Category Archives: Social Justice


Another trip to Sal’s

It happened again this week, and then it happened again, and again. Shootings. But not just shootings, killing of innocent people. By men (not women, mind you), all with something to prove. It’s tough to bring myself to write about senseless tragedies and how we ALL need to “step up” to stop these shootings. The posts are everywhere, and at times, read like rhetoric. Empty promises to live life to the fullest. Vowing to do better. Banning together to finally enact change.

For me, what matters most is that yet another state and school system has been affected. Another candlelight vigil has been had and another community has been left heartbroken. Another set of families have been left wondering why, wishing they could hug their son or daughter just once more, pleading into television cameras, urging politicians to do something. What matters is that we are all affected, as if these shootings have become a virus, afflicting every town, every state, every region of the country.

So that prompted me to take another trip to Sal’s, because, like it or not, these shootings are being carried out by boys and young men who struggle with certain pillars of what we’re told makes a man – in power, in control, and entitled. We can’t just think about preventing violence against women today. We also must consider what we can do today, that will help prevent violence against women tomorrow. So here are a few ways we can reach, and engage, boys and young men in redefining masculinity, in a forward-thinking, big picture vantage point.

  1. Honor and applaud guys you consider to be real men. Don’t stop yourself from saying to that father in the grocery store with two screaming infants – you’re being such a patient dad. Don’t think twice about saying to your own husband or partner, It’s so nice to see you with our child! Give the real men their just due. Compliment them. Let them know they are doing a great job! Now, this does not mean complimenting a man detracts from the outstanding job that women do in parenting. Those two things can be mutually exclusive – just because you say good job to a man, doesn’t mean overlook the plight and contributions of women. In a public speaking course, for instance, you would increase the motivation and effectiveness of a student by focusing on their successes and strengths, instead of pointing out their weaknesses and failures. Similarly, applauding men who are great fathers and stellar role models gives positive encouragement, which will help those guys see their successes (however minor), and will encourage them to continue striving to be great fathers and stellar role models…just like women.
  2. But don’t stop there! For every good man you know, chances are, you also know at least one troubled male teen. A cousin, nephew, or neighbor. Encourage that good man to reach out to, connect with, and mentor that young man.
  3. But wait, there’s more (you can do). Educate that young man about healthy coping mechanisms. Turning to sports and athletics, video games, music, anything but violent outbursts. That being turned down by a high school crush doesn’t mean the end of the world, or that you have to enact revenge. That you can, and WILL, experience rejection in life, and that’s okay. That someone has the right to say no, whenever and wherever. Ish happens. It’s how you respond that makes you a man.
  4. Meet men where they are. Let’s stop with the big words, trying to make ourselves sound smarter than we actually are! “Gender-based violence.” “Power-based personal violence.” “Misogyny.” The list goes on. (Every time I read a post where someone uses one of those terms, it seems as if they are just regurgitating someone else’s thoughts! I mean, who actually says “Power-based personal violence” in the course of a conversation?!) People who do not work in the dating violence/sexual violence/violence against women field don’t use these terms. To people outside of this field, these words do not resonate and they don’t make sense. Even educated people can’t properly define “gender based violence” (as we, immersed in the field, might see it). So why continue using such terminology? But we (in the field) use these words, over and over again, trying to drive home our points. If we want to reach the masses, we need to simplify, like Nike – Just Do It. We need to meet men where they are, and use language that resonates with men, and the general public. If a specific song is filled with degrading lyrics about women, say that! If we keep saying that a song is filled with “misogyny”, guess who will tune us out…the same group we are trying to get through to. We’re smart. We don’t need to use big words, for the sake of using big words, to prove it. We’re trying to reach men, not prepare for the SATs.
  5. Stand up to violence against women when you see it. Violence against women comes in all forms, and has many points of origin. Whether you’re in the hallway at school and notice a kid completely berating and humiliating his girlfriend. Or you see a guy in a bar, dropping something in his date’s glass of wine. Or you see marks and bruises on our friend’s wife. Whenever you notice violence, or a high-risk situation taking place, you have the power to take a stand. You can confront the guy, or alert the soon-to-be victim’s friends to get her some help. But you can do something. As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” If you say we do not condone violence against, then you have to stand up to it when we see it approaching.

What do we know about these shooters? Amongst other traits, they sought power and control, they wanted respect, and they had a sense of entitlement. As we learn from Dr. David Lisak, these are the same salient characteristics, and driving forces, of those 8-15% of guys (in a given school, campus, or community) that commit rape. Even though this is a small percentage of guys who commit sexual violence, they are inflicting pain on about 20-25% of women in a given school, campus, or community, and terrifying women everywhere, who search for ways to keep themselves safe from victimization. So redefining masculinity has a direct correlation on the safety and well being of women.

