Does abuse of men by women really happen? What does it look like?
Can a woman abuse a man?
But it doesn't happen very much, right?
Wrong. It happens a lot.
There are more abused men than you might think and there are more abusive women than you might think.
But a woman can't really hurt a man, right?
Wrong. The idea that women can't hurt men is a cultural myth.
Just because women on average are smaller than men on average doesn't mean women can't hurt men. It turns out -- size doesn't matter. (Well, to be more specific, size matters somewhat, but it isn't everything.)
A girlfriend or wife can hurt her boyfriend or husband in all sorts of ways: emotionally, psychologically, financially, spiritually, legally, physically, and sexually.
Yes, I said physically and sexually.
We are conditioned to not see abuse of men
We have been using men abusing women as definitive of partner abuse. That skewed way of defining partner abuse blinds us to recognizing abuse when it looks different. That difference might be that the genders are flipped or that the abuse happens in different ways.
Here's a video I made to help people see how we are treating partner abuse differently depending on the source and target of the abuse:
Some ways women abuse men look very similar to ways men abuse women but with the genders flipped.
Just as abusive men might manipulate situations to isolate their partners from family and friends to cut off their support system, belittle their partner in front of others or behind closed doors, or stalk and harass an ex -- abusive women may abuse men in these same ways.
Some ways women abuse men are similar to those used by men against women but with a twist.
Just because a woman might be smaller or less physically strong than her male partner doesn't mean she can't inflict physical pain on him, injure him, or kill him.
Physical abuse of a man by a woman often looks different than the picture we automatically get in our mind when we picture domestic violence. The classic domestic violence picture is one of a man overwhelming a woman with his strength and beating her up with his fists.
Sometimes women come at their male partners in a similar way, but often women who are physically violent with their male partners use methods that overcome their size and strength disadvantages.
Physically violent women can overcome their strength disadvantage in many ways, including:
- surprise attacks,
- the use of objects either as direct weapons or projectiles,
- striking when their prey is in a vulnerable position (driving, asleep, drunk, has his back turned...),
- counting on their partner to not strike back, or
- soliciting the help of others to attack him.
Some abusive behaviors of women are available to them for use on men specifically because of their genders.
Female-to-male sexual abuse may look very different than what we usually focus on when we talk about sexual abuse. That's because we have only focused on male-to-female sexual abuse.
As a culture, we have come to think of sexual abuse as men forcing themselves on women sexually.
Sometimes women sexually abuse men by forcing themselves on a partner. Other times they sexually abuse men in ways that take advantage of maleness and femaleness in other ways.
It is sexually abusive for a woman to manipulate men with sex: using sex to lure and trap, using sex as a reward and punishment.
It is sexually abusive for a woman to get pregnant accidentally-on-purpose so that she can capture a man as a partner or source of financial support.
It is sexually abusive for a woman to falsely accuse a man of sexual abuse.
A real-life story
Here's a story that illustrates both the sexual abuse of a man by a woman and the cultural conditioning that leads us to discount it even when we come face to face with it:
I was at a housewarming party and struck up a conversation with a middle-aged woman who was a friend of my friend. In response to her asking what I do, I mentioned that one of my specialties is the abuse of men by women. She said, “Oh, yeah. I was really abused by my ex-husband.” She backed her statement up by describing some major manipulative moves her husband used against her.
After hearing her out, I said, “Actually, my specialty is abuse of men by women.” Her shocked response: “Does that happen?”
Our conversation continued with me explaining some of the ways women abuse men. When I mentioned that one of the ways is purposefully trapping a man with an “unplanned” pregnancy, she said, “That happened to my son!”
She explained, “My son was planning to break up with his girlfriend but came to me crying, saying that she had just told him that she was pregnant. He said he had to do the honorable thing and marry her.”
Luckily for this woman’s son, his mom was savvy enough to ask if he was sure she was pregnant and had he gone to any of her doctor’s appointments. Her questions instigated her son to question his girlfriend and press that he be allowed to attend her prenatal appointments.
Eventually, the girlfriend revealed that she wasn’t really pregnant at all.
This woman had labeled her ex-husband’s manipulations as abusive, but had not been able to see the malicious manipulations of her son’s girlfriend as abuse until our conversation.
What is partner abuse?
Partner abuse is a pattern of controlling, demeaning, and/or punishing behaviors and attitudes with a dating, cohabiting, or marriage partner, during or after the relationship.
Partner abuse can take on many forms.
7 forms of partner abuse:
- legal, or
More about the many ways women abuse men
I have written more about what Abuse of Men by Women looks like in my book by that same name (link below) and also in the following blog posts.
Click on any of these blog post titles to learn more:
For more about partner abuse check out my books:
- Tags: abuse OF men BY women
- Ann Silvers