding. Luckily, the solution for this is a simple one. Federal funding for IPV victims is done through the Violence Against Women’s Act – a notable organization that does substantial good for the population. Their allowance from federal funding comes in at 225 million a year (Muller et al., 2009). By far, this is the greatest funding amount towards DV. However, this organization only helps women, and will turn away an male victim they encounter. If we were to take ever 25% of that grant, and reallocate it towards male domestic violence, we would be able to care for so many more male victims. So, the creation of organizations and resources is paramount towards male success here. To do so, we must begin to federally fund specifically male domestic violence. To do so would be of great benefit to all those survivors. 

Reducing Stigma 

Our mission, to ease the suffering of male victims, is two fold. While it is imperative that we create palpable solutions to this problem, it is also essential that we address the psycho social aspect impacting these men’s experiences. Resources, and trainings are vital, but they will never be of use if gender norms and patriarchal views are what are hindering these men from seeking help. This is, absolutely, a considerable undertaking – and not one to be taken lightly. However, it is drastically influential in the creation of a world without a gender paradigm. Not being an easy task, one might not even know where to start when trying to tackle the gender paradigm. Education, for both yourself and others, is the most accessible path one can think of. Engage in discourse surrounding male DV, the patriarchy, and toxic masculinity. Do not shy away from the hard topics. Instead push forward. If a male friend comes to you seeking advice, to not turn your back on them. Work with them to find the help they need. Doing so will be of their benefit just as much as it is to society. 


Male domestic violence is a very rarely talked about, and even less often acknowledged, topic that, unfortunately, is far too prevalent in our society. External factors such as lack of police backing, poor judicial system treatment, and lack of resources exist. As well as internal factors such as feelings of shame, loss of masculinity, and embarrassment. Considering these together, we can see that male victims are given little opportunity to receive, or even seek out, resources and care for their IPV situations. This is a monumental endeavor that we must all have a hand in if we hope to see it change. We must work together to first off, create a legal and resource system that caters to all genders, not just women. But we also must make an effort to rid ourselves of the gender biases and norms that society has taught us to hold. Working together, we can make this world a safer and more comfortable one for men experiencing domestic violence. 


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