But that shouldn’t be our only reason for redefining masculinity. How many more men can we lose to jail or death or troubled lives, all because they think women “owe” them something? We should prevent violence against women because in doing so, we also reach men who are venturing down the path of destruction.

The impact of the good guys cannot be overstated. By reaching that one floundering, ostracized, or socially-awkward young man, you can not only help HIM, but potentially help the handful of women he may go on to victimized, ensuring their lives will not be turned upside down by brushes with sexual violence, at the hands of another boy-turned mad, scorned by rejection. Getting through to a young man like your nephew, cousin, or student can have a profound impact on him, as well your daughter, sister, or neighbor.

Famous Sal’s PIzza Box

Inevitably during this time of year, when activists are celebrating Sexual Assault Awareness Month, someone publishes an article or some group sponsors a conference on how men can prevent sexual violence. And rightfully so. If men commit the lion’s share of sexual assaults (I think the last statistic I read on this issue said the male species is responsible for 98% of rapes), why shouldn’t we address rape as a men’s problem? Crafting new and innovative way to reach men. Educating men on how, and why, sexual violence is harmful for men and women, alike. Striving to reach even just one man, so that he does not commit sexual violence.

But when I read these kinds of articles, I think back to the pizza parlor I used to go to, when I was a kid. Their pizza boxes read, “Famous Sal’s” or maybe it was “Famous Frank’s” (it was Famous Something-or-nother), but what I remember vividly was tagline on those boxes: You’ve tried all the rest, Now try the best.

I think about that tagline because, well, when I read articles on how men can prevent rape, the tips that I read are things that men could, or should do, in theory. Like, this one article I read that suggested men should ask women what it means to be a woman, the struggles, the glass ceiling, the fear of victimization. My initial thought was, hmmmm…interesting. I’m all for men developing and building empathy with women. But if not conducted in the right environment – on Dr. Phil’s couch or in a training session with diversity trainer Lee Mun Wah, for instance – men asking women about their struggles could produce all sorts of inflammatory dialogue: victim blaming, female bashing, male privilege and superiority.

So here is my attempt to address this issue, from a practical perspective. But, I’m no guru. I’m just a dude who’s been a feminist all his life; who has been educating men and women, boys and girls, and children and adults about preventing sexual violence for several years; who has been complimented (mostly, by the guys in the audience) about how I am able to connect with an audience. I’m no expert; but I know if you reach men (or any audience, for that matter), you have to reach them where they are, so they’ll stand a better chance of taking in your message. (Candy helps, too. So does humor.)

So, in no certain order, here are just a few other ways that men can prevent rape. This is not an exhaustive list. This is only meant to get the conversation going. With that, here goes nothing!

