This piece by Rachel Halder is cross-posted from Our Stories Untold, a blog provoking conversation and allowing women and men to tell their stories about sexualized violence within religion, specifically the Mennonite Church.
“Most men in their lives will not commit sexual violence,
but most acts of sexual violence are committed by men.”
Joe Campbell from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse
In order to end sexualized violence against women, children and men, we need men.
To end child abuse, domestic violence, verbal and physical abuse, we need men.
To end misogyny, we need to look to our young boys, teens, and husbands to assist in the fight for women’s rights. We need men.
It is when we see rape as only affecting the female victim that we’ve lost an important truth in the world. When we view the physical and psychological repercussions of abuse as damage only impacting the victim, we are missing a vital point. Rape and sexualized violence–whether it’s being committed against a man, a woman, or a child–destroys our collective humanity. It destroys our communities and institutions, even when we turn a blind eye or don’t admit that it’s there. Sexualized violence seeps into the cracks of our consciousness and it wiggles its way into our understanding of the world, gender roles, and where the blame should fall when such violent and horrible crimes are committed. This unawareness of rape is what allows rape culture to thrive. It’s what allows situations like Steubenville happen. And when we ignore it and act like we are separate or somehow different from these crimes, we are lost.
Last Wednesday evening I spoke for the first time at a Mennonite church about Our Stories Untold, as well as my experience with abuse and what needs to be done about sexualized violence. Becoming a public speaker on topics of sexualized violence is my goal, so speaking Wednesday was a successful test-run. Though nervous, I was able to deliver compelling statistics and dispel common rape myths within churches that only point to the obvious: sexualized violence surrounds us no matter what community or religion we are a part of.
Everyone in attendance agreed on the fact that men are necessary in the movement towards stopping violence against women. Rather than excluding men or making men out to be only perpetrators, we must embrace their presence and encourage them to use their strength in positive ways by taking a stance to eradicate misogyny, fear, and sexualized violence. We need their help to transform shame and guilt into support and love. Â As a collective whole we can all stop violence before it ever happens.
I posted this poster on Our Stories Untold Facebook page about the “10 Things Men Can Do to End Violence Against Women,” created by Voices of Men, a one-man play working to end male violence against women. Through expanding on these points I hope both men and women can find several points that resonate. Then, start practicing them today:
- Break out of the “Man Box”: What are the traditional images of manhood that keep you from taking a stand? This question depends on the age and background of the male identified person reading this question, yet there are some general male expectations that men and boys feel pressured into fulfilling. For example, children who use the word “raped” on the playground–as in “Oh man, he totally raped me when he stole that ball away!”–may not understand what they’re saying. If they do, then they may be afraid to correct others using their word in fear of being picked on. Adult men often let their pride and ego get in the way of taking a stand. They may be reluctant to speak up in a church about how women who wear “provocative” clothing when raped still deserve support. Break out of the traditional “man box” and take a stand.
- Ask how you can help if you suspect abuse or an assault. And, if you are abusing others in any way, stop and seek professional help immediately. I wouldn’t leave it here, either. You should also ask those involved in movements on how you can assist them. When I spoke at church I had a lot of people tell me what I should be doing with Our Stories Untold. All these ideas were great and supportive to the movement, but I already know the direction I want to take Our Stories Untold. Therefore, rather than suggesting someone to take on your own ideas, what if you owned those ideas and created projects out of them yourself? Acknowledge the abused.
- Teach your children that “no” means “no” and that “stop” means “stop.” After speaking the other evening I had a woman tell me that when her children were young she always taught that if they were tickling someone, and that person said “stop,” then it was absolutely necessary to immediately stop. After watching her sister in an abusive relationship she understood it was important, if not vital, to explain these rules to children. Providing clear guidelines early on will assist in these types of situations as children, young adults, and parents.
- Don’t buy the argument that sexual and domestic violence are due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, testosterone, or other excuses. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had people say to me, “Well her husband had some major anger management issues.” That is just an excuse, and it means accepting such behavior as inevitable. Â It’s the whole “boys will be boys” mentality that we cannot let continue any longer. This argument also feeds into the idea that “all men rape,” which is a horrible viewpoint to take. The fact is that one in three women in the world will be raped, beaten, sexually coerced, trafficked or otherwise abused in her lifetime. But the average rapist has attacked 14 times. Do you see the disconnect?
- Stand up and Speak out! Silence affirms and supports sexualized violence. We need to amplify voices, and the way to do that is to speak out—always and everywhere. This means when you hear a friend make a misogynistic, sexist, or hyper-sexual comment, you call it out. In order to create change, we must be willing to swallow our ego and speak out. Remaining silent allows rape culture to thrive.
- Look in the mirror: Do your own attitudes and actions help support the objectification and de-valuing of women and girls? What kind of jokes do you make with your friends? What comments do you make about “scantily dressed” women? How do you view women in your life? Do you treat all women the same way you would treat your sisters, aunts, or mother? If you don’t, then you should work on changing your attitudes.
- Be a model for youth. Mentor a boy. Teach boys with your words and actions that being a man means respecting women. Again, when I was speaking the other night I had a lot of people comment about how we need to teach the boys how to be respectful towards women. I agreed. But you don’t need me to stand in front of your church for you to do this. YOU can do this every day you interact with a child. YOU can do this by teaching a Sunday School class. This is collective action — we need YOU.
- Educate yourself. Listen to and learn from women. Attend programs and events and learn how to end sexualized violence. I think the “listen and learn from women” component of this point is extra important. A dilemma I often see from feminist-minded men or organizations like the Good Men Project, is that “male allies” often end up using their male power to dominate the scene and take away the voices of women themselves. Without intending to, they perpetuate the shaming and dis-empowerment of women. What women need are men who support them, not men who speak for them–there’s an important differentiation.
- Step up to create a culture shift that doesn’t tolerate disrespecting or degradation of women. Make this a HUMAN ISSUE. I reiterate what I stated before: Rape and sexualized violence–whether it’s being committed against a man, a woman, or a child–destroys our collective humanity. This is a human rights issue, not just a women’s issue. We need men to make a cultural shift in rape culture and violence against women.
- Host a video discussion or presenter through work, school, church, service club, sports team, or other organization. Same as I said in point #2, own your good ideas about what to do about this topic and create the projects yourself rather than expecting someone else to do the work for you. Think of how much change we can create when everyone starts believing in themselves.
We need men to eradicate sexualized violence. Join the collective movement. Ask how you can assist with Our Stories Untold. There’s no better time than today.