Some women cannot, or will not, see the pain of men. They refuse to (or are unable to) acknowledge or admit that men can suffer—especially at the hands of women.
These Muslim women have the other side of the coin down pat: they are well-versed in all the different ways in which some men abuse women. And of course; this happens. Of course some men are downright abusive, irresponsible, negligent, and selfish. These types of men hurt their wives and daughters and sisters and cause them great harm. Absolutely. We need to condemn their terrible conduct in the clearest of terms. Nobody is denying that women’s abuse is real, least of all me. Certainly not.
But it seems as though this is where the conversation ends for some women. That’s all they know or can see. This half of the conversation is all they are aware of.
The well-funded and aggressively pushed colonial narrative of the “Abusive Muslim Male” has become deeply entrenched is the sole narrative within the minds of many Muslim women.
I find this fascinating because it demonstrates the curious limits of female empathy. Women are known for their innate empathy. Strangely however, with some women this empathy extends to fellow Muslim women and even to non-Muslim women, but not to Muslim men. Their empathy runs along lines of gender as opposed to faith.
Let me give you a few examples to elucidate.
I was talking to a Muslim sister recently, and she was insisting that Muslim women suffer at the hands of Muslim men.
I agreed readily and added that, additionally, Muslim men also suffer at the hands of Muslim women.
I was honestly taken aback. So this sister casually uses the word “suffer” very easily when discussing women. But if the very same word is applied to men, we suddenly no longer understand what the word means and are in need of a definition?
I proceeded to give her examples of how women can and do make men suffer (remember Tamer?):
- forbidding him from ever seeing or holding his children;
- turning his own children against him with lies;
- getting him fired and cutting off his livelihood;
- suing him wrongfully;
- false accusations of abuse;
- cheating and then flaunting it in his face;
- no-fault divorce and then gouging him for money;
- falsely reporting him for terrorism; and the list goes on.
The sister seemed unimpressed; completely unmoved by this. Her reply was:
“Yeah but do men suffer in any tangible way besides heartbreak?”
So this list comes across to you as intangible and falls under the category of “heartbreak”?
“Yeah but men’s suffering doesn’t have as big of an impact on the family or the community.”
I think what this kind of dismissive attitude shows is that men’s suffering is not the narrative she is used to hearing. It has not been highlighted as often or as extensively as the other side—of how women suffer at the hands of men. So due of a lack of exposure towards it, there is a commensurate lack of empathy or connection. It doesn’t have as great an impact on her, which results in her saying “but it doesn’t have as big of an impact on the family or community.”
I witnessed the very same pattern repeat itself within the comments made by many women on my post about Hanan and Tamer.
One Muslim woman told me that what I wrote was “very controversial.” I told her:
“I wrote about both an abused woman and an abused man. Abuse exists on both sides. Is saying that controversial?”
Her answer was:
Many women (not all though alhamdulillah) replied with comments like:
“Yeah but I know so many more Hanans than Tamers!”
That is most likely the case. But just because you personally have not heard of something, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
There are numerous reasons why many women only hear one side and not the other:
They themselves are women and they interact largely with fellow women. So the stories they usually hear are those of women: the pain of women; the hurt of women. They are simply not as familiar with men’s stories of pain or hurt. They are exposed far more to women’s suffering than they are to men’s.
Men are seen as physically bigger and stronger than women (a biological fact), but some women take this to somehow mean that men therefore are even emotionally stronger and tougher than women. That men must somehow be impervious to emotional pain since they are bigger. The physical and mental are all mixed up. Many women commented that yes, it could be possible that men may occasionally suffer, but men are “more resilient” and “recover faster.”
Why do we automatically assume that men can “just take it” or that they’ll “get over it”? My hunch is that it has to do with erroneously making a leap from the larger physical size of men to them having an assumed larger emotional resilience.
Socially, there are certain expectations of men, which are best summed up with:
“Boys don’t cry.”
Men are expected to take it on the chin and not show pain. Showing that you feel pain as a man diminishes your status and throws your masculinity into question. We expect men to be tough and strong, and broadcasting hurt goes against such an image of strength. So most men are extremely hesitant to ever show that they are in pain or that they have been manipulated or abused by a woman. Saying that might make him seem like less of a man, which will only serve to exacerbate the problem. So many men hide their pain and suffer in silence. And we don’t hear their stories.
The men who do manage to go against these societal expectations and speak up about their wives abusing them don’t get taken seriously. They are often laughed out of the room, even by police officers and legal entities. Even their male friends will tell them:
“Seriously dude! You’re a man! She’s a woman! How much can she really do to you? Man up!”
So the male victim falls silent, now more embarrassed than ever, with his masculinity shredded into ribbons.
The natures of men and women are very different. Women by nature tend to be much more articulate when it comes to expressing themselves and explaining their feelings and emotions. Men are less gifted in this arena. They certainly feel pain just as much, but they tend to be less adept at being open about it and expressing their emotions. The result is that, overall, we tend to hear about the suffering of one side far more than we do the other.
Psychological research shows that women tend to have stronger ties along lines of gender, whereas men do not. This is called “automatic ingroup bias.” Meaning: women tend to stick together with other women even of other tribes and other faiths because they feel a larger affinity towards each other based on their shared gender. Men on the other hand, do not display this gender-based affinity towards other men outside of their tribe, family, or ingroup.
A man’s loyalty lies with their family or ingroup (which includes their women) against fellow men. Whereas a woman’s loyalty tends to lie with their fellow women against men—even those in their family.
There is a paper by Laurie Rudman et al titled “Gender differences in automatic in-group bias: why do women like women more than men like men?”
In their analysis, what the psychologists report is that their studies:
“found pro-female bias to the extent that participants automatically favored their mothers over their fathers or associated male gender with violence.”
And of course, all of these psychological and social factors are playing across the backdrop of the deep-seated narrative of the “Abusive Muslim Male.”
This has a long and sordid history, starting with the onset of Western colonialism. Western colonial powers needed a pretext for invading Muslim lands and taking their resources. What could be a better excuse than:
“Muslim men are savages who abuse their women! We must go save the helpless Muslim damsel in distress from her abusive Muslim husband/ father/ brother!”
And thus the “Abusive Muslim Male” narrative was born.
And with their excuse firmly in place, the colonialists could claim the high moral ground as they forced their way into Muslim nations and wreaked havoc upon traditional societies and as they killed, stole and raped.
“We are doing this to help you! This is for your own good, Muslim women! You can thank us later.”
We must not fall for this age-old trick of the colonizers. Feminists have been repeating the same tired trope since then, and they continue to do so to this very day. Well-used phrases like “toxic masculinity” and “male privilege” have been weaponized and hurled at Muslim men.
Ultimately, these are the age-old tricks of Shaytan. Shaytan wants to divide us. He wants to sow hatred between men and women, to break up families, and to pit us against one another so that we all fall more easily.
This image has become ingrained into the minds and hearts of many:
Men = villains and abusers
Women = victims and sufferers
This is a false dichotomy which has been pushed onto us. We have to push back against it and think about these claims critically.
Both men and women can undergo abuse. Both men and women can abuse. Neither gender has a monopoly on suffering or on acting unjustly. Both genders have a form of power over the other and it is possible that either may end up misusing it. Both genders have vulnerabilities which the other side could potentially exploit.
We Muslims are even-handed and fair-minded, with no bias to one side over the other and without distorting justice. We have to state the truth plainly and honestly, whether it be in our favor or against us. As Allah says in the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ…
“O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives…” (Surat An-Nisa’, 135)
There are good men and there are bad men in this world. And there are good women and bad women in this world.
Stating this undeniable reality should in no way be controversial.