  1. For starters, men have to actually believe that rape is wrong. This should go without saying, but I think it’s important to say it anyway. If men are going to stand up to violence against women (which is what sexual violence is), as men, we must first believe that violence against women is not okay. That it is wrong and harmful. To give a man perspective, someone might ask – What if that girl was your sister or your mother or your wife, how would you feel? That’s a good question. I’ve heard prevention experts use this tactic, a lot. It makes the recipient put him or herself in a relationship with the survivor, so as to conjure up empathy – which is one of the first steps in choosing not to harm someone. But, read that question from a different perspective – it also says that if that woman is not your sister or mother of wife, then the recipient does not have to care for, and empathize with her, and, as a result, can disregard the violence that she experiences. So, the rapist would not want any harm to come to his sister or mother; but he’d have no objections violating that drunk woman sitting at the bar, or that teenage girl in the mall. Rape, no matter whom it’s committed against, is no okay. We have to start there. If we want men to become champions of violence against women, we have to start by getting men to agree and acknowledge that rape is wrong. That one element sets the foundation, or framework, for the remainder of the discussion. Because after that, (like we used to say back in Newark), it gets thick.
  2. As men, we can make a conscious decision not to support public officials who abuse women or who suggest rape and abusing women is okay. This one is easy. We all know who the public figure that has made idiotic and disparaging comments about women. We even know those that are abusive towards their wives and girlfriends. But we look past those mishaps, because, as we do for most offenses, we like to give second chances. As long as an act is within reason, anyone will be given a second chance. Drinking and driving, yup. Selling heroine, you betcha. Caught paying for sex from what one thinks is a prostitute, but is actually an undercover cop, we’ll take you too. But, what about that guy who abuses his wife (or girlfriend), vows that he’s going to change, only to abuse her again, is involved in other alleged altercations, and gets a tattoo of his wife’s battered face. He says he’s changed, but his actions suggest otherwise. Still, does he deserve a second chance? A benefit of the doubt? Our continual support and adoration? Sure, all we see are the surface-level events that unfold before our eyes, reported on by a biased media. But when we buy that guy’s albums (who talks about putting Mollies in ladies’ drinks), or wear his jersey (after he’s been arrested for allegedly abusing his wife), or vote for him (even after he makes an idiotic, ignorant, and biased comment about women), what is the message we are sending? What message are we sending when we vote for the politician who said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”?  Or the guy who commented, “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen”? Or, how about the politician (as educated as he ought to be) who said, “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it”? You know the words, and how ridiculous and out-of-touch-with reality they are. As men, we have the right to stop supporting anyone who goes against our morals and values, no matter how much his songs move us. Just like I would never support an entertainer or vote for a politician who stood for racial discrimination and inequality, I would never support the public official who stands for violence against women. My support is theirs to earn. Not the other way around. Neither is it unconditional, especially when it comes to something I believe in.
  3. As men, we should challenge our friends – who may not be complete jerks, but have the tendency of saying or doing jerkish things – to show more respect for women.  Say, you’re at a bar. One of your friends says something about a young lady who walks past him. The young lady spins on her heels and walks swiftly towards your friend. Before you can even set your beer on the bar, she’s in his face yelling, “What did you call me?” You know your friend. You know how much of a jerk he can be. You know he probably called that young lady a slut because she had on an ultra-short skirt (or some other trendy outfit that he would be raving about if Megan Fox had been wearing it). You also know this friend tells rape jokes, and makes lists about how “rapable” certain girls are. He’s been your friend for years. He’s kind of annoying, but you know he’s a decent guy at heart. Here is where we, as men, can be really instrumental in ending violence against women. This illustration isn’t to suggest that your friend would rape, hit, or otherwise abuse a woman. But, his comments (as humorous as he swears they are) suggest that he would rape, hit, or otherwise abuse a woman, and that suggestion is what everyone sees. It’s how people will judge him. It’s the perception that creates a reality for women that says guys are a-holes. So, it might finally be a time to challenge your friend to stop being a jerk and find something else to joke about besides rape, or calling women sluts, or commenting how “rapable” women are. It’s making him look bad. It’s also making you look bad. It’s bad for women. It’s even bad for men. It says men can joke about one of the most violent experiences a woman can face; and men can joke about it, because, well, rape doesn’t happen to men. It only happens to sluts, like the one who wears short skirts to bars. But that’s beyond absurd. You know your friend. At his heart, rape is not what he truly what he stands for. So you can help him out by challenging him to stop putting on the act – you know, the male act of I will say even the stupidest, most offensive, most egregious things just to get a reaction and make someone laugh. It’s time for your friend to man up, and stop being a jerk. It’s time for you to show him the mirror.

Everyone else to catch up

Of course by now you’ve heard that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That’s right, we have dedicated an entire month to raising awareness about preventing rape and taking a stand against sexual violence. Even the president is in on it! I recently received this mass email from the White House, where President Obama spoke of using April to “recommit to ending the outrage of sexual assault, giving survivors the support they need to heal, and building a culture that never tolerates sexual violence”1. Pretty cool that the president of the United States is such a staunch supporter of preventing sexual violence! But, his support also tells us one, important, thing: that rape is a big deal – traumatic, life-changing, fear-instilling, and, sadly, all too common.

But this isn’t new for survivors or counselors or advocates or many other people who have been impacted (e.g. as secondary survivors) by sexual violence. We already know how sexual violence scars and impacts survivors, their loved ones, and their communities. We’re just waiting for everyone else to catch up.

Everyone else who tells or laughs at rape jokes. Everyone else throws around the term date rape, to somehow justify or lessen the impact of rape, to make it sound less like the violent-scary-traumatic experience that it is, and more like a nice-cuddly form of rape…or as one expert put it, rape light. Everyone else who feels so entitled to sex, that they force themselves on another person. And everyone else who excuses rapists because that girl “put herself in that position”. As if there’s a position one can put themselves in that says, Hey! Come and rape me! And everyone else who purposefully and systematically gets a girl absolutely drunk, to the point where she can barely stand, let along give consent; then, having sex with that girl, and afterwards claiming, she wanted it.

Part of me wishes we did not have to have a month dedicated to ending sexual violence. That we could live in a more decent society. I know that many of our brothers and sisters feel the same way. But are NOT just waiting, we are holding rallies to raise awareness, educating our communities, and raising our children to value women*, and doing everything else in our power to get everyone else to catch up!

