The crime of emotional silencing

29 Dec

Sad news this week. While on holiday in Jamaica, Cathy-Lee Martin’s throat was slashed by her husband. The couple were experiencing marital problems and reports reveal that Ms Martin told her husband that she wanted to separate. The 43 year old Ontario school teacher decided that slitting his wife’s throat was a solution to their failing marriage and he intended to kill her.

That horrendous act of violence was the vocabulary that Mr. Martin communicated his hurt. He’s one of so many men who have not had the opportunity to explore and express their emotions in a healthy way, turning instead to violence.

I have looked up some extremely disturbing statistics for this week’s post to illustrate the catastrophic numbers of violence against women by men who cannot see another way to cope with their problems. From the Amnesty International website:

  • At least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes  (L Heise, M Ellsberg, M Gottemoeller, 1999)
  • Up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners (WHO 2002)
  • In Bangladesh 50% of all murders are of women by their partners (Joni Seager, 2003)
  • In Pakistan 42% of women accept violence as part of their fate; 33% feel too helpless to stand up to it; 19% protested and 4% took action against it (Government study in Punjab 2001)
  • In Zambia five women a week were murdered by a male partner or family member (Joni Seager 2003)
  • In the USA a woman is battered, usually by her husband/partner, every 15 seconds (UN Study on the World’s Women, 2000)

Here in Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation cites half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

These numbers are frighteningly high. Why is this happening?

Marc Lepine, the gunman who murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique before killing himself wrote in his suicide note that “feminists have ruined my life… The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women… while trying to grab those of men.”

Anthropologist David Gilmore finds that there has always been a tendency for men to fear and hate women: “Most men need women desperately and most men reject this driving need as both unworthy and dangerous.”  This love/hate dynamic, says Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome, “is rooted in men’s unique dependency on women: boy relies on mother, and later relies on his wife for food preparation, domestic care, emotional support, and nurturing.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that while “psychologists and feminists and the entire [US] legal system see male sexual aggression as the initiation of violence, guys describe it in a different way – not as an initiation but as retaliation… against the power that women have over them.”

In other words, some men are threatened by women encroaching on “their” territory, and there is a perceived inadequacy for a patriarchal / macho man to need and rely on a “weaker” woman in a society that demands male self-reliance and stoicism.

The Montreal massacre sparked concerns in Canadian men and in 1991, The White Ribbon Campaign was born, addressing violence against women (website here). To support the group and to wear a white ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. The White Ribbon Campaign sees the future having no violence against women. As it should be.

However, it is one thing for a man to say that he will never be violent against a woman but it is completely another thing to nurture boys from birth, encourage them to communicate their feelings, and simply allow them to love. And so I turn to a brilliant feminist thinker, bell hooks, author of The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.  I was overjoyed to read her book because I found a kindred spirit in her way of thinking about men.

“Feminist thinkers, like myself,” hooks writes, “who wanted to include men in the discussion were usually male-identified and dismissed. We were “sleeping with the enemy”. We were the feminists who could not be trusted because we cared about the fate of men. We were the feminists who did not believe in female superiority any more than we believed in male superiority.”

Male superiority, or patriarchy, is the exclusive social system that puts men in the dominant position above all else, and what hooks goes on to describe as a convention that “endowed [men] with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

She says that the patriarchy keeps men from knowing themselves and experiencing their emotions, from loving. “To know love, ” she says, “men must be able to let go the will to dominate.”

She also says, “Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples.”

If any of you have read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s easy to create a deeply hurt and seethingly angry, violent, self-loathing man by mistreating him as a child. On top of this, add a heavy-handed expectation to conceal his feelings and swallow his natural emotions. And if he slips, let him have it.

“For many men, anger is the only emotion they have to express themselves,” says Jed Diamond, author of the Irritable Male Syndrome, “men are taught to “do” and as a result, men keep their emotions under wrap – they cannot show hurt, fear, worry, or panic.”

Hooks speaks at length about her experiences growing up with a brother just one year older, and how their gender roles were literally beaten into them by a patriarchal father who refused to accept his gentle and passive son and also refused to have an aggressive and competitive daughter.

“Something missing within” was a self-description I heard from many men as I went around our nation talking about love,” hooks explains, “Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, of unrepressed joy, of feeling connected to life and to other people, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, that a feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone.

“Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief. Sadly, tragically, these men in great numbers were remembering a primal moment of heartbreak and heartache: the moment that they were compelled to give up their right to feel, to love, in order to take their place as patriarchal men.”

This idea is so sad to me. Manhood sounds like a sentence this way. I cannot imagine not being able to feel – it seems to me that I would explode. Young men can explode into violence and grown men explode in heart attacks and high blood pressure, both under serious stress, coping with a deafening and imposed silence, and no outlet to express themselves.

I see a lot of men walk around beaten, confused, abused, and bullied into patriarchal submission, and it breaks my heart. I think of this a crime against humanity.

