How to stop men from battering women

Moderated by Rick Badie

What can men do to combat domestic violence? Perhaps, rethink perceptions of manhood. An executive with a Decatur-based nonprofit explains how the program educates men to curb violence against women and girls, while a sociologist who has researched the issue offers suggestions to males interested in volunteering to stop such abuse.

Combat disturbing masculinity

By Dona Yarbrough

The media frenzy surrounding suspended NFL player Ray Rice highlights the need to engage men and male-dominated institutions like the NFL in ending violence against women. While most media coverage has concentrated on the NFL’s punishment of Rice, we as a nation need to focus on changing a culture that supports men who batter women.

As Men Stopping Violence (MSV) co-founder Dick Bathrick has asked, “Should we be focusing on the few men who got caught, or on the men who could stop them?”

For 33 years, Men Stopping Violence has led efforts to end violence against women through institutional and cultural change, working with more than 2,500 organizations including the U.S. military, businesses, institutions of higher education and governments across the world. The Decatur-based nonprofit was one of the organizations recently invited by the NFL to provide insights “from the field.” Its community-accountability model provides a blueprint for how we can approach the daunting task of shifting a culture.

The organization maintains that, while individual batterers are accountable for their own behavior, the entire community is responsible for ending violence against women. MSV Executive Director Ulester Douglas has argued, for example, that NFL fans bear responsibility for holding the league accountable for its failure to address violence against women.

Men Stopping Violence recognizes the particular role men play in community accountability because it knows men hear other men in ways they often don’t hear women. Thus, men are well positioned to challenge the destructive masculinity that pervades our culture and institutions and replace it with new ways of thinking about “being a man.”

As former football player James Brown puts it, “When a guy says you throw a ball like a girl or you’re a sissy, it reflects an attitude that devalues women and attitudes that will eventually manifest in some fashion. So this is yet another call to men to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds, and to get help.”Through courses and trainings, Men Stopping Violence teaches men to “get help and give help” by making the connection between violence against women and sexism — in the media, workplace or ways men talk about women when women aren’t present. When women aren’t valued as fully equal and autonomous human beings, violence spreads. MSV challenges men to involve other men in the movement and take an active role in changing a culture that supports violence, consciously or unconsciously.

Similarly, when working with organizations and institutions such as the military or higher education, Men Stopping Violence challenges men to recognize and combat sexism by considering whether and to what extent their institutional structures, policies and cultures contribute to the devaluation of women. Does the institutional culture exclude women from leadership positions and important conversations? Do women trust the institution to believe victims and respond to incidents of violence? Is it an “old boys’ club” or a truly inclusive environment for women? Institutions and individuals within them must be challenged to examine these issues and take action.

Recognizing that the media is another powerful tool, Men Stopping Violence has long provided expert analysis on violence against women for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN, The New York Times, Al-Jazeera America and other outlets. Such analyses strengthen the public’s understanding and directs attention toward long-term solutions. MSV has also critiqued mainstream and social media. It recently noted endless repetition of the Ray Rice video which, shown without proper context, sensationalizes violence while desensitizing people to the impact such violence has on the lives of millions of women.

To be sure, accountability for perpetrators and resources for survivors are critical. But we must also focus on the long game of cultural transformation, which cannot be accomplished without a true partnership between men and women to end the violence that affects us all.

Dona Yarbrough, a board member for Men Stopping Violence, is special assistant to the provost and director of the Center for Women at Emory University.

Rethink manhood

By Kenneth Kolb

“Where is he? I want to have a talk with him.”

I heard this a number of times during my research at an agency that assists victims of domestic violence. For a year and a half, I observed and interviewed advocates and counselors as they worked on the front lines of a persistent social problem. Every so often, a man would come by the office with the right goal in mind, but clueless how to achieve it.

Typically, he would come in for one of two reasons. Either domestic violence was back in the headlines after a high-profile case like those currently plaguing the NFL, or he had just learned someone close to him — a friend, cousin or sister — had been abused. He would come to the office looking to help, to do something.

As someone who was often the only other man in the building at the time, I had a unique perspective on these interactions. Upon hearing his offer, staff members would reach for volunteer applications and sign-up sheets. But it would soon become clear that this was not the help he had in mind. He wanted a name or an address. He wanted to teach an abuser a lesson.

Once his intentions became clear, staff members would gently show him the door. Tough guys were the last thing they wanted or needed in the office. Yet a part of me could empathize with these men. I could see their confusion. They wanted to help, but they didn’t know how.

If these individuals — and institutions like the NFL — want to join the movement against domestic violence, they must learn what help is acceptable and what is not. They need to learn why offering to “get tough” with abusers is just about the worst idea possible.First, male newcomers to these organizations need to realize those who do this work on a daily basis have very different ideas about the root causes of domestic violence and how best to end it.

In our popular culture, men who abuse women are framed as psychological deviants. We often presume men who hit women have mental problems. However, agency staff see a much broader pattern.

These organizations do not see incidents of domestic violence as random outbursts or isolated aberrations. They see men’s acts of abuse as the inevitable outcome of a culture that equates manhood with the ability to exert power and control over others.

This is why men who offer to “get tough” with known abusers are quickly shown the door. These organizations see men’s reliance on coercion and fear to get their way as an example of what started this problem.

There is still a place for men to teach other men; they just need to adjust their lesson plans:

• Men’s violence against women isn’t something “other” men do. Incidents of domestic violence cut across racial, ethnic and class lines.

• Domestic violence doesn’t always leave a mark. It also includes attempts to assert dominance through verbal and intimidating behaviors.

•Physical violence is only the visible manifestation of a much larger problem. As long as men see their ability to exert power and control over others as central to their manhood, they will use this tool against foes and loved ones alike.

So men, listen up. If you want to help local organizations in their fight against domestic violence, you need to see the problem through their eyes. Changing other men’s behavior through threats of violence isn’t the solution. Rethinking what it means to be a man is.

Kenneth Kolb, a sociologist at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., is the author of “Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling.”

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