The Invisible Boy
Revisioning the Victimization of Male Children and Teens
68 pages, free (in Canada) from the National Clearing-house on Family Violence, 1-800-267-1291. Review by Jeffrey Asher.
I opened Mathews’ report to give it a superficial glance. For the next three hours, pencil in hand, I could not put it down. The Invisible Boy should create a transformation in Canadian attitudes about abuse of males. I am amazed that a government agency permitted Mathews to question the pervasive female-victimization dogma . Perhaps his lifetime of objective experience and his skill as a writer allowed him to author this report.
Permit me to dispose of some of my qualms first. Mathews, as almost all health care workers and researchers, leaves undefined the severity of ‘harm’ caused by sexual ‘abuse’. How traumatic is an unwelcome genital touch, compared to a false accusation of rape, or the loss of sight? Our cultural exaggeration of sexual harm and the psycho-pathologization of life is not a cure, but a cause of suffering. Tara Dineen in her book Manufacturing Victims (Robert Davies, Montreal, 1996) [review p53—Ed.] and others denounce ‘recovered memories’ of child sexual abuse, the satanic abuse hysteria and other psycho-sexual manias. They condemn obsessing on select emotional experiences as pathology. The object of ‘therapy’ should be a return to a functional and fulfilling life, not the perpetuation and regurgitation of pain (abreaction, catharsis) and intensified anger.
Mathews dismissed a few of my stereotypes with his data that 62% of males in the Juvenile Prostitution Survey were approached for sex by females. He added to my surprise with a study by Urquiza showing that 32% of male undergraduate students reported sexual abuse. As a college teacher, I want to learn more about that research. In Canada, males constitute 83% of teenager suicides. Suicide is clear evidence of unresolveable stresses on male teens. I hope that Mathews and others will write more on this national crisis soon.
The Invisible Boy offers an important perspective on assaults by mothers: “...we are less likely to attribute malicious intent to mothers or other females. Instead, we tend to view women’s use of physical abuse or corporal punishment as a sign of stress.” Feminist apologists evade responsibility for mother violence as the result of frustration with children, and mothers’ relegation to inferior(?) child-rearing status. Yet that ‘over-stressed’ mother would not dare hit a child in the day care center where she works part-time, even though she is responsible for many crabby, messy, noisy, (and often delightful) children. Mothers assault their own children because those children are helpless, and the mothers know that they are highly unlikely to be punished for the abuse.
Some wisdom from the pages of The Invisible Boy:
“A double standard [exists] in the care and treatment of male victims, and the invisibility and normalization of violence and abuse towards boys and young men in our society.”
“Male-centered assessment is all but non-existent, and treatment programs are rare. [For] adult males, the problem is even greater. ... Male victims report great pain, frustration and anger at not seeing their stories reflected in the public discourse on violence and abuse.”
“Theories of male socialization are inadequate to explain why the vast majority of males are not violent.”
“... males ...must have their own voice, their own meanings for their experiences. ...male victims exposed to political rhetoric about men being ‘oppressors of women’ may become convinced that offending is their inevitable destiny. We also run the risk of fostering low self-esteem or self-worth by giving a male victim the message that his victimization is less important.”
“Sadly, male victims and their advocates risk a lot when they challenge the status quo, and experience much pressure to remain silent. If we want males to engage in true dialogue, we have to be open to hearing their criticisms, their experiences, their pain.”
“We must resist attempts to place male and female victims into a competition for resources or credibility. We can no longer afford the divisiveness along gender lines that permeates discussions about male and female victims’ experiences.”
[Male victim studies constitutes] “...an emotionally and politically charged area of interest, a point victims and advocates forget at their peril. Reasoned discussion can be difficult; research evidence is frequently dismissed or ignored in the interest of politics. ... Stated simply, if we do not go looking for male victims, we will not find them...Violence toward males is so normalized in our society that it has become invisible to the average person. So too have the images reinforcing harmful stereotypes about males and masculinity.” (For example, the intro silent movie clips for the TV series Men Behaving Badly. Record them and play them back slowly. Ask friends if the assaults would be as funny if perpetrated by men on women.)
Solving the complex problem of violence in our society will never be achieved until the stories and voices of all victims of violence are heard, until men and women of good will work side by side, and until the means of our collective struggle towards peace reflect respect, compassion and inclusion as our minimum standard.
This insightful and compassionate report should be read be every Canadian. It should be sent to all of the mass media for national action to repair and prevent the horrors uncovered by Fred Mathews. (And that is the duty of you, dear reader—please order a copy from Health Canada, and contact every electronic and print media outlet to pressure them to broadcast Mathews’ findings.)
Bravo, Fred Mathews!
Jeffrey Asher is a humanities teacher in Montreal and a writer on male epidemiology. Reach him by phone at (514) 485-6789, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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