Rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, street harassment, stalking, domestic and dating violence, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation…have historically been defined and recognized as “women’s issues.” To a large degree this makes enormous sense: it is by and large women who are impacted by these forms of violence and abuse; beyond the women who are directly victimized, women much more significantly than men feel the “threat affect” of these forms of violence and abuse; it has largely been women who have been responsible for the availability of resources, services and programs to respond to and prevent these forms of violence and abuse; and the social movement to end gender based violence came out of the women’s movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Preventing gender based violence has, to a large degree, been seen as a part of the agenda of women’s empowerment.
It is not my intention to discount, or argue against this framing, but to rather offer a different angle. As powerful as this view of gender based violence has been, one of the unintended consequences has been to remove most men from the conversation – and the movement. Understood as a “women’s issue” means most men feel or see any connection between these forms of violence and abuse and their own lives, and as such, see no reason to be involved in efforts to respond to and combat gender based violence.
Framing sexual and intimate partner violence, however, squarely as a “men’s issue” means positioning these forms of violence and abuse within the radar of most men, and as a result, invites them to join efforts of responding and preventing.
Defining sexual and intimate partner violence