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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.