I read a comment on a thread that had this picture on it and it said, "it's confusing." I read "confusing" and thought about the guy's face in the picture. I think we're frustrated with his stagnancy but he may very well be confused. So I'm wondering what does that confusion look like and I'm trying to remember moments in which I've witnessed this on the street and remained a stagnant witness.
First thing that comes to mind is the overwhelming shame - even writing this out I'm feeling ashamed of myself for not being some heroic savior of the victim in the situation. With that shame, I'm wondering how the expectations of masculinity are woven deeply into this situation. Maybe even with a few knots. One big part of new masculinities is re-imagining what men have to do to be recognized as men. Furthermore, what do good men have to do to be recognized as good. More often than not, this means less violence, less machismo, less fighting, less savior complex, less hypermasculine performance, less performance for women, and on and on. It is to shift the narrative.
I think about this specific situation and the reactions that we get from a lot of people is, "you aren't a real man unless you subdue the abuser." It is reinforcing those really rigid ideas of what it means to be a man onto men who aren't jumping at the first opportunity to get physical and rewarding those who show themselves as hyperaggressive. It also reinforces the male savior narrative, which essentially says that men are put on earth to save women, who are too weak to save themselves.
Of course there is tension in my reflecting here because I'm wondering what the responsibility is of the group that identifies most closely with the oppressor does. Men are doing this so it is the responsibility of men to stop other men from doing this, right? I struggle here so much because I don't even think we know what it means to be a man. I don't think we thoroughly understand what manhood looks like, which is why we constantly see men saying, "well, not me, I'd never do that, I'm a good guy."
Speaking of good guy, we often associate good guy with non-hypermasculinity. But in this particular situation, hypermasculinity is accepted, even promoted, when it benefits victims of hypermasculinity. I don't think that's necessarily wrong (I think hypermasculinity perhaps has a place in the spectrum of healthy masculinities), however, that can be confusing as hell to navigate when you're in the thick of the moment trying to figure out what kind of man you want to be today.
I don't think that's an overstatement. I do think when men are witnessing abuse, they are wondering what kind of man they want to be. I think they're making conscious decisions to engage or disengage based on the social pressures around masculinity and accepted forms of behaviors in those contexts.
What the fuck though? Why freeze now? Why can't you freeze when your boy is playing video games or professing his love by picking up his phone and sweet talking? Well there are inherent risks in freezing up in those moments that will put your masculinity into question, much like the risks associated with not freezing up when you are being asked to perform by teasing the sweet talking or taunt the video game player.
Another thing that comes to mind is the fear that boils up in those moments. I'm afraid. I hate admitting that I'm afraid because I've bought into the idea that fear makes me less of a man but I'm scared. It is scary to see someone being physically / psychologically / emotionally abused in front of you, much less by someone you know and maybe even care for.
So this guy's face can also be fear. How do we deal with fear? When I'm scared, I often freeze up to analyze the situation. If I'm in danger, I figure out how to get out of the situation and if I'm not, I often do nothing because I don't want to go to jail. I've been avoiding fights since I started seeing all of my friends go to jail for fighting (they called it assault but they were just fighting). I think some people deal with fear by fighting, which is why I think some men are quick to talk about how they went ballistic and intervened and saved the day - because it's scary to talk about the real fear that exists, even in that moment, when fear fuels violence.
There's the idea that maybe men are abusing the women as a part of their masculine display to other men, as opposed to anything even related to women. Masculinities aren't performed only when someone is watching, there are also performances of masculinities through storytelling amongst men. Men being able to say that they did something that proves their strength over a partner - or lover or wife or property - or having other men talk about what they saw a man do can be just as useful when someone is establishing himself in a particular context.
DEHUMANIZATION OF WOMEN
Another point that comes to mind is how women may be dehumanized in contexts where men are performing masculinities for each other. They're objects just as much as the video game is in the earlier example. If you dehumanize a woman who is being abused, even subconsciously, you're much more able to numbly (neologism?) experience that abuse and do nothing but watch. Can't even empathize.
I struggle with this because I am not justifying passive engagement in the suffering of women because of masculine social pressures. I am however trying to deepen my understandings of the role that the social pressures men face have on their actions. In that, I find myself stuck in a vicious cycle of regret and angst around wanting to do more.