by Theodore R. Johnson, The Grio
While at dinner with friends, I noticed a nice-looking, well-dressed couple in the booth adjacent to ours. The conversation at our table, however, was interrupted by the hushed tones of a furious woman.
“You’re using the wrong fork, idiot! Daniel — why are you so damn stupid?!”
Our table could not believe what we’d just heard. But more than that, we all silently prepared for the loud and escalating argument we were certain was about to occur. Should it turn into an all-out shouting match, or even become a physical altercation, we knew we would have to pull the hulking black man away from his angry woman.
When men are abused
But what happened next shocked us even more: nothing. Daniel didn’t do or say a thing in response. Instead, he hung his head and slouched his shoulders, and then quietly picked up his salad fork.
The berating continued. She told Daniel to sit up straight and stop slumping like a punk. She insulted his clothes and his hair. She called him worthless, stupid, and a bum. Then she said, “You’re just sorry. Do you know how many men want to take me out? And you can’t even buy me an appetizer!”
What we witnessed was domestic abuse. The Office of Violence against Women at the Department of Justice defines this as, “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” This includes emotional abuse that, “undermines an individual’s sense of self-worth,” such as “constant criticism and name-calling.”
Offering protection — to a man?
Recognizing this as abuse was easy. The harder part was determining what, if anything, we could do. This was further complicated by the fact that a woman was the perpetrator here. Three men – my friends and I – publicly confronting a woman for abusing her partner runs so counter to societal norms that it can be paralyzing when action is needed most.
From an early age, society conveys certain truisms about gender and abuse: men do not need protection from women; a group of men confronting a woman presents a threat to her safety and well-being; verbal abuse is not a significant event that warrants intervention. These perceptions are especially exaggerated in the black community where traditional gender roles, exacerbated by the influence of racism, take on a particular character.