Domestic Violence

The effect of toxic masculinity on violent relationships

Femme Fatale

When Amber Heard accused her now ex-husband Johnny Depp of domestic abuse and filed for divorce, virtually nobody believed her at the time.

Benicio del Toro, a friend of Johnny Depp’s who was not there to witness the alleged attacks and who also admitted that he didn’t “know the specifics,” nevertheless felt qualified to assert that Heard was a “manipulative” and “twisted” woman who lied about being abused so she could get Depp’s money.

Depp is a “nice guy, very caring, very smart,” insisted del Toro. This was, to him, enough proof of Depp’s innocence. And all over the Internet, people echoed his sentiments. Someone even edited Amber Heard’s Wikipedia page to describe her as a gold digger who “married the super talented and respected actor Johnny Depp to take advantage of his kind nature” and then started “blackmailing him with abuse allegations” in order to take advantage of him.

Why is it so hard for people to believe women when they say they’ve been abused by their partners? Somehow, it’s far easier for people to imagine that a happily married woman would go to absurd lengths, forging evidence and police reports and painting fake bruises on her face, just to squeeze money out of her husband.

It didn’t matter that Amber Heard called the police, that they saw her injuries and trashed house, or that they encouraged her to make a statement. It didn’t matter that Heard was granted a restraining order. It didn’t matter that she provided overwhelming evidence to prove her claims. People still refused to believe her.

After obtaining the divorce settlement, Heard proceeded to donate all $7 million to charity—a generous move that also silenced the gold-digger accusations. And while the donation is laudable, it is sad that she needed to donate her settlement in order to prove to everyone that she was, in fact, abused.

We know that domestic violence happens, and that it happens with an alarming frequency. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner, and many people experience emotional abuse as well. These numbers are concerning. We should help domestic violence victims, and we should penalize those who abuse their partners.

But that’s not what happens. We let Chris Brown off the hook for viciously beating Rihanna. We continue to listen to his songs, chant his name at concerts, and idolize him. And we ignore some cases of domestic abuse altogether. A horrifying recent video shows Lindsay Lohan’s fiancé Egor Tarabasov grabbing her and savagely twisting her arm behind her back. Yet this story got almost no media coverage.

Domestic violence is often overlooked because of the intimate nature of the crime, and the idea that it’s “none of [our] business” to intervene. Excuses are made for the perpetrators. And, worst of all, survivors of domestic violence often endure victim-blaming, as they are asked why they stayed with their partner or why they didn’t report sooner.

The reason why people stay in abusive relationships is because they feel powerless and afraid of what would happen to them if they were to leave. Approximately 1,500 women are killed each year by husbands or boyfriends—the consequences of leaving an abusive relationship can be deadly. And the reason why people abuse their intimate partners is to exercise power over them. There’s a reason why 85 percent of domestic violence cases involve men attacking women—domestic violence is all about power dynamics.

There’s a social theory that explains the persistence of these power dynamics. Toxic masculinity is the idea that men in our society are expected to conform to a specific model of manhood. This model of manhood dictates that the only way men can be “manly” is through violence, aggression, and dominance. This toxic idea of masculinity, therefore, pressures men to view women as inferior, perceive sex as an act of conquest, and see violence as a way to establish dominance over others. Toxic masculinity isn’t only harmful because it condones only one way for men to behave; it also contributes to domestic violence by leading men to believe that they must establish dominance over women, and that they can do so through violence.

And toxic masculinity hurts male domestic violence survivors as well. When men experience domestic violence, they often face very little support and resources. Toxic masculinity keeps men in perpetual fear that they might seem soft, weak, or emotional. It stigmatizes men who cry, denigrates men as “pussies” if they show emotion, and teaches men from a young age that it’s not manly to show weakness. As a result, male survivors of domestic violence are unlikely to report their assault, and even if they do report, they are often not taken seriously by the authorities—especially if the perpetrator was a woman. In this way, both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, and both men and women are hurt by unrealistic and violent standards of masculinity.

Therefore, in order to address domestic violence, we must dismantle this toxic construct of masculinity. At the end of the day, the patriarchy causes harm to everyone, regardless of their gender. And if we are able to dismantle the patriarchy, then maybe society would believe female domestic abuse survivors like Amber Heard and even begin to listen to the countless men who have also experienced domestic abuse.


Nian Hu ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, is a government concentrator living in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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