A New Dad Asks, If Male Violence Is the Biggest Threat to Women—How Do I Raise a Kind Son?

Dad cuddles with a cute baby

Christopher Zumski Finke worries about how to raise his son to be a man who respects women. 

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By Christopher Zumski Finke

My wife and I brought home Rhodes, our first child, four months ago. Here’s what I remember most about those first weeks: the smell of his skin and breath as he slept on my chest in our bed—small, warm, and fragile, like an egg. I breathed in the scent of the newest life I’d ever encountered as he slept.

He wasn’t undersized, but still I marveled at how tiny these newest of humans come. We, the most dominating creatures on Earth, start out so helpless and red and beautiful. I knew, as he lay curled against my heart, that I would do anything to protect him, love him, and bring him up right in the world.

We’ve created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?

Last month, four men in India were sentenced to death for a rape and murder of such brutality it can scarcely be believed. The week prior, four Vanderbilt University football players were charged with raping an unconscious woman (much like last year’s events in Steubenville, Ohio). And during the previous spring, just before Rhodes was born, Ariel Castro was arrested in Cleveland for imprisoning three women—kidnapped as young girls—in his house for ten years.

These and similar stories constantly fill our network news, cable opinion shows, newspapers, social media, blogs… It’s nearly impossible to avoid stories of violence, rape, and domination. Living rightly is hard enough on your own, and now I must raise a son to do so in a world that is, in part, characterized by men’s violence against women.

Louis CK sums it up best: “There is no greater threat to women than men. We are the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.” And I worry that he’s right.

Now that I am a father, this question constantly sits before me: How do I raise a son of compassion and dignity? A man who respects women?

Boy or girl?

Early on during our pregnancy, my wife and I discussed whether we preferred to raise a boy or a girl. It was completely beyond our control, but the conversation stuck with me: boy or girl?  We’ve created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?

As I awaited our child, my awareness of news about sexual violence reached new heights, and influenced how I thought about raising a boy or a girl.

A girl, my early thinking followed, could be protected. I worried about her safety, but I thought I could shelter her from the particular threats made against young women.

But a boy, that really scared me.  Boys are the particular threat to young women. If we had a boy, we would have to raise a man. And what kind of man would he be?

I have difficulty imagining my infant son as anything other than the innocent person he is today. My assumption is this: I’ll be a good dad and he’ll be a good boy. But I cannot see the future. I love him and want him to love others, to be kind, to be aware of his actions, and to treat people with respect. I want him to learn from the men who have chosen these things instead of power and abuse.

Men as Peacemakers

“It’s endemic.”

That’s Ed Heisler, executive director of Men as Peacemakers, speaking about the statistics on sexual violence and domestic abuse.

When citizens gathered to discuss addressing violence in their city, most of them were women. This concerned some of the men…

“It is the social air that youth are breathing as they’re growing up,” he told me. “The media, the athletic environment, the jeans, the adults who market the jeans, the parents, the teachers that we have in school, the religious leaders—all create an environment that normalizes the domination and the control of women.” He chose the right word: endemic. “It’s been that way for some time and will remain that way until something in the social environment changes.”

Men as Peacemakers was founded in Duluth, Minn., after the community was rocked by a series of murders committed by men in the 1990s. When citizens gathered to discuss addressing violence in their city, most of them were women. This concerned some of the men in the community, who convened a retreat with 55 men from the area to discuss their roles and responsibilities when it came to alleviating violence. One of the initiatives born of the meeting was Men as Peacemakers, whose mission is to teach men and boys that there are alternatives to violence, and that violence is unacceptable.

I had called Heisler with an honest question: How do I raise my son to be a man who will do his part, too, to change the social environment that subjugates women?

Men as Peacemakers attempts to counter this environment by embedding its role models and mentors throughout the community. For example, The Best Party Model, a program in coordination with with College of St. Scholastica, attempts to reshape the party culture in America to one that is safe and equitable for women. They do this by placing mentors in schools, colleges, youth organizations, and other places where young people can have honest conversations about sexuality and partying. And it turns out that language and conversation have a lot to do with shaping young men’s attitudes toward women.

“New dads have an opportunity and responsibility to very proactively think about how to shape and provide an environment for that young person …”

I mentioned an anecdote from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. During Microsoft’s demo for the new Xbox One, the male player and emcee gave a virtual gaming beatdown to a female player before a live audience, telling her, “Just let it happen. It’ll be over soon.”

In a culture where dominance and abusive rhetoric are socially permitted (video gaming), this is dominating language—and the language we use matters. Language can both empower and objectify. (Just compare the results of “college women” to that of “college girls” in a Google Image search, and you get the point).

