WHAT ABOUT THE MEN WHO ARE TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING?
That was the thought I had the other day after hearing what was intended as an innocuous joke. “If you took a vote on which is the better gender,” a female friend said, “men would come in second.”
The wry smile that crossed my face quickly faded. Society is so often poised to castigate men that even those working to transform manhood and old school, conventional masculine culture are mostly invisible.
A gathering at the Massachusetts statehouse in Boston on March 7th sought to change that.
As they have for the past five years, several hundred men—“peace ambassadors” from across Massachusetts—gathered for a public event highlighting men’s commitment to preventing violence against women.
As part of Massachusetts White Ribbon Day, those who came together were advocates for a world where all men, older and younger, men are part of the work of ending sexual abuse and domestic violence. Speakers representing a range of masculinities shared a common message: men have a role to play in preventing violence against women.
The White Ribbon campaign began in Canada in response to the Dec. 6, 1989, mass murder at l’École Polytechnique in Montréal. A man stormed into the college, murdered 14 women and then shot himself. Commemorated as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, in the past 23 years it has grown into an international campaign with activities at various times of the year in dozens of countries around the world.
CALLING ALL MEN
The gathering is both a commemoration and a call to men to redouble our efforts in addressing the domestic and sexual violence crisis plaguing society.
The Baystate campaign is coordinated by Jane Doe, Inc., the Massachusetts coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence whose members include domestic violence organizations and rape crisis centers across the Commonwealth.
Male ambassadors are a key part of Jane Doe’s strategy to encourage more men to work to prevent violence against women.
“The vast majority of men want to do the right thing, to speak up and speak out against the minority of men who perpetrate violence,” said Craig Norberg-Bohm, who coordinates Jane Doe’s men’s initiative. “As men wake up to the injustice that women face, they become enthusiastic about becoming involved.”
Norberg-Bohm said they chose International Women’s Day because it is a particularly good time for men to recognize a missing component in the violence equation society is trying to solve.
On one side are well-meaning men like White Ribbon Day ambassadors; on the other are men acting abusively. In between, and missing from the equation, are bystanders; the overwhelming majority of men who are neither peace ambassadors nor agents of violence.
They hold the answer to what kind of manhood society will embrace.
If they stand silently by, the abusers will mistakenly believe they are condoning their violence, and the ambassadors of peace will think they don’t care.
A COMMUNITY ISSUE
The truth is, all men need to recognize that violence against women—whether a domestic violence murder in New York or a gang rape in New Delhi—is not a women’s issue but a community issue. It is high time for bystanders to leave the sidelines and take a stand so their sons won’t have to ask, “Dad, what are you waiting for?”
At the Boston statehouse all the men in the room, including high school and college students, stood to recite the White Ribbon pledge promising “to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.”
The pledge is a starting point—a spark for discussions in service clubs, houses of worship, classrooms and locker rooms. Positive actions will hopefully spring from those conversations in such forms as school campaigns promoting respect and faith communities inviting anti-violence speakers to the Sabbath pulpit.
White Ribbon Day commemorations remind us of the efforts some men are making to reshape masculinity. Still, we cannot wish away the damaging impact of conventional expressions of masculinity; that too many men exert power and control over others, often the women in their lives, as a way to mask their insecurity with life’s challenges.
As more men question what it means to be a man, it’s a good opportunity to also consider what they wish for their sons, grandsons and brothers. Are we nearing the day when we define manhood by a male’s capacity to be compassionate and nurturing as well as strong and decisive? I hope so.
Voice Male editor Rob Okun can be reached at email@example.com
For me, Valentine’s Day is a teachable moment more than a holiday. It’s a perfect time to promote healthy relationships more than romantic gifts and candlelight dinners. Don’t get me wrong. I like a sweet evening out with my honey as much as anybody. I just have a hard time being dreamy-eyed if I’m simultaneously turning a blind eye to the outbreak of domestic and sexual violence still plaguing us. It’s a disorder very difficult to treat.
