September 24, 2009

3 Reasons Why MEN Must Speak Out Against Domestic Violence

For those of us working in the social work field, many of our clients face the inexcusable reality of domestic violence. The statistics are staggering: domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women, between 85 and 95% of all domestic violence victims are female and over 1200 women in America are killed every year by an intimate partner. Not only do the survivors of abuse endure a lifetime of physical and emotional scars, the cycle of violence impacts the next generation of abused and neglected children, who internalize violent behavior as a “normal” way to handle anger, stress and relationship difficulties. Awareness is on the rise, but a steady stream of local and national news stories describing incidents of women being viciously beaten and abused by their partners continually reminds us how far we still have to go.

Sometimes it even feels like the problem is becoming worse.

Social workers and victim advocates (most of whom are women) have understood the urgency of this crisis for a long time. But while many organizations and grassroots campaigns have formed to help prevent domestic violence before the next life is taken, men (for the most part) have been noticeably absent from these efforts. The question is: Why not? Perhaps it’s not “manly” to join a cause involving the rights of women. Perhaps men are socialized to “mind their own business” when it comes to another man’s domestic outbursts. Perhaps it’s more convenient to remain silent instead of raising one’s voice in favor of change.

From my perspective, there are at least three reasons why it’s critical for men in particular to speak out against domestic violence.

1. It shows that domestic violence is not just a problem affecting women and children. In the past, women and children have been predominantly responsible for the heavy lifting when it comes to confronting this problem. When people see a marginalized group marching for their own rights (minorities, women, the poor), privileged cynics can easily dismiss it as an act of self-interest. But when whites march for racial justice, men speak out for the protection of women or wealthy people stand up for the poor, people start to pay attention.

2. It resists the social approval of abusive behavior. When women are the only ones speaking out, observers conclude that men must not be too concerned about the problem. It's doubtful that domestic violence would go unreported so often if men were as outraged about it as women. In a society where men still constitute the overwhelming majority of those in positions of leadership and influence, values are communicated and reinforced by the actions of men (for better or worse). Conversely, when a social problem truly matters to the general public, you can be sure that men will be involved in the solution. Violence against women will never end until men prove they are serious about stopping it.

3. It promotes a healthy understanding of masculinity. Widespread depictions of "heroic" men by the entertainment and advertising industries prop up twisted caricatures of maleness in which the ideal man is muscular, aggressive and always gets the woman he wants. Women are expected to defer to the wishes of men, whose fulfillment is at the center of most movie plot lines and music videos. By peacefully taking a stand against domestic violence, men can demonstrate what mature and responsible manhood is really about: a commitment to non-violent conflict resolution, active fatherhood and respect for the dignity of women.

Until men care enough to speak out against domestic violence, our silence will be a passive endorsement of the status quo.

UPDATE: Joe Bloom, one of my instructors at UH, describes the recent Men's March Against Violence held October 15 at the Hawaii State Capitol in this Star-Bulletin op-ed piece. Thanks to all who came and spoke out!


Phyllis Alesia said...

Thank you so much for posting this! You might want to check out the work of Men Stopping Violence, , a 27-year-old nonprofit organization that educates and mobilizes men to work to end violence against women.

The Common Loon said...

Thanks for the link Phyllis. Maybe there is hope.