Are there ways that I am contributing to the problem of violence against women? Are there things that I do or say (or don’t do or don’t say for that matter) that make violence against women a viable option in society? Sadly, I find the answer to be yes. As an advocate and activist who works to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault, it is very difficult to admit that. Of course I don’t directly perpetrate verbal, emotional, physical or sexual violence against my partner. However, there are times when I have remained silent when I heard another man making a sexist joke. I have remained silent when family or friends told my four-year-old son not to cry when he is upset. I have purchased music CDs that contain lyrics that objectify, degrade and sexualize women and listened to radio stations that have advertisements and promotional events that do the same.
Do any of these things, if isolated, incite a single act of domestic violence? Not likely. My guess is that they actually seem fairly innocuous at a glance. At worst, they are considered to be in bad taste and frequently they are simply ignored. I have heard people say “if you don’t like what you hear on the radio, change the station” or “when I heard that joke I just tried to ignore it.” Upon closer inspection, however, these examples do a tremendous amount of damage because they reinforce gendered social norms. The messages we receive are that women’s value in society is connected to their sexuality and their bodies and that men are supposed to be tough, strong, powerful and always in control. When we multiply these examples by the millions of times they occur in society every day of our lives and by all of the other examples being proliferated in the media and by people in positions of power, we have a culture that allows domestic and sexual violence to not only exist, but become more normalized.
As a man, it is my responsibility to constantly examine my own attitudes, actions, and beliefs. I must also hold other men accountable as they should do for me. Change will only happen when men admit that not being abusive is not enough to end violence against women. We must all speak up, speak out, and take action. We also must teach out children to respect all people regardless of gender, race, or any other category that defines us and to think critically about the information we consume and how that shapes male culture. Until then, we will remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
For more information about Responsible Men visit www.responsiblemen.net.
Until the violence stops…
Ted Rutherford -Responsible Men