Please join me in recognizing and celebrating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, where we take a collective stand against sexual violence and sexual assault attackers, and demonstrate support for sexual assault survivors!

Peace!

Abdul

 

– Presidential Proclamation — National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, 2014.

*Although women are not the only targets or victims of sexual violence, the research on sexual assault rapists tells us that they harbor a disdain and lack of respect for women, specifically.

One of the Others – Pt. II

I tried to resist writing about diversity today – January 20, 2014 – the day we celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought it would be too much of a cliché to write about my thoughts and feelings or what I’ve experienced, regarding all things diversity. I hate being clichéd and predictable. So I made a conscious effort not to write about this topic. Until it dawned on me – Isn’t this precisely the day that I should be taking to paper to address these topics? If not now, then when would it be appropriate to write about what diversity means to be? So here I am, wanting to be here, but only kind of, and in a moment of complete vulnerability. I’ve proven to myself that diversity isn’t necessarily comfortable. So here goes nothing:

“You’re going to mess around and bring home one of these White girls,” I could still hear my uncle joking as we sat in his car, driving from line to line, on my college’s move-in day.

Where the hell did that came from, I thought to myself. But, as I looked out of the window, I knew exactly why he’d made that comment.

“No I’m not,” I finally said. “I’m not attracted to White girls.”

How could I be, I began asking myself. Coffee-colored complexions, full lips, and curvaceous figures were what I found attractive. But when I thought of White girls, all I envisioned was Kelly Bundy from “Married with Children” or Monica from “Friends”, neither of which I found attractive. Everything I had known told me those concepts – attractiveness and White girls – told me they were mutually exclusive. I knew all about stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals perpetuated by the media, but I swore those images were rooted in reality. Plus, when I thought of White women, I envisioned an ultra-wholesome, pure, and non-threatening sect of society. I didn’t see them as being anything like me. I saw them as being different, in every way possible. I saw them as one of the Others.

But, the cutie in the snug jeans looked nothing like the bland, stick-thin White girls I had been used to seeing on TV or in the picture frames at Macy’s. She was attractive, but even more than that, she was sexy. Just as sexy as the girls back home. So the comment I’d made to my uncle – I’m not attracted to White girls – began replaying in my mind like the chorus of a bad song that gets stuck in your head.

 

From the first time I heard her, the sound of Alanis Morissette’s voice touched me in a way no one ever had, and I began rocking out like I did when I listened to Jay Z or Tupac – bopping my head to the beats, pointing at the screen as I killed the bad guys, giving Bowser the finger. She was angry at everything, angry at everyone, and angry for the fuck of it. It was just how I felt. For the first time, I was able to put into words how I felt growing up with a mother who never said I love you, or hugged me, or told me everything would be all right when I felt like crap.

You seem very well, things look peaceful. I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know.

The more Alanis sang, the more cathartic her words became, and I only wish I could have been screaming at my father – who had left me and my sister, who had never sent a birthday card, who was dead to me – as Alanis raged on.

Hello Mr. Man. You didn’t think I’d come back. You didn’t think I’d show up with my army and this ammunition on my back. Now that I’m Miss Thing. Now that I’m a zillionaire. You scan the credits for your name. And wonder why it’s not there.

That year, every time I heard Alanis belt out, You live! You learn!, everything felt all right.

 

I always knew I was different. But, there was something different about feeling different at college. I didn’t come across any confederate flags, or nooses, or symbols that made me feel unwelcomed. I just didn’t feel completely at home. It was like I was there, but I wasn’t. Like I was just another minority merely existing in the shadows of the White majority. That is, until I met my best friend.

I’ll never forget the conversation Nicole and I had about being down with the brown. The phrase was the missing piece to the puzzle I had been trying to solve. I went on to tell Nicole of how I would smile at women of all races just to see if my smile would be returned, and if it was, I would try deciphering the story that was in their eyes. In the eyes of those who smiled back, I saw an inviting look that made their eyes sparkle, a look that said I’d definitely date you, as if they were thinking, You’re my equal.

In the eyes of the females who hadn’t returned my smile, the message I received was Eek! I may as well have been one of those purple monsters from Chuck E. Cheese’s – with horns rising from its heads and fangs hanging from its mouth – the way some women wouldn’t dare look in my direction. From them, I had received a look that said you’re one of them! – what you’d imagine the Others looked like on the TV show “Lost”. These women didn’t have to say anything when I smiled their way; the looks in their eyes had already told me how open their souls were to befriending me.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Nicole said, the compassion in her eyes was unmistakable.

