Michael Flood wants us to stand up and do something about violence against women (and men).
Most men are not violent. Sure, most treat the women in their lives with respect and care, but very few actually do anything to challenge the violence perpetrated by a minority of men. In order for our culture to move toward non-violence and gender equality, men need to play a bigger part.
Violence against women
In Australia for example, the Personal Safety Survey reveals that in the last 12 months, one in 20 women were the victims of physical or sexual violence. Women are most at risk in the home, and from men they know. Since the age of 15, 40 percent of all women have experienced violence. Close to one in three women (29 percent) have experienced physical assault, and close to one in five women (17 percent) have experienced sexual assault.
In the US, the National Violence Against Women Survey found that over one in five women have been physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner in their lifetime. About one in 14 women (8 percent) have ever been raped by a current or former intimate partner. Close to one third (31 percent) of women in the US have been physically assaulted since age 18.
We know too that this violence has a profound and damaging impact on its victims and on the community as a whole. When women are physically assaulted, forced into sex, or constantly threatened and abused, this leaves deep physical and psychological scars.
An Australian study by VicHealth in 2004 found that, among women under 45, intimate partner violence contributes more to their poor health, disability, and death than any other risk factor, including obesity and smoking. Violence against women has long-term effects on men’s and women’s relationships, on their children, and on communities.
Violence against women is shaped by a wide variety of social factors at personal, situational, and social levels. But we know that this violence is more likely in situations where manhood is defined through dominance, toughness, or male honor. Most men don’t ever use violence against their wives or girlfriends. But those men who do are more likely to have sexist, rigid, and hostile gender-role attitudes. There are higher rates of domestic violence in cultures where violence is seen as a normal way to settle conflicts, men feel entitled to power over women, family gender relations are male-dominated, husband-wife relations are seen as private, and women are socially isolated. Sexual violence is shaped by norms of a sexual double standard, victim-blaming, and the myth of an uncontrollable male sexuality. Poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse, and mental illness all are further risk factors. Violence against women also is shaped by race, class, sexuality, and other social divisions.
Of course, males are also the victims of violence. Boys and men are most at risk of violence from other boys and men. Ending violence to girls and women and ending violence to boys and men are part of the same struggle — to create a world based on equality, justice and non-violence.
Men’s positive roles
Men have a crucial role to play in preventing the physical and sexual violence that so many women suffer, and men have much to gain from doing so. If we are to end this violence, men themselves will need to take part in this project. A minority of men use violence against women. And too many men condone this violence, ignoring, trivializing, or even laughing about it.
There are simple, positive steps any man can take to be part of the solution. Find out about the violence that many women experience. Don’t condone the view that the victim is to blame. Check out how we treat the women around us. Speak out when friends, relatives, or others use violence or abuse. Be a good role model, whether you’re a dad, a boss, a teacher, or a coach. And, beyond these individual actions, take part in public actions and campaigns such as the White Ribbon Campaign.
To really stop violence against women, we will need to change the social norms and power inequalities that feed into violence. Men must join with women to encourage norms of consent, respect, and gender equality, to challenge the unfair power relations that promote violence, and to promote gender roles based on non-violence and gender justice.
A men’s issue
Violence against women is often seen as a women’s issue. This makes sense, as its focus is the sexual and physical violence that women suffer. But I want to stress that violence against women is also a ‘men’s issue.’
Violence against women is a ‘men’s issue’ because it is men’s wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends whose lives are limited by violence and abuse. It’s a men’s issue because, as community leaders and decision-makers, men can play a key role in helping stop violence against women. It’s a men’s issue because men can speak out and step in when male friends and relatives insult or attack women. And it’s a men’s issue because a minority of men treat women and girls with contempt and violence, and it is up to the majority of men to help create a culture in which this is unacceptable.
While most men treat women with care and respect, violence against women is a men’s problem. Some men’s violence gives all men a bad name. Violence against women is men’s problem because many men find themselves dealing with the impact of other men’s violence on the women and children that we love. Men struggle to respond to the emotional and psychological scars borne by our girlfriends, wives, female friends, and others, the damaging results of earlier experiences of abuse by other men.
I’ve come to realize that violence against women is a deeply personal issue for men, just as it is for women. I’ve been saddened to realize how many of the women I know have had to deal with childhood abuse, forced sex, or controlling boyfriends. I’ve felt shock and despair in hearing about the harassment, threats, and humiliations that women experience far too often. I’ve felt angry at the victim-blaming I’ve sometimes heard from male colleagues and acquaintances. And I’ve been humbled and shamed in realizing my own ignorance and in reflecting on times when I may have been coercive or abusive.
At the same time, I’ve also felt inspired by the strength and courage of women who’ve lived through violence. I’ve found hope and energy in participating in a growing network of women and men who’ve taken on the challenge of working to stop violence against women. In making personal changes and taking collective action, I’ve found joy and delight in the enriching of my friendships with women and men and my relationships with women.
It has been particularly inspiring to see large numbers of men (and women) take up the White Ribbon Campaign, a campaign inviting men to wear a white ribbon to show their commitment to ending violence against women. The White Ribbon Campaign focuses on the positive roles that men can play in helping to stop violence against women. It is built on a fundamental hope and optimism for both women’s and men’s lives, and a fundamental belief that both women and men have a stake in ending violence against women.
A better world
In campaigning against sexual and physical assault, it is important to remind ourselves of what we are for. We desire sexual lives based on consent, safety, and mutual pleasure. We hope for friendships and relationships that are respectful and empowering. And we dream of just and peaceful communities.
Men have a personal stake in ending violence against women. Men will benefit from a world free of violence against women, a world based on gender equality. In our relations with women, instead of experiencing distrust and disconnection, we will find closeness and connection. We will be able to take up a healthier, emotionally in-touch, and proud masculinity. Men’s sexual lives will be more mutual and pleasurable, rather than obsessive and predatory. And boys and men will be free from the threat of other men’s violence.
—Photo Lisa Norwood/Flickr