Does the #MeToo movement overlook the role of abusive women?

in psychology •  8 months ago


Although the #Metoo movement seeks to expose the actions of abusive men like Bill Cosby, it often overlooks the complicity of women in our world of sexual violence.

ometimes it feels like the simple solution to sexual abuse in our culture would be to get rid of men: These strange, neanderthal beasts who roam the boardrooms and movie studios of our planet, plunging their tongues and phalluses into anything that smells like vulnerability. But in our eagerness to rid the world of these 'monsters' we ignore a vital piece in this horrible psychological puzzle: How did these men become this way?

Now, before I go any further, I want to make something clear: This post is not an apologist piece for men's behaviour. I was, myself, raped by men as a child. My first, instinctive reaction to the #Metoo movement was to stand alongside women and burn Hollywood to the ground. Then start on the government.

However, I've begun to understand more about the scale and nature of the problem. And, in talking to friends who have experienced sexual abuse, and in reflecting on my own story, I've come to an awkward discovery: For every male who was sexually abusing a child, there were several women participating in that abuse either directly, or through their silence.

Just as my own mother participated in my father's rapes actively (by beating me unconscious and shaming me) she also participated through her silence. The mothers of other friends I have talked also participated in their abuse and, in some cases, continue to do so.

In short: Women enable the sexual abuse of children in families, and have done so for centuries. It is estimated that more than 1 in 4 families are incestuous and this sexual violence shapes the psyches of the male and female children who are subjected to it. While #Metoo draws our attention to Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby this is, in my opinion, a risky distraction from the Kevin Spaceys and Bill Cosbys who sit at the table with many families every day, and the women who sit beside them. These men are called 'fathers', these women are called 'mothers'.

Now, before you freak out, I want to make another thing clear: I am not proposing that only women enable the abuse of children, and I do not ignore the fact that mothers are disinclined to speak out because they are already oppressed by patriarchal authorities. However, I believe we have reached a point in human evolution where we are able to recognize, as a species, that men do not abuse women in a vacuum. They abuse within a society that gives them tactit permission to do so. A society in which they are supported by many women.


hen I reflect on my own childhood, and the women who were complicit in my sexual abuse, an interesting pattern emerges: My mother, like other women who were themselves sexually abused as children, acted out her aggression against men against her own children. We were not protected like her husband was: We didn't have a patriarchy to back us up. Like many male children of wounded women, I was genitally mutilated, beaten and demeaned. I was forcibly packaged into a cultural idea of 'man' which involved denying and suppressing emotions. And who undertook a decent share of this abuse along with the men who raped me? My mother and other women.

Is it any wonder then, that millions of genitally mutilated (circumsised), emotionally repressed, angry men come off our cultural production line every year? Then we stand in wonder at their violence against women, their one-dimensional expressions of 'love', their desire for power and recognition to fill an infinite void at the core of their being?

But instead of taking a serious look at the causes of this problem, often the #Metoo movement is tempted only to serve up another public scapegoat for the fury that we, collectively, feel towards our mothers and fathers. The media offers us a string of symbolic fathers like Bill Cosby, where it should be offering us our own parents. Not for the sake of fury, but for the sake of analysis and healing.

Astute psychoanalysts may notice that Bill Cosby is our perfect societal scapegoat: He is the nation's father-figure in symbolic form. And by raging at him, we can rage at our fathers by proxy — but without really challenging anything in our own lives. While I agree that Cosby is deserving of anger and rehabilitation, it would be a horrible mistake to think that deposing him is to depose the millions of mothers and fathers who participated in the largely invisible holocaust of child abuse in the childhood home than underlies most adult sexual-abuse dynamics.

If there is any hope of escape, the #Metoo movement must redirect its focus onto the original source of this problem: The family structure, and a socioeconomic system that rewards all the male behaviours that women otherwise claim to dislike.

I hope that over the next few months, the #Myfamilytoo movement can begin. An honest acknowledgement of where the conditioning experiences that create these 'monsters' begins. A movement that takes a deeper look at the wounded men who rape, and the women who condition them.

Until we look at what happens in the more than 1 in 4 incestuous families, #Metoo remains an exercise in projection. It's definitely a start, and I applaud those rarer individuals, like Dylan Farrow, who have spoken out about the deeper, familiar origins of our society's rape culture.

