Thank heavens for angry women. Every time I book a speaking engagement, I’m essentially walking across a sea of angry women’s shoulders to take the stage and deliver my message. We owe them a debt of gratitude–they have gotten us this far in our fight for equity in America and now it’s time for compassionate collaboration with men to get us across the finish line. The gauntlet has been thrown, Time’s Up.
By the numbers: the percentage of violence that is being perpetrated by men against women: 96%. No matter how you slice it, sexual violence, physical abuse and harassment begins AND ENDS with men.
As women, we’re fed this idea that when we learn self-defense it’s “violence prevention.” Newsflash: it isn’t. It’s violence management and risk reduction at best. The only way to truly prevent violence is to stop the people who are committing the violence…that would be men. In order to move the needle in this arena, The first thing we must do is change how we look at men’s violence.
We have to stop looking to women to shoulder the burden of men’s violent behavior and start asking radically different questions. Instead of, “What could she have done differently to not ‘have gotten attacked’?”
We must start asking, “Which man attacked her? Why is he acting that way?” and in the case of repeat violent offenders, “How can we help him?” I use the word “help” very intentionally here because emotionally healthy men don’t act that way–they don’t attack or harass women on the street.
Next, understand the playing field:
1. WHO ARE THE 20%? Statistically, these are the stranger danger offenders. For this violent male criminal, compassion could save the day. These dangerous men share one thing in common: they all grew up with catastrophic violence in their homes, either witnessed or experienced. They are broken, wounded boys in men’s bodies, desperately seeking relief for their bone deep sense of powerlessness and lack of control. That’s why they look for low hanging fruit (vulnerable girls and women) to pounce on so they can steal their power–they don’t want a fight. Intervening on behalf of these boys while they still have a shot to grow up emotionally healthy will help prevent them from acting out the violence of their childhoods.
2. WHO ARE THE 80%. These are the “regular guys”, that grew up in relatively conventional, supportive families with plenty of resources and opportunity, that harass, abuse and rape. Make no mistake, they are committing criminal acts and they have been taught that it’s expected of them. This is a socialization and tolerance issue. The notion of “boys will be boys” teaches our young men that anything goes, no matter how bad it is, it will be tolerated and probably without consequences. With so many young men learning about sexuality through porn that is increasingly violent as a baseline, it’s no surprise that they perceive women’s expectations of them in this distorted way. Throw in a healthy dose of male privilege, entitlement, implicit bias and the psycho-emotional destruction of the Man Code and we’ve got our selves a rip-roaring rape culture cocktail that’s a historical favorite in the halls of institutionalized sexism and bureaucratic misogyny.
3. WHO ARE THE GOOD GUYS? The vast majority of men I know are the good guys. These are emotionally intelligent men who are secure in their masculinity and don’t buy into the Man Code. They’ve grown up. They get it. They are as disgusted with bad male behavior as women and they want to help. There are more good guys than you may realize, they’ve just never been asked to get active with their support or may not know how. Take a look at the crowd photos from any women’s march in the past two years–I guarantee there will be at least one man standing with the women. He and other men like him are the agents of change that could put the #metoo momentum into 5th gear and substantively change our culture.
So… now what?
RE-SOCIALIZATION – It’s a thing… that I just made up. The violence and harassment that’s perpetrated a result of socialization is actually a big opportunity for change. With strong leadership and intolerance for juvenile behavior, these bad attitudes are curbed rather quickly, if they want to keep their jobs, avoid lawsuits, etc. Good men have an opportunity to be vocal about their intolerance for objectification, stereotype reinforcement and misogynist jokes. Bad attitudes, when reinforced by male peers, embolden escalation to harassment and potential physical harm.
When good men have the courage to take exception to these disrespectful attitudes, the attitudes will eventually adjust. There will be a massive ripple effect in the opposite and positive direction. The key: good men must say something. If not, silence makes them complicit in all men’s violence. It’s time for men to shoulder the burden of the behaviors of other men. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s a great article on bystander intervention strategies to pass along.
If you have good guys in your life, ask them what they would do. Encourage them to stand up to men who think it’s funny to tear down women to make themselves seem more powerful. If the men in your life say they care about you, time to show it; it behooves them to help prevent violence against you. There are some conversations that only men can have with men and that’s okay… those conversations just need to start happening more.
Our job as women is to be aware, use our intuition and reduce our risk. Men’s job is to model respectful behavior and re-socialize other men to learn to do the same.