Domestic and sexual abuse strains have long been resistant to vaccines of chocolate, champagne, diamond brooches, and bouquets of flowers. This year, though, there’s a potent new injection available—One Billion Rising! It carries no live yeast, and was not developed in a pharmaceutical laboratory. It came out of the cauldron of change playwright-activist Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”) and her cohort at Vday.org devised as a prescription for peace and vitality. It’s one the World Health Organization would be wise to consider including in its protocols.
Vday, launched on Valentine’s Day 1998, has long worked to end sexual violence internationally. It chose its 15th anniversary to call for a global strike, a time to “walk out, rise up, and demand an end to violence against women.”
One Billion Rising is certainly a protest against violence and a demonstration of the collective strength, numbers, and solidarity across borders of so many. Yet it offers an unorthodox work-out plan that calls for exercising the muscles of change through dance, song, and speaking up. As organizers say, “It breaks the rules…it’s free. No corporation controls it. It joins us and pushes us to go further.”
In two hundred countries around the world this Valentine’s Day, women and men are on the streets saying yes to peace in the home and in our hearts as much as emphatically declaring no to violence everywhere. Activists are literally turning Valentine’s Day on its head.
As the blood stimulates our collective brain, hopefully more people will be moved to challenge rape and rape culture, sex trafficking, sexual abuse of children, and domestic violence. One Billion Rising is airborne now, an avian vaccine carried by doves of possibility. In the days that follow, as reports pour in from around the world describing demonstrations and celebrations, teach-ins and speak-outs, it will mark a time to reflect on our common cause in the struggle to end violence, from the Congo to the Commonwealth.
Eve Ensler and Vday have long recognized men’s role in working to prevent violence. They have partnered with men and men’s organizations for many years and cite men’s violence prevention efforts as integral in the work of creating a world where all are safe. Last month, she wrote a “Man Prayer,” a moving invocation recited in 16 languages in a film by Tony Stroebel that’s available on Youtube.
In it, she invites men to consider being the kind of men “whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving/who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength/who creates space rather than dominates it/who appreciates listening more than knowing/who seeks kindness over control/who cries when the grief is too much/who refuses the slap, the gun, the choke, the insult, the punch.” She encourages men to “not be afraid to get lost…[to] cherish touch more than performance and the experience more than getting there.” She invites men to “be brave enough to share my fear and shame and gather the other men to do the same” and to “stop pretending and open the parts of me that have long been numb.
The prayer concludes, “May I cherish, respect, and love my mother. May the resonance of that love translate into loving all women and all living things.”
However we celebrate Valentine’s Day—including those candlelight dinners—take a moment to consider Eve Ensler’s “Man Prayer.” When married to commitment and action, it is a key ingredient in the vaccine necessary to cure the influenza of violence that, sadly, too many still contract.
Voice Male editor Rob Okun is also a justice of the peace and psychotherapist practicing in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Voice Male contributing editor ALLAN JOHNSON, a member of the magazine’s national advisory board, has written several books, including The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy and the domestic violence novel, The First Thing and the Last. The article below, “Fatal Distraction: Manhood, Guns, and Violence,” is featured in the print edition of the Winter issue of the magazine. It is also featured on his website, www.agjohnson.us, where readers can see a range of his writings.
As I write this, it’s been only a few weeks since the mass murder of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, less than 50 miles from my home. I have grandchildren of the same age as the children who were killed. So, I’m finding it especially difficult to listen to the latest national conversation about gun violence, because, like all the others, it’s being conducted in a way that guarantees that such violence will continue.
The problem is not what we talk about—guns and the media in particular. Both are important. The problem is what we don’t talk about, for we are once again allowing ourselves to be distracted from the underlying cause of this epidemic of violence, and with fatal consequences.