Of course, when we dig deeper still, the question remains: What happened to the abuser? What happened, for example, to Woody Allen to make him act this way? What happened to my own father? This is not a question asked out of sympathy, but necessity. If we view Woody Allen as one-dimensional, we will keep giving birth to more Woody Allens: More men who simply act out the violence they experienced at the hands of their families.

e ask these questions not because we wish to excuse the abusers, but because unless we understand the mechanisms by which a 'man' is conditioned into the position of an abuser, and why women are complicit in that abuse, we live in a world that is essentially racist and superficial: Where the only explanation for rape culture is simply that a type of human we call 'man' is inherently abusive. In following this racist logic, we risk overlooking the role of mothers in not speaking out against their partners or other men. We also overlook the direct role of women in shaping the walking cluster of dysfunctions and pain we call 'man'.

Not only is this an analytical error, but it actually perpetuates another generation of abuse. This is, obviously, not to ignore the societal structures that put women under great duress not to speak out. But until we, as a society, accept this complicity, and these womens' repetition of their own mother's behaviour, we will not escape this cycle.

We live on planet where many women help men to abuse women. It is only in acknowledging this shared responsibility that we can begin to change things for the better. Thank you for reading.

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A vital workpiece. Thank you 🙏🏼


Thanks for reading, @lenskonig


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Something that is very much missing is the way for a man or any abusive person to stop doing it. Like the person is in the moment and the impulse is there to do something terrible, how do they stop doing it. Repeating family patterns, insecurity, rage, desire, other base emotions and not seeking help are some of the factors at play here.

I work with clients on compulsions, addictions and emotions and have been thinking about this recently. I see that women have their checklist for what to do to stay safe, but men don't have one to stop hurting people.

If we assume that someone hurting people is trying to get something out of that behaviour, maybe there is a way for them to change through another outlet/strategy.

Men need to deal with their issues and leave embarrassment at the door. They need to become present and conscious people. They need new ways to process emotions and express themselves. They need to take deep breaths and leave a relationship for good if they are causing damage to someone. Too much responsibility on the victim. More male responsibility is needed.

Not in any way an easy fix, as it is so prevalent (about 1/4 families as you said). I'm working on it here to help all parties get free, clear and transformed in their circumstances. I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Another brilliant post @matrjoschka, uncovering and exposing yet another piece of the hidden and concealed puzzle of the dynamics of Child Sexual Abuse. It is vital for a sensible discussion that these dynamics be exposed and understood in non-judgement.

Currently the issue remains unacknowledged and avoided - look at the (lack of) response to your excellent posts on the subject! Also, considering that more than 1 in 4 (I accept the figures and have quoted similar ones myself) families may be incestuous (presumably this extends to uncles, cousins etc), there must be many who cannot, or will not even consider a serious discussion of the issue of CSA - one that does not focus on the simple finger-pointing victim/victimiser duality - precisely because it threatens to touch that deeply hidden and unacknowledged spot within! When one considers that the spouses and partners of survivors (secondary surviors) are also affected by the undealt-with trauma of CSA, the numbers of affected people vs the silence around the issue, is staggering; the lack of engagement, perhaps not so surprising!

As you indicate, today's 'victimiser' may have been yesterday's 'victim' (eg your mother, and from what you say, possibly/probably your father!?). Blaming just shuts off any further discussion. Silence twists the knife deeper - how many 'victims' have tried to tell or indicate what is going on to other close family members, only to be told to keep quiet, not make a scene etc etc. This is where the hidden abuse support-structure that you talk about also comes into play, protecting/hiding/fearing at the expense of the victim.

To get beyond blame (internal or external) and silence, as you have, requires a long and intense process of healing such as you must have gone through (are going through), to get to a point where you can declare yourself 'free and awake', and begin to help others. You have my deepest respect for this, for having chosen to heal yourself rather than to shit your own pain onto an uncaring world (although I guess you probably did for a while before you 'woke up' :). I'm not sure I know of a greater achievement for a being having a human experience - the starting point being such abject and seemingly utter isolation and darkness and confusion, that the process of learning and expansion undertaken to get to the other side, where you are, is, and has to be V A S T! (the 'silent' revolution? :).

Thank you once again 🔆