In the 16 years since 9/11, 94 people have been killed by jihadi terrorists in the United States. Between the years 2001 and 2012, 11,766 women were murdered by male intimate partners or former partners. One in five women reports being sexually assaulted in college. The estimated cost of domestic violence in the US is $8.3 billion dollars a year.
By far, men are responsible for the vast majority of this violence.
Our culture plays a significant role in our ideas about masculinity and sex, marriage and relationships. And while women’s roles in society have vastly expanded since I was a child, our culture has a lot to do to catch up. When I grew up, being a boy who was called “gay” was a pretty common insult implying a lack of traditional masculinity. Saying to a boy that he did something such as running, throwing, or hitting like a girl was a serious put-down.
We haven’t quite emerged from the cultural era where men see sex with a woman as a prize to be earned and proof of their value. We combine this with an unhealthy dose of leftover Puritan sexual morals. Men who have a lot of sex are studs; women who have a lot of sex are sluts. We’re less than a hundred years away from when women got the vote in the US, and a few hundred years since women were forms of property.
Men, as perpetrators of most of the violence towards women, are fully empowered to do the most to stop it.
What can men do?
(1) Don’t Promote or Tolerate Sexist, Transphobic, or Homophobic Language
There is a phenomenon in social psychology called moral exclusion. Moral exclusion means justifying treating others as if they weren’t human or as deserving of human rights and kindness as others. We see this with all the “isms” – racism, sexism, ageism – etc. At some level, certain people are seen as less than human.
It is psychologically necessary for most people to morally exclude others to justify violence. This is evident with atrocities such as the holocaust and ethnic cleansing. Looking at the anti-Jewish propaganda from before World War II, Jews were compared to rats and made to look like criminals and dehumanized. The German propaganda machine knew this was a necessary step to get people to accept and carry out atrocities.
Homophobic and sexist speech has the same effect. It makes anything but traditional ideas about masculinity seem inferior or even pathological. Men must catch themselves using language which dehumanizes, objectifies, or denigrates others and stop it.
Men must stop others from sexist and homophobic expression. Saying, “I know you thought that was funny, but that’s not cool,” when you hear a sexist or homophobic joke can be hard in a social context, but it’s almost always the right thing to do.
(2) Raise emotionally healthy, empathetic children
There is no greater opportunity for us to affect our culture positively.
If you’re a dad, teach your children a healthy respect for themselves and others. When you teach them about the birds and the bees, teach them about consent. I think consent should be a part of all sex -ed in schools, but parents need to take an active role n teaching boys and girls about sexual consent.
Pay attention to how your children do emotional regulation. Make sure they are dealing with emotions such as anger in a healthy way. Teach and encourage your kids to use problem-solving and restorative justice techniques to solve interpersonal problems.
Never shame your children. Teach them about shame and how destructive it is. Teach them that it is not okay to shame others. Do not let them hear you shaming others.
Teach your children empathy. Teaching empathy isn’t as hard as one might think. It starts young when you start to teach them about emotions. You can show them photos or drawings of people and ask them, “how do you think this person feels.” As they get a little older, “how would you feel in this same situation?” is a critical reflection. And, as they are going to model your behavior, show empathy with them and in front of them.
(3) Speak out
Men need to have a seat at the table when it comes to issues like domestic and sexual violence. For so long, many have seen domestic and sexual violence has as a women’s issue. Trying to solve the issue completely from that end is backward.
As men we need to be involved in conferences, rallies, walks, writing our congressional representatives, etc. Violence against women affects all people across all ethnic, cultural, political, and economic lines.
We need to stand up and become examples for other men and boys to emulate. We need to show that these behaviors are not OK, they are not normal, and they are not part of how we define masculinity.
(4) Learn, practice and support Bystander Intervention
Bystander Intervention is a term denoting a preventative approach by those connected to incidents which aren’t the victim or the perpetrator. A bystander is someone who witnesses violence or discriminatory behavior. Bystander Intervention covers the, “what do I do about?” part. There are many programs teaching Bystander Intervention. Very commonly you’ll see programs on college campuses working to stop campus sexual assault.
Interventions might include calling authorities when you witness violence. There are also ways to mitigate long-term effects of violence, or preventing the conditions that foster violence. An example might be putting a stop to sexual harassment.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides an excellent list of resources on Bystander Intervention.
Men have a unique opportunity to curb violence against women in all its forms. We can create a better world for the women in our life, and for women everywhere.
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