Over the course of my junior year, my friendship with Nicole blossomed. I showed Nicole how to be spontaneous and de-stress when she had a huge exam, and she showed me the true meaning of a stiff drink; I drove her home when she found out her oldest sister went into labor and she invited me to her house for Thanksgiving when she learned my mother had moved North Carolina; I shared with her stories from my childhood of growing up without a father, and she shared with me how she found solace growing up with three step-sisters. We may have had nothing in common physically, but we had everything in common in almost every other way. Most importantly, when I was around her, I no longer felt like a shadow.

I couldn’t help but think how attraction began taking on a new meaning during my college years – There was the physical attraction (like the crush I’d had on Jessica, the cutie in the snug jeans), which enabled me have a spiritual awakening (Alanis was the minister I visited when I needed to confess my sins, except she did the professing, and I did the listening), which enabled me to connect socially and emotionally with Nicole (who’d become more than a friend, she was like my sister) which enabled me to fall in love (uniting physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally, and psychologically) with Jessica, some years later.

At eighteen, I swore I wasn’t attracted to White girls. Years later, however, I was married to a White woman. Isn’t it ironic? I realized I had unlearned my prejudice past when I no longer saw the world in terms of Others, and all it took was four years, three women, a couple of heart-to-hearts, and a jagged little pill.

One of the Others – Pt. I

I don’t just believe in diversity, I’ve folded into my life’s mission. I read books about the feminist movement just for fun. I celebrate multiple religions. I challenge my friends when they say things like dude, that’s so gay. I joined an organization that works to eliminate sexual violence against all people. I am in an inter-racial marriage, and have a biracial son. In fact, every aspect of my life is dedicated to fostering all things diversity –acceptance, inclusivity, social justice, the usual suspects.

So it pains me to admit, that I have prejudices. Yes, those wart-like ideals that colors even the purest souls the most putrid shade of gray, who vies to distinguish between themselves and everyone else: She’s not like us, she’s one of them. There is us ______ people, and there is everyone else. Those people. Their kind. The Others.

I admit, I have prejudices (and I intentionally use a present tense knowing no one is ever truly free from the actions of their prejudiced past) because doing so has not only helped me become less judgmental and more self-aware, but it has also helped me evolve. More than that, admitting my prejudices has liberated me. Though one Monday morning, it didn’t feel so freeing.

I stood in front of the classroom quivering, like a puppy sitting on its owner’s doorsteps, shivering in the rain. I could feel their eyes on me, as they awaited instructions. I scanned the students’ names in the attendance book for the fifth time, and checked my cell phone – 7:56 am. Class did not officially begin until eight o’clock, but it was time to start. So I put a smile on my face, looked up, and greeted my students.

“Good morning…Hi Professor Staten…How was your weekend,” the students responded all at once. Brian had already downed a can of Monster. Kayla was already copying the day’s outline (which I wrote on board before each class). And, Colleen and Lauren were their usually perky selves. My students were ready to go. Now all I had to do was teach.

I always spent those few minutes before class officially began making small talk with my students – our chats ranged from who studied all weekend to who worked all weekend, from which professors they liked most to which movies they’d recently seen. It was my way of investing in my students and taking an interest in their lives. It was also my way of facilitating an informal ice-breaker and getting them warmed up.

“Where do prejudices come from,” I asked, unsure if the weight of the question would squash the laughter and exuberance that’d filled the room only moments ago. But I knew it was time to make the transformation – I had to turn off the chitchat as their BFF, and turn on my role as a take-no-nonsense professor, so we could begin the day’s lesson. Exploring prejudices wouldn’t be an easy feat, and hurt feelings were merely collateral damage.

“Racist people,” Brian called out. He was always the first to respond, and I wondered if he’d have the stamina to keep up with me today.

“Ignorance,” Colleen added. She was the type of student every instructor wishes they had more of – punctual, engaged, hard working, intelligent, a world of potential, and a sweet disposition underneath a tough exterior. Of all my students, she was probably my favorite.

When I noticed there were no other hands in the air, I asked the question again: “Where do prejudices come from?”

I could tell my students were thinking – Devon was twirling her hair between her fingers. Mike had taken a break from doodling, and was spinning his pen between his fingers. Jade was biting her lip, focused, as if she was repeating the question to herself – Where do prejudices come? Where do prejudices come from?

“Fear,” Lauren finally said. Her response had sounded more like a question than an affirmation, and that drove me nuts. But at least she had contributed, and that’s all I could ask for.

(Intrigued by what you’ve read thus far? If so, drop me a line!)

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