Thursday, December 4, 2014

Violence against women, its a men's issue.

I'm going to share with you a paradigm-shifting
perspective on the issues of gender violence -- they've been seen as women's issues that some
good men help out with, but I have a problem with that frame and I don't accept it. I don't see these as women's issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I think that these are men's issues.

Now obviously, they're also women's issues, so I
appreciate that, but calling gender violence a women's issue is part of the problem, for a lot of reasons.

The first is that it gives men an excuse not to pay attention. Right? A lot of men hear the term "women's issues" and they  tend to tune it out, and think, "Hey, I'm a guy. That's for the girls," or "That's for the women." And a lot of men literally don't get beyond the first sentence as a result. It's almost like a chip in their brain is activated, and the neural pathways take their  attention in a different direction when they  hear the term "women's issues." This is also true, by the way, of the word "gender," because a lot of people hear the word "gender" and they think it means "women." So they think that gender issues is synonymous with women's issues.

 So let's talk for a moment about race. In the U.S. when we hear the word "race," a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander, on and on. A lot of people, when they hear the word "sexual orientation" think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual. And a lot of people, when they hear the word "gender," think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn't get paid attention to. Right? As if white people don't have some sort of racial identity or belong to some racial category or construct, as if heterosexual people don't have a sexual orientation, as if men don't have a gender. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to
even think about its dominance, because that's one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that
are primarily about them. And it is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

We don't help either by asking questions like, why do these women go out with these men? Why are they attracted to these men? Why do they keep going back? What was she wearing at that party? What a stupid thing to do. Why was she drinking with that group of guys in that hotel room? This is victim blaming.  This isn't wrong as it is a legitimate thing to ask but we need to know that asking questions about women will not prevent gender violence. We need to ask a different set of questions like why do men abuse women? Why is domestic violence still a big problem in Nigeria and all over the world? Why do so many men abuse, physically, emotionally, verbally, and other ways, the women and girls, and the men and boys, that they claim to love? What's going on with men? Why do so many adult men sexually abuse little girls and little boys? Why is that a common problem in our society and all over the world today?And then what is the role of the various institutions in our
society that are helping to produce abusive men at pandemic rates? Because this isn't about individual perpetrators.What's the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects?

But one of the powerful roles that men can play in this issue is that they  can say some things that sometimes women can't say, or, better yet, they  can be heard saying some things that women often can't be heard saying.
Now, when it comes to men and male culture, the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. And when I say abusive, I don't mean just men who are beating women. And I'm  not just saying a man whose friend
is abusing his girlfriend needs to stop the guy at the moment of attack. That's a naive way of creating a social change. It's along a continuum, Men should learn  to interrupt each other. So, for example, if you're a guy and you're in a group of guys playing poker, talking, hanging out, no women present, and another guy says something
sexist or degrading or harassing about women, instead of laughing along or pretending you didn't hear it, we need men to say, "Hey, that's not funny. You know, that could be my sister you're talking about, and could you joke about something else? Or could you talk about something else? I don't appreciate that kind of talk.". Doing this we make the perpetrators lose status and if we can't get to that place a change begins because most male victims of violence are the victims of other men's violence. So that's something that both women and men have in common.
Now among the many great things that Martin Luther King said in his short life was, "In the end, what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." There's been an awful lot of silence in male culture about this ongoing tragedy of men's violence against women and children, hasn't there? And all I'm saying is that we need to break that silence, and we need more men to do that.
 The responsibility for taking a stand on these issues should not fall on the shoulders of little boys or teenage boys in high school or college men. It should be on adult men with power. Adult men with power are the ones we need to be holding accountable for being leaders on these issues, because when somebody speaks up in a peer culture and challenges and interrupts, he or she is being a leader, really, right? But on a big scale, we need more adult men with power to start prioritizing these issues, and we haven't seen
that yet, have we?

I hope that, going forward, men and women, working together, can begin the change and the transformation that will happen so that future generations won't have the level of tragedy that we deal with on a daily basis.
I know we can do it. We can do better.

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