In the aftermath of the mass murder in Aurora, Colorado, for example, I watched the PBS Newshour display photographs of the four most recent shooters as the moderator posed to a team of experts the question of what the perpetrators all had in common. They looked at the photos and shook their heads. “Nothing,” they said, going on to explain that there were no significant overlaps in the men’s psychological profiles. All men, with nothing in common. › Continue reading
By Rob OkunThere’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound Everybody look what’s going down
“For What it’s Worth,” by Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, 1966)
In the wake of Adam Lanza’s murderous rampage, men in particular, must not stay silent. There’s an epidemic in our “man culture” we can ill afford to locate on the periphery, ceding center stage to the narrow gun control debate.
It’s encouraging that there’s momentum in Congress to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Let’s not miss the opportunity though, to enlarge the national conversation about guns to centrally include how we raise boys and how we address the mental health crisis among too many men. And we must pull back the curtain of denial about mainstream culture’s “patriarchal masculine obsession with control,” as sociologist Allan Johnson puts it, control “that defines ‘real’ manhood in this culture, with violence being merely its most extreme instrument. It is that control that links all men with the violence that only some men do.” As Johnson, author of the acclaimed Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy notes, “When U.S. drones kill children, the act springs from the same patriarchal roots as the mass murder in Newtown.” An inconvenient truth we cannot ignore.
How many more lonely, alienated, disconnected, (usually) white males perpetrating murder and then committing suicide need we see before admitting the irrefutable fact that the shooters are all male? From police detectives to forensic psychologists, anyone studying mass killings in the U.S. over the past two decades cannot ignore that fact. Still, too many, including much of the media—continue to under-acknowledge this achingly obvious truth. Is it because they don’t see the killers’ gender, just as fish don’t see the water surrounding them? A Mother Jones review of the 62 mass murders in the U.S. since Columbine in 1999 revealed males committed 61 of them.
By Rob Okun
There are too many damn tragic anniversaries of men killing women. Pick any month and you’ll find them. Take December 6th— it was the 23rd anniversary of the Montréal Massacre. A man stormed into the city’s École Polytechnique on that date in 1989 and murdered 14 women and wounded 10 others. The mass-murderer who then killed himself, was Marc Lépine, 25—same age as Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who murdered his girlfriend and himself December 1st.
Most of us expressed horror at this latest tragedy, but distracted ourselves with cries of “Gun control now!” “Reform violent sports culture” or “Shame on the NFL.” (Kansas City decided to play its regularly scheduled—and highly lucrative—game the day after the murder-suicide.) The old adage, “Follow the money” comes to mind, but let’s put a bookmark there; I don’t want to get distracted, too.
Let’s stick with the facts: It was domestic violence. It was murder. Belcher killed his “beloved” Kasandra Perkins, 22 year-old mother of his three month-old daughter Zoey at their home and then drove to team headquarters and killed himself in front of his head coach, general manager, and other staff. Missing from the news accounts? It’s the masculinity, people.
By Jackson Katz
Few eyebrows were raised a couple of weeks ago when the Michigan native musician Kid Rock introduced Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan at a campaign stop in suburban Detroit, and Ryan returned the favor by calling the misogynist rocker a “great citizen.” The moment passed largely without critical commentary, as did a Rock performance at another Romney campaign event in Colorado last week.
But in an election year in which issues of women’s sexuality, definitions of rape, access to contraception, and the future of legal abortion have played a prominent role—and the Republican “war on women” has been a durable campaign meme—the Romney campaign’s partnership with Kid Rock (who wrote and recorded “Born Free,” Romney’s campaign theme song) should be cause for alarm.
At first glance, a Romney-Kid Rock alliance seems unlikely, if not bizarre. After all, Romney and Ryan are close to the central-casting definition of squares: slightly awkward, wonkish, white conservatives, especially the Mormon Romney, who eschews alcohol, tobacco, and other paraphernalia of the libertine life.
And Kid Rock? He’s the artistic embodiment of a hybrid rock-rap-country white guy musical persona that celebrates not only libertarian selfishness, but openly revels in a kind of “who gives a f*** defiance of social convention and middle-class respectability. Rock (né Robert Ritchie) is also one of the most aggressively misogynous figures in popular culture.