The Champions Initiative, another Men as Peacemakers initiative, pairs college athletes with youth and works directly with athletic associations and coaches to ensure that the prevention of violence against women is part of these associations’ missions.

Since the Steubenville rape trial has focused an eye on sports culture and sexual violence, Heisler believes this outreach is critical. He uses the Steubenville case in a guided imagery exercise that asks boys to “think about that young man from Steubenville as a little boy” and to consider what his environment looks and sounds like: “Somehow that kid learned what his sense of humor was or that women were objects for men’s pleasure—things that don’t matter, you can pee on them, use them, do whatever you want with them and it doesn’t matter. That was not the way he was born.”

So perhaps men are the worst thing that ever happens to women, but we are not born that way. We learn it. Even well-intentioned, responsible young men are capable of making terrible decisions if they are not taught, prepared, and encouraged to do otherwise.

So I asked Heisler directly: You’re talking to a new dad. What’s the most important, fundamental advice you can give to make sure that the children we’re raising are not going to add to this human rights problem?

His answer? Create a wholly new environment for young men:

“New dads have an opportunity and responsibility to very proactively think about how to shape and provide an environment for that young person, [one] that is going to role model and display and set expectations for equality and dignity and respect between men and women.”

This means not just being a model in how we treat mothers, partners, and strangers in public, but also in how we think about our homes and the spaces we inhabit.

“We’re trying to create a world where dads—men—are taking it a step further and really thinking about how they creatively shape an environment that promotes gender equity and respect for women,” Heisler told me. “We have a tide pushing in the opposite direction. It takes every effort to create an environment that will stick with our young people.”

Turning the tide

Sensing our self-satisfaction, Luke said: “We pat ourselves on the back because we find exceptions in ourselves, only to go on and enjoy our privilege.”

A few days later, I had a beer with Todd Bratulich and Luke Freeman. After all the research on violence and domination, I wanted to unwind. Todd is a youth pastor at First Covenant, an urban Minneapolis community church; Luke, a high school teacher. More importantly, both, like me, have young sons.

We talked about how to be good men who love our partners and families and friends, and who want to make a warm and welcoming environment for our sons to grow into. We all felt good about our commitment to these issues, thinking we were doing our part—we weren’t party to the culture of violence against women.

No More Steubenvilles: How to Raise Boys to be Kind Men

Then, sensing our self-satisfaction, Luke said: “We pat ourselves on the back because we find exceptions in ourselves, only to go on and enjoy our privilege.”

And I realized, I hadn’t really done my part after all. Not yet. Treating my wife with love and kindness is vital, of course. But it also is only the minimum.

We must be active, creative, and purposeful in extending this behavior to every moment of our lives if we are to become peacemakers, to push against the tide and create the space needed to raise sons with empathy and compassion.

We three dads raised our glasses to the challenge, and went home to ours

 

Originally appeared at Yes! Magazine

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

 

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About Christopher Zumski Finke

Christopher Zumski Finke blogs about pop culture and is editor of The Stake. Follow him on Twitter at @christopherzf

Comments

  1. Whenever I come across articles like this, I wonder. I wonder if my parents ever spent time worrying about the possibility of me becoming some kind of monster, a Bundy or a Ramirez. I wonder if the thought ever crossed their minds at all. Then it begins to strike me as odd, and more than a little sad, that such things would preoccupy parents in the first place. I mean, sure, you want to raise your children to be the best they can be, but it’s pathetic to see these articles that treat boys as potential monsters, unless utmost care is taken to prevent them from becoming one. It’s really sad.

    This topic never came up with my parents, and I see no reason to ask. But I have to say, if I were to find out my mother or father expressed fears like the above in writing, all I’d be able to say is…really?

    About your son, just do what my parents did. It seems to have worked quite well. What you do is, you tell him that in this society, this is what you can do and this is what you can’t do. If you do the things you can’t do, you go to jail and get beaten/raped/humiliated on a daily basis. If that doesn’t work, better luck next time.

    • Well said Menkes.

      Very few men grow up to be monsters and most men will never commit violence against women. In fact it is men that are the overwhelming majority of victims of serious assaults. Try raising your son to be a good person and your daughter too for that matter. Projecting these kinds of awful stereotypes onto a child is just disgusting.

      “Boys are the particular threat to young women” ? Nonsense: They are not. Pleas stop telling us that we are constantly in danger. It’s simply not true. We live in some of the safest places on earth and furthermore we live in a society where random strange men can usually be counted on to stand up for a woman who is being threatened or harassed. Men – you rock. Don’t let websites like this one undermine make you ashamed of your wonderful masculine qualities. They are after all the qualities that built our civilisation.

