“What Manhood Might Be”: Men Changing Cultures to Stop Sexual Violence
Have you ever heard the expression “All’s fair in love and war?” Think about it for a moment. It implies not only that all the rules are suspended during wartime, but that something called “love” gives sanction to the same anarchy.
In recent years, necessary attention has been focused on rape as a tool of war. The atrocities inflicted on women, children, and men in wartime are unconscionable. But war itself is unconscionable. War destroys the patterns and the structures of everyday life. To me, it’s even more horrible that violence occurs in the context of intimate relationships in peacetime―that this IS everyday life.
If you’re a woman in urban Japan, according to WHO statistics, your lifetime chances of being abused by an intimate partner are 15 in 100. And you’re living in the safest place on earth. If you’re in rural Ethiopia, they’re 71 in 100. In most of the world, they range from 30 to 60 in 100. The familiar, and appalling, one-woman-in-three figure applies to developed Western countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even progressive Scandinavia―whence the vengeance-seeking virago of the popular Stieg Larsson books and films.
Even fans who relish The Girl’s rough justice (and I hasten to say I am not one) know prevention is the only sustainable solution to this global epidemic. And most, though certainly not all, of the violence is perpetrated by men. So we welcome a trend that is making its way around the world: a proliferation of programs that engage boys and men in changing the global culture of violence to one of cooperation, equality, and respect for all.
Activist and author Kevin Powell is among the signs of hope. He’s a V-Man, one of 16 who support the V-Day movement and blog on its website: “It is my sincere hope” he says in his most recent blog, “that . . . we can really begin to rethink what manhood can be, what manhood might be.”
That rethinking is going on in families, schools, workplaces, governments, and institutions the world around. Mike Domritz, another V-Man, uses role plays and self-effacing humor to invite audiences to question the assumptions they make in social situations. The venues for his winsomely-titled “May I Kiss You?” presentation include military installations.
And it’s about time. The US military, which couched its rationale for invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the language of protecting women, has a rate of sexual violence against women and men within its ranks that’s double the rate for the general population. The rate of convictions, 2% of all prosecutions, is only a third of the pitiful 6% in civilian courts. A new documentary on sexual violence in the military, The Invisible War, won an Audience Award at the just-completed 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
The men’s organizations that carry the anti-violence message vary widely in their audience, strategy, and reach. Most of them would agree, though, on a few basic points.
- Love is a relationship of mutual respect. Domination is not love.
- Sexual violence isn’t sexy. It’s not even about sex; it’s about control and power-over.
- There’s no such thing as an innocent bystander. Effective change agents commit not only to refrain from abuse but to name it and challenge it wherever it occurs.
- Men are victims of sexual violence as well as perpetrators. The cultural subtext of domination is the same regardless of the victim’s gender or sexual orientation. (It’s good news, then, that on Jan. 6 of this year the US Federal Bureau of Investigation changed its definition of rape, which had been limited to assaults on women.)
- And here’s the really good news: Culture is dynamic. Cultures can change, and are changing, around the world, and men of good will are active agents of that change.
Culture change happens person to person, through credible role models and positive peer groups. And it can happen at any age. Since children are both our most vulnerable and our most teachable citizens, it makes sense to start early, like the middle scho0l MOST clubs do. (Look for more about MOST in tomorrow’s blog.)
Sisters, let’s welcome boys and men of all ages as our partners in redefining what’s fair in love. Then, when we’ve cleaned up the home front, maybe we can move together to end war. It’s still not good for children women, or other living things.
More in the February PeaceTimes:
- Men Can Stop Rape: “This Is Your Issue”
- Men’s Movements Worldwide Declare Peace between the Sexes
- Generation Peace: It Could Be You or Someone You Love
- Kim’s Corner: MidEast Women Are Rising, Ready to Connect
- Join the debate: Is sexual violence a women’s issue?
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