The lyrics of his songs are filled with references to women as “bitches,” “hos,” c*#ts and worse. A key component of the artistic persona he has constructed for himself is his image as a white pimp. In the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a glass display case features a life-size replica of Rock in a full-length mink stole, walking cane and pimp hat straight out of a 1970s blaxploitation film.
Penn State. The Boy Scouts. The Catholic Church. Each institution has seen its reputation sullied by sexual assaults—rapes—perpetuated by coaches, troop leaders, and priests—not faceless, nameless men in trench coats, but the man in line ahead of us at the bank. Our communities are no different.
Too, there is the horror of male students raping female students at Amherst College and a gang rape at the University of Massachusetts. While individual men committed the rapes, the institutions where they occurred bear responsibility for creating safe conditions for the young people in their care.
If that weren’t enough of a toxic stew, add the outrageous comments about rape of candidates for the United States senate in Indiana and Missouri.
Against this backdrop came “A Time to Tell,” three events October 25-27 that shined the bright light of awareness about protecting children from sexual predators. It was no accident they took place in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Until 2010, the town was headquarters of a valued performing arts center. But it closed when the former director was arrested, tried, and convicted of raping teenage girls he was said to be mentoring as an “acting coach.” Since then, a growing conversation has been underway addressing with renewed vigor how to protect our children, including educating them and the adults in their lives.
The rape of children is, understandably, not a subject a lot of people like to talk about. Yet, children and adolescents have become more comfortable talking about sexual abuse in recent years. It is adults who need to learn how to speak about the unspeakable with one another.
By the time Penn State’s disgraced assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced last month to 30-60 years for raping 10 boys, society was awake; child sexual abuse was part of a national conversation. We’ve had to come to terms with the fact that men in whom we entrusted our children’s welfare had violated them in the most heinous ways—and that institutions from the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts on down have to be held accountable for the dangerous environments they created.
The betrayals have spurred action. In western Massachusetts at the end of October, more than 100 people attended a performance of sexual abuse prevention activist-writer Donna Jenson’s riveting one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Journey from Incest to Joy (www.timetotell.org). It vividly recounts her story of being repeatedly raped by her father between the ages of eight and 12 with raw honesty, flashes of humor, and a fierce commitment to healing. (Master guitarist John Sheldon who toured with Van Morrison at 17 and whose songs James Taylor has recorded, wrote and performs an original score.) Over the next two days organizers held a workshop for theater staff on ways to prevent sexual abuse and a writing workshop to address feelings that emerged after seeing the play.
Too many of us play innocent bystander when it comes to addressing sexual violence. We don’t like to give a face to a hypothetical 19 year-old UMass sophomore or 21 year-old Amherst College senior—young men from “good” families—raping 18 or 20 year-old female students. So we keep our distance. News anchors reporting “A rape occurred on campus yesterday…” is an antiseptic way of describing a violent violation, one devoid of actors. It maintains a societal veil of collective ignorance. We keep the perpetrator invisible, too, because we’re afraid he may be our neighbor. (It’s true males are sometimes survivors of sexual assault by women, but all credible studies have shown men are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators.)
Providing services for women who have been raped is essential. So is holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Still, we need to take a closer look at masculinity, from what we tell little boys to what we tell young men. Even as we must remember to acknowledge that most men do not rape, for too long a silent majority has stood mute rather than condemn the minority who do. It’s imperative we redefine masculinity—challenging the parts that emphasize isolation and emotional rigidity, and championing those that promote greater connection and emotional expressiveness.
Recently, I attended a summit on “healthy masculinity” in Washington where we wrestled with ways of understanding that term. In light of the rapes and abuse happening on campuses, in major institutions—and the shocking comments of male candidates for the U.S. senate—here’s a working definition to consider: healthy masculinity means educating our sons not just to treat girls and women and boys and men with respect and kindness, but to never stay silent in the face of those who don’t.