      This website reminds me of Jezebel but at least Jezebel are honest enough not to try to disguise their bigotry as some form of support for men.

      The reference to

  2. John Anderson says:

    Men are killed at a rate 4 times that of women. Men commit suicide at a rate 3 times that of women. Men kill men more often than they kill women. Women kill men more often than they kill women. What do all these things have in common. They’re all violence. They all end a life. The life they end is usually male.

    Why would you expect your son to value a woman’s life over his own? Men and women are both taught that a man’s health, safety, and life is less valuable than a woman’s. Empathy is being able to put yourself in another’s place. Maybe violence to others is the way that boys / men show empathy because that is what we teach them they deserve. Maybe if he valued his life, safety, and happiness as much as you would have him value a woman’s, he would make the decision that it’s not worth throwing away his life for a moment of gratification.

    • Christopher says:

      Well said. I have started to examine this feeling within myself. Why do I have differing reactions to a woman’s pain, maltreatment, death, than I would a man’s. Why would I react so much more harshly watching a woman being victimized than i would a fellow man… don’t they have equal value? I don’t mean someone who I know personally (then the reactions seem more similar). I just find myself feeling more ‘t empathy when concerning women. I don’t believe I am alone in this feeling, society has some re-examining to do.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        I think with those stats you leave out that women are also WAY more likely to be murdered by a man, or any type of violence at all will happen to them at the hands of men.

        That doesn’t mean men don’t harm other men, or women harm men, but men are the most likely to commit murder and most likely to commit murder/rape/brutality against women, too. That’s what I would guess this author was basing this upon.

        Are all men violent – OF COURSE NOT!! But one reason so many men are not violent (and women, for that matter) is because they have caring thoughtful parents, which is what I think this dad is trying to be.

  3. Hi Christopher
    Thank you for sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings as a new father.
    I hope to see some good discussion here now,and not invalidation of your feelings.
    These are not minor issues.

    • I am with you, Iben and Chris…. My 13 yo son has a girlfriend now….it’s sweet and innocent … They hang out in our basement with their other friends and his cousin and grandma and the babysitter check on them all periodically… They jam together on keyboard and guitar…and they have fun…

      They sometimes go to the frozen yogurt place in town and then play ball in the nearby schoolyard… With her girlfriend in tow …. And his cousin and the babysitter to supervise….because they are still children and they still do not know a lot of things…..

      I just had a discussion with a sales rep who is friends with one of the officers from the Glen Ridge, NJ incident…. How do suburban boys growing up in “nice” middle class homes get to the point where they think it is okay to take advantage of a LD girl and assault her …? The boys join football team and become stars and forget everything their parents taught them growing up? How does that happen? Do kids always need adults around to supervise so that they don’t drink, drug, or assault mentally incapacitated people?

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        “And his cousin and the babysitter to supervise….because they are still children and they still do not know a lot of things …” Quick question …he has a girlfriend but needs a babysitter? This confuses me especially when we’re talking about how we raise our sons. To me, that’s in and of itself a mixed message.

  4. Hi John
    You write
    ✺” Why would you expect your son to value a woman’s life over his own? Men and women are both
    taught that a man’s health, safety, and life is less valuable than a woman”’✺

    I do not know where in the world you live, maybe UK or America.
    Where I live, it is not my impression that men grow up , and are socialized to believe women’s life have more worth that men. And we have the same number of men and women murdered. 50-50.
    Women are also drafted now.
    Unfortunate we have domestic abuse, and spouses kill each other. It is mostly men that kill their women or ex partners, and researcher study these men now. The working hypotheses in one the reach project was that the men suffer from serious personalty disorders.

    But look at this report.
    I have not opened it to find out how America score here. But America is not among the top four as far as I know.
    http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2013

    And to Christopher:
    . Maybe the best strategy for you and your wife is to raise your son to be as emotionally healthy as possible. If persons diagnosed with personalty disorder are most likely to hurt others, then the best prevention is to focus on the child’s emotion health from day one.
    Genetics play a role , but even a child with ” troublesome genetics ” can become emotionally healthy youths and adults when they grow up in good surroundings.
    We are not born narcissist, antisocial or sociopaths. They are made.

    • John Anderson says:

      Hi Iben,

      I live in the United States. I checked the report. The U.S. ranks 23 on the list. There are two things I’d like to point out. First, the report looks at 4 criteria: health, education, financial position, and political representation. Even the report indicates that the largest reason for most of the gaps is financial and political. In the U. S. men make up 90% of the deaths in industrial accidents. They take the most hazardous jobs for larger pay. This doesn’t invalidate that their lives are considered as being less valuable. They’re better off being dead than poor.

