Maybe One Day...

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about masculinity being defined in contradistinction to the feminine, how that affects women’s and LGBT equality and associated issues like sexual abuse, and addressed the need for a progressive men’s movement. I’ve said many times in the course of this ongoing discussion that it’s time for progressive men to become active participants in the equality movement, not only because the men who most need to hear a message of equality simply don’t listen to women and gay men, but because many of the issues feminism has sought to address—like violence against women—are predominantly problems with men. It’s that last bit which has been particularly contentious, as men rush to defend themselves against the inferred charge that the problem is with all men.

Clearly, this is not true. Not every man, or even most, are abusive toward women. Nonetheless, that most sexual and domestic abusers are men makes it a men’s problem. And, more importantly, that most men have long regarded the problem as something with which they don’t have to be actively engaged, the overwhelming belief that not doing anything wrong themselves is enough, makes it a men’s problem. Indeed, it is the failure to take collective responsibility for prevention that makes it a problem with men beyond those who actually commit the violent acts.

Enter Stephen McArthur of Orwell’s Grave, with a call to arms:

Every 15 seconds in America, a man beats his wife or girlfriend. Every 45 seconds, a man rapes a woman or girl, most often one he knows -- a wife, a girlfriend, a co-worker, or a family member.

…Women have led the way in America working to bring the issue of violence against women to the attention of our media, our community organizations, our governments, our schools, and our religious institutions. The time has come for men to stop being bystanders.

Most men in this country are not violent, most do not beat their wives and girlfriends. Despite that fact, domestic violence is really a gender issue. Men commit 90 to 95 percent of domestic violence acts. I think most men instinctively know this is true, but most men find it really hard to talk about it, think about it, or much less do anything about it. Some men believe that because he is not violent or it's not happening in his family, he needn't do anything. Some men believe it is a "woman's" issue, so he can really ignore it. Some men can't imagine talking about this issue with other men, some of whom he might suspect are abusing women in their lives.

Let's face it. This is an embarrasing issue for men. It's much easier for us to simply let women try to take care of this problem. It's really hard for most men to admit that this is our problem. Violence against women is men's violence. Can we find a way to help men own this problem and work together to solve it? How can we end the pervasive silence? How can we help our communities get past the attitude that this happens someplace else, certainly not where we live?

Given the prevalence of male violence against women, why has this not been a very public men's issue. Isn't it really in men's self-interest to address gender violence? Don't most of us really care about the women and girls in our lives?

Most men have a woman or girl in his life who has been a victim of male violence, a mother who was beaten, a co-worker who was abused, a sister or daughter who was raped or killed, a friend whose daughter was attacked, a friend whose wife was battered in a previous marriage. How would things change if our male governmental leaders, our male religious leaders, our male media leaders, our male teachers, our male business leaders, all of us began to speak out, identify male violence around them, and begin working to end it?
The thought of it gives me shivers. How wouldn’t things change?! From the shame associated with being a victim of sexual or domestic abuse to how such victims are treated by the police and the legal system, everything would be different. We wouldn’t be talking about the ubiquitous straw-woman who invented her rape in a petty act of revenge, but the very real women, millions upon millions of them, who have been attacked—and we’d be talking about their attackers. Suddenly, the onus to avoid abuse would not be exclusively placed on women, creating a belief that rape and violence are preventable. Suddenly, when I ask a Question of the Day inquiring what people have been told about rape, the most popular answer, from both men and women, wouldn’t be nothing:

“As a man, I can say that I don't think I was ever taught anything formally about rape, ever.”

“I never heard word *one* about rape growing up.”

“I don't remember being taught about rape.”

“I can't recall ever being taught anything about rape in a formal way.”

“As for guys talking about rape, no. Not to my knowledge.”

“Men are taught nothing.”

“What have I been taught about rape? Growing up in the 70s and 80s: nothing.”

“My personal experience: talking with female friends when we were all young and restless. Out of six, all six, with whom I ever talked about it, all of them had been raped. None of them, not one, had reported it.”

“what was i taught about rape? more than most guys of my age group. i was raped (fuck the euphemism molested) by a priest when i was 10.”

“I got my own crash course in rape when I was barely a teen via molestation..”

“What was I taught about rape? I was taught not to go out alone without a guy to protect me. I was taught I'd get hit if I tried to go out without a bra when I was 10 because "you never know what'll happen." I was taught I'd better learn self-defense, not go out while it was dark, not look guys in the eye, not drink in bars. I was taught that if I were raped, it would be because of something I did.”

“What was I taught about rape? Abso-fucking-lutley nothing.”

How can we end the pervasive silence? Stephen asks.

In answer to my question, ”Shaker Men: Do men talk about rape amongst themselves?” answered one man, simply, “It has never come up.”

To a woman whose every post on sexual assault and domestic abuse has prompted untold numbers of women (and some men) to share their stories of having been raped or otherwise violently abused, that the subject could never come up among men is simply astounding. And yet I am assured by the men in my life, it does not. Of the issues with which they concern themselves, sending them into tumbling debates about what should be done and how best to solve the problem—the environment, poverty, encroachments on civil liberties, etc. etc. etc.—the fact that one out of four women will be raped in her lifetime, and many more yet victims of domestic abuse, rarely, if ever, makes the list. How can it be that so many men and women live such different lives?

I dream of the day when we don’t. And so does Stephen:

Maybe one day enough men will say that letting a ten-year old boy take a baseball bat and beat to death a black female prostitute might not be something we want in our video games. Maybe one day enough men will say to boys that calling each other names using denigrating terms for women and female body parts is not creating a good image of women in their heads. Maybe one day enough men will know that it takes more strength and courage to speak out than it does to remain silent.

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