We need to examine this social practice and start to heal from our patriarchal wounds, and to heal says hooks, we as a society need to stand by men and love them and support them, “offering a love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.”

9 Responses to “The crime of emotional silencing”

  1. Bobby December 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Men and women are not at war. You have assumed the action and attitudes of sick and confused men are representative of the norm. It’s not. Real women love men and are loved by men; they treat each others with mutual respect. Contrast this to the feminist who wants men to love them while they hate and insult men. Fortunately, the view of feminists are mostly inconsequential as the world is full of good women.
    Your “statistics” are also questionable: “At least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes (L Heise, M Ellsberg, M Gottemoeller, 1999)” Does this statement have any meaning? By definitions of abuse, everyone has been abused, not just a third of women.
    People like you need to stop wasting time mis-defining the problem as violence between men and women instead of addressing the larger issue of violence in the society. If you want to put your time to better use, commit to promoting a society of non-violence and stop misguiding people. The change has to start with you; when you stop hating men, your perception of men hating women will disappear.

    • Leah Morrigan January 1, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

      Hello Bobby,

      It is never my intention to upset or insult anyone, so I have reread my post to make sure that I have not used language that lumps all men into the violent category, and it seems that I have not. However, if you can point out the error you perceive, please tell me and I will be happy to correct it.

      I use references from leaders in the social and natural sciences and quality websites like Amnesty International, in this case. If you are having trouble with one of the statistical points, I suggest to contact Amnesty International: If you’d like to read the entire study from which the reference was taken, please find it here.

      It seems that the word “feminist” has rattled your cage some, and I assure you, Bobby, that feminism has many schools of thought. Certainly there are man-hating feminists, I’m not going to deny that, but there are also feminists who believe in equality for everyone, like me and like bell hooks. I wanted to talk about her ideas because we’re in a social place we’ve never been in before and we’re all confused with changing roles, so I think it is important to bring in a loving, empathetic view of how to support men through these enormous and complicated changes.

      If I hated men, Bobby, would I have chosen to work with men professionally, to help men better themselves, to help men appreciate themselves, and feel more confident?

      I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope that this reply explains things a little better and helps you see my viewpoint. Best wishes to you.

  2. Deirdre January 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Check out Cracking the Armor: Power, Pain, and the Lives of Men

    • Leah Morrigan January 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

      Thank you, Deirdre.

      Readers, Michael Kaufman is one of the founders of The White Ribbon Campaign and the book that Deirdre recommends is available as a downloadable PDF.

  3. Keshav January 15, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Leah,
    Again a very wonderful post. Violence, I believe is wrong in any sense, whether on a woman or anyone weaker. Just because a woman is weaker, doesn’t give men the right to be violent on them. But, unfortunately that is how males are brought up (a majority of), to bully someone weaker is always ingrained in our bringing up. The smarter kid bullies the dumber in math class and the stronger kid bullies the weaker in gym. It just goes round-an-round-an-round. These medieval values of hatred and bullying (a general term for violence, against all forms of life) need to change, there needs to be a shift in paradigm, as we evolve. This is the 21st century and not medieval times or prehistoric ones. Our minds our evolving now, much faster than they did earlier, our mental growth is exponential.

    Love is something essential that needs to be inculcated in our society and our mindset. There is just way too much hatred out there and a lot of pent up frustration and anger too, we need to get rid of this. And this really needs to start from our schools, because parents are prejudiced and not many would take the extra mile of teaching about love, when they themselves have been moulded in a medieval framework.

    Excellent post, I must say.

    BTW please capitalize the H in hooks and there is also a small error of the closing of quoets (“”)

    • Leah Morrigan January 27, 2011 at 9:19 am #

      Thank you for your comment Keshav (and your proofreading!). I think it’s important that we are conscious of our actions and how we affect other people – especially if we negatively affect the outside world. I completely agree that it has to to start in school when we’re young, but we also learn and observe from the people around us (i.e. our parents) before we start school, so it really should begin in the home.

      Spread the love and spread the consciousness!

  4. Leah Morrigan February 14, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Hi everyone, I came across this interesting article that was posted on Facebook by a man who has ideas along the same lines as me, but he articulates them in a more spiritual manner:!/note.php?note_id=449765658259&id=106018078297

    The author is life coach, Brian Piergrossi. His website is and the name of the linked article is The New Masculinity.

    • Leah Morrigan November 24, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Ross, thanks for this. I heard the same news on the radio this morning, acquitting Paul Martin of slashing his wife’s throat. When I wrote this post initially, I was writing to shine a light on the violence against women concept, sparked by the Martin case, not necessarily his guilt nor his innocence of attempting to kill his wife (though this story could now revolve around the wife’s delusions or mental illness!). I think that the story is food for thought about how the balance of “gender power” has shifted to such an extreme, that men are walking on eggshells. I’m truly sorry that things have turned this way and I try to make it part of my job to help men feel their worth and their value as members of the human race. History shows us that changes (social as well as sartorial) initially go to extremes before settling into a comfortable and manageable circumstances. Let’s see what happens next.

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