      Second, I wanted to test their definition of equality as I’ve seen many of these reports fudge outcomes to support a political ideology. I wanted to see how they would handle a number greater than 1 so I went to page 26 table 5 and looked at education. In the U.S. women are 57% of all undergraduates and receive 60% of the degrees, yet the ranking was 1, equality. This seems to indicate that their definition of equality is women are equal to or have it better than men, which doesn’t match the definition of equality that I’m familiar with.

  5. You held a sweet, innocent newborn to your chest and worried about how to make sure that he wouldnt become a monster who would hurt women? Did you think there was some kind of violence inate to him because he was male?

    I am mystified that any new parent could hold a baby and feel this way. I’m a Dad of three- 2 sons and 1 daughter. I never held any of my three and decided I needed to raise them with the particular goal of not being a monster to the other gender. I held each one and prayed that I could be a father worthy of such a gift.

    The very premise of this article makes me sad. There is nothing wrong with your son. He is not some kind of woman seeking missle ready to hurt everyone out there with an X chromosome. There is nothing inately evil in him. Instead of looking at 4 men in India and the boys from Steubenville look at the men and women surrounding your son- empathetic and loving people tend to raise empathetic and loving children.

    You’d NEVER see an article by a parent worrying if their daughter was going to grow up to be horrible. Its time we gave our sons the same courtesy.

  6. This is much ado about nothing.Life experience has taught me that this kind of Minority Report like attempt by some in culture to predict and prevent crime commited by men that happens to women is troubling. Treating male children as if some bogeyman is waiting to pounce and transform them into Ariel Castro is an assault on common sense.Boys do not need any special training or preemptive behavioral modification to grow up normal.This faulty logic strains credulity.What happened in India and Stubenville in no way should implicate all men.This line of reasoning has dangerous implications.I have raised three children in the “hood”(even though my education was cut short as I ran away from home at 16 to escape an abusive feminist mom,no irony there);two boys and a girl.All 3 are college grads finishing in 4 years or less, from good schools.I must say that your field is making things worse.Ever since the great feminist reformation of your industry in the seventies therapy has been bias against males.All it seems to want to do is reprogram men to think and feel as women think and feel.Personaly,I don’t think it is a good idea for therapists to bring their political views into clinical situations. It contaminates the therapist/client relationship.Besides your industry has the same problems with bias as the rest of the world.

  7. Well considering that the vast majority of men and boys are not violent I think its a bit too soon to start acting like men and boys being violent to women is as innate and learned as walking and talking.

    You mention Steubenville. The way to keep that from happening is to head that type of behavior off at the pass by teaching healthy and proper sexuality.

    • Moral standards would also help. (See InSideOut Coaching by Joe Ehrmann.)

      Wait a minute. Sex education prevents rape? That’s an odd notion! So, teaching all kids to respect others is a waste of time? I guess we should just advocate a social Darwinist society. Morality be damned.

  8. There is no such thing as male violence.Some men do commit violent acts but that doesn’t change the meaning of the word.The very idea is bigotry at its finest.

  9. @Lana I am convinced that these folks actually believe they are being supportive of men.They haven’t the foggiest idea that when they run these kinds of articles men such as myself,who have been abused by women,get triggered.But I deal with it because it makes me stronger and I am triggered less often and the severity is waning.Over the last two months or so,this site has ramped up it’s efforts to reform men,all on the down-low.Its pretty darn patronizing and transparent.

    • Danielle Paradis says:

      Hey ogwriter,
      Sorry to hear that this article was triggering to you. There is definitely situations where there are abusive women too. Domestic violence is a very ugly situation. My father was abusive, but my mother passed the abuse on to her children. There’s also neglect…a kind of abuse that goes unacknowledged but is very harmful.I appreciate the father’s attempt to raise his son to be empathetic and other men I have talked to worry so much about everything with their children. Not because they are bad men, or self hating men, but because they just want to make sure their children have the best lives possible. People who are out there being violent aren’t any happier than the people they commit violence on.

  10. Are athletes more prone to rape than the rest of the population?I could not find any credible evidence that they do.

  11. Tom Brechlin says:

    Because society says it’s so. That sums it up. Article upon article that, even here at GMP that sites men as being major perpetrators of countless crimes. Takes on clear attitude that men are bad. Simply attempting to balance these views with warm and fuzzies about men isn’t enough. The truth is there is an overwhelming attempt to “fix” men, redesign them, retool them into something that fits a comfortably acceptable societal image not unlike the male version of the Stetford Wives.