In the end, though, rape is not a men’s issue, a women’s issue, or a children’s issue—it’s a community issue. The sooner we recognize that fact the sooner more of us will collaborate to stop the violence. What are we waiting for?
Now Can We Talk about Masculinity and Men?
Even though it was–once again–a man who went on a shooting spree, the national conversation following the mass murders on July 20 has so far failed to focus on the root causes of this latest lethal outburst: men’s mental health and how men are socialized. › Continue reading
For nearly an hour on a steamy night at the end of June an audience at a black box theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, watched as the dancers in Maskulinity: Unfolding Codes of Gender, explored manhood in transition in a series of choreographed stories about men’s lives. › Continue reading
It’s always encouraging to see men with influence speaking out about violence against women. If you aren’t aware of the (One is Too Many) 1is2many campaign launched by Vice-president Joe Biden last year, this one minute PSA is a hopeful sign: www.whitehouse.gov/1is2many
Rain was gently falling overhead; clouds obscured the stars. I was safe and dry in my son Jonah’s tent. I turned off the flashlight and dozed. I was sleeping a parent’s weekend sleep—one ear open waiting for his safe return. Old habits die hard; I needn’t have been so vigilant. He had only gone in search of cell service to call his girlfriend to say goodnight; he was years past high school curfews. › Continue reading
Now that the public outcry has died down over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s ill-advised decision to defund Planned Parenthood (within days they reversed themselves after a blistering protest) there’s time to consider men’s role in the controversy. As a group, caring men were silent, ceding public discourse to the same intrusive men who have long tried to control women’s reproductive lives; men who, in seeking to destroy Planned Parenthood, politicized breast health. Yes, women were major actors in this story, especially including senior management at the Komen Foundation. But men’s fingerprints have long been all over women’s health issues. › Continue reading
Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who died in January just three months after a child rape scandal had stained his reputation, left behind more than a flock of adoring fans and a growing band of critics. His legacy now includes inadvertently energizing the movement to stop the sexual abuse of children. There’s more. That the heinous actions that came to light took place in the athletic world also offers a rare, national opportunity to raise questions about the culture of sports and the silence of men. › Continue reading
White Ribbon Campaign
It’s happened again. Another domestic violence death has rocked the Valley. We weep for Jessica Ann Pripstein, found slain in her apartment Feb. 20; her boyfriend charged with killing her.
How can we comfort her family and friends? For all the vitally important work that’s been done to prevent violence in our community for decades – first by women, later joined by men – we know we can’t stop every abusive act of malice. › Continue reading
If learning the truth about what had been going on for years at Penn State University won’t move men to challenge rape culture, what will? For men, it’s long past time to leave the sidelines of indifference in the face of grievous acts of troubled men. › Continue reading
For those men who still don’t understand how other men can describe themselves as “male positive and pro-feminist” (as this magazine and a movement of men here and abroad do), look no further than what’s happened in the 20 years since Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. › Continue reading
In the drive to end violence against women, even well meaning allies can take a wrong turn. › Continue reading
To follow the news the last few weeks suggests there’s been a virulent outbreak of MBBS—Men Behaving Badly Syndrome. But behind the lurid stories of privileged men acting with an audacious sense of entitlement is another story—men who do the right thing. Father’s Day is a good time to engage in a more nuanced discussion of manhood. › Continue reading
In response to a horrific gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas this winter, a collaboration among antiviolence men’s organizations and individuals long associated with the profeminist men’s movement came together to speak with one voice. The campaign challenges the media to rethink what has been characterized as “victim blaming” coverage of rape and sexual assault, urging instead coverage which focuses on the perpetrators. Voice Male helped to draft the statement, reprinted below, which was sent out nationally at the beginning of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month. › Continue reading
There is a struggle underway to define manhood and masculinity. It’s playing out in the halls of Congress, in pop culture, and in desperate protests to maintain an outmoded view of what our country should look—and be—like. It’s a story not being covered much by mainstream media. › Continue reading
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Michael Kaufman Co-founder White Ribbon Campaign speaker, author