Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Perceived Characteristics of Men Abused by Female Partners: Blaming, Resulting, Blaming-Excuses, or Normal?

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Perceived Characteristics of Men Abused by Female Partners: Blaming, Resulting, Blaming-Excuses, or Normal?

Article excerpt

Societal stigma communicated about male abuse victims is purported to result from societal messages valuing masculinity and suppression of weakness in men. To test these assumptions, a cross-sample of men and women (N = 1,942) provided openended descriptions of a hypothetical "male friend abused by his female romantic partner." This study presents thematic coding of characteristics resulting in 11 categories, which represent larger themes of Blaming, Resulting, Blaming-Excuses, and Normal. Findings are discussed in terms of applications to victims and generalized society, with implications for societal institutions and theories of gender socialization.

Keywords: intimate partner violence, stigma, masculinity, social identity

In 2010, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey predicted that more than 11.21 million men will be victimized by a romantic partner in the context of intimate partner violence (IPV) (Black et al., 2011). All IPV victims face obstacles in seeking help for their abuse, but in cases of intensified stigma, these support challenges are multiplied (Overstreet & Quinn, 2013). For men especially, physical, psychological, and/or sexual victimization from female romantic partners can result in a dual violation of gendered and relational expectations (Eckstein, 2009). To address barriers these men may face in finding support, we explored society's communication of this specific stigmatization through the specific messages societal members use to describe male victims. Knowing the nature of this particular stigma can inform educational interventions and public campaigns; enhance theorizing on interpersonal abuse, power, and gender; and aid victims seeking support. To frame our study of male-victim stigma, we first highlight the theoretical bases of how doing stigma can be functional for society. Knowing why society finds it useful to characterize abused men in particular ways will inform the presentation of our study and subsequent discussion of perceptions of a man abused by a female partner.


The meaning of any stigma is socially-ascribed. Stigma has the potential to threaten the communication identity of people who are subject to power-displays in their daily interactions. Stigmatizing labels "mark" targets to detract from normality by communicating unwanted statuses (Goffman, 1963). Because identity stigma is determined by historically, socially, and/or culturally embedded systems that preexist, it may aid people's efficiency of cognitive judgments (Becker & Arnold, 1986). Further, stigma also functions to reinforce stigmatizers' own identities. Perhaps by rationalizing their use of negative labels, stigmatizers are able to articulate targetnarratives (e.g., Mill, Edwards, Jackson, MacLean, & Chaw-Kant, 2010), or differentiations of self-other identities that allow them to explicitly and implicitly reinforce their own and others' social positions.

Although varying masculinities exist at any given moment, society in general consciously (or unconsciously) understands what a "man" is expected to be (Bem, 1981). In their reconsideration of hegemonic masculinity, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) propose understanding the way social power operates by accounting for (a) the agency of women in constructing gender, (b) cultural distinctions in how gender operates, (c) differences in ways gender may be embodied, and (d) contradictions inherent for individual men. In terms of how society treats someone with a particular identity, these factors illustrate the importance of accounting for not only the possible differences in how men view themselves and thus, enact identity (Hoffman, Hattie, & Borders, 2005), but also the ways societal members' differences shape their framing of those men (Mitchell & Ellis, 2013).

For people who seek to clarify their roles in society, maintaining existing power structures necessitates that they curtail any threats to those structures; stigma facilitates that process. …

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