    Society has taken the position that all societal woes are caused by men. Just look at this sad father, worries about how he can keep his new born son from growing up to be a perpetrator. Good gosh, is that what it’s come to? Why is it that this young father even has it in his head to worry about such a thing? How is it that a young father, who has more then likely never raised his hand to anyone, think that he has to do something special to avoid his son being a perpetrator? I’ll tell you why …. He’s been taught that just because he’s a man, he’s bad. Men don’t just think this stuff up on their own but are generally influenced and we all know society says plenty about the “bad” men of this world. Just ask some of the female Senators who stated that if women were in charge, the government shut down would have ended quickly because of their warm hearts and kindness.

    One quick question to this dad, would you have had the same worries had you a daughter?

  12. Hi John
    I have not had time to read the report.
    It is easy to imagine how hard it is to construct an index to measure equality between the sexes in a country. And here the index is made up of only four conditions/ types of data.

    I struggle to understand that men in America feel they have less value than women.
    Is this a universal feeling men have all over the world?
    It is hard for me to believe that it is. And I do not know if Scandinavian men also feel like this , unless they belong to marginalized groups in society.
    I wish I knew more about this.

    This must be a feeling you have ,living as men in the kind of society America is today.
    Seen from the outside, America has problems now and of course that influence how you feel. But how can women feel valued in periods with economic and political trouble and men feel not valued? America is maybe the strongest military power, with a industrial military complex .
    So boys grow up in a nations knowing about all the wars,and duties of soldier.
    And your prison system also is harsh.

    Still It just does not make sense to me, that men in the American society have less value than women ,but then I am not a man living in the U.S. in 2013.

    Do old women have more values than old men? Hardly.
    Young beautiful gorgeous looking women are valued highly my many men , but you speak of women in general.
    No I give up. I do not understand or feel men are seen as less valuable as women.

    The fact that you in America have high incidents of death in the industry,say more about rules for security ,your laws and strength or weakness of labour unions in your society society.
    Where I live, men die in farming accidents and on boats out fishing.
    Are men less worth because they can drown on sea?

    Do you John actually feel the women you meet every day have higher value than yourself?
    I am surprised if a man feel like that.
    If my building burns,we all will try to help children,the disable and the oldest persons out.

    • John Anderson says:

      Hi Iben,

      I think you’re mistaking it for conscious thought rather than something that has been ingrained and become second nature. When those 19 firemen lost their lives battling that wildfire (No female firefighters were present), I’m sure they weren’t consciously thinking I’m risking my life to contain this fire because my life is less valuable than the women’s I’m trying to save, although I wouldn’t be surprised if women weren’t involved because they considered the risks.

      If you and your boyfriend were accosted on the street by two men, would you expect him to say I’ll take one and you take the other or would he do what I would instinctively do? Place you in the safest place possible (probably behind me) while I dealt with the danger myself. I might anticipate handling them both even if accompanied by a male friend, but I wouldn’t take pains to get him out of harm’s way. There is a possible exception. If I was with an older brother there is the chance that he would prefer to handle the problem himself while I stayed safe, but that’s just because he doesn’t want to hear about it from mom in the event I got hurt. Why didn’t you protect your little brother?

      It is telling that women are allowed in combat now, but are still not required to register for selective service. Maybe this is something that will change if there is a draft.

      • Hi John
        I smiled when I read this:
        ✺”If you and your boyfriend were accosted on the street by two men, would you expect him to say I’ll take one and you take the other or would he do what I would instinctively do? Place you in the safest place possible (probably behind me) while I dealt with the danger myself”✺
        I admit I would love to have a man that could defend me physically.
        But only one of my ex boyfriends could do that (and win). And he was a “bad boy” that spent his teenage years on the street.

        Scandinavia are different from America.
        Violence and homicide here happens between persons that already know each other.
        But with large immigration of people from other cultures( not peaceful cultures ) this patters changes slowly.

        Scandinavian men ( in general ) are peaceful, and our society is peaceful.
        I hope I don’t insult Scandinavian men when I say this. Most of them are slim and fit,but
        unless a man has learned self defense, or to box,fight or belongs to social groups like MC guys, they probably be as scared in a situation like that as I would. And to confront a criminal in fight would be very dangerous. It is best to run fast for both of us!

        I have worked a short time in prison and know inmates daily work to build up muscle strength and eat supplement to become strong.

        But I tried to understand what you said,and browsed the net. I found this:
        The myths of male power.
        http://www.warrenfarrell.org/TheBook/

        ✺”It is telling that women are allowed in combat now, but are still not required to register for selective service. Maybe this is something that will change if there is a draft.”✺
        Women get drafted in my county now . It started in 2013, and time will show how this works out. War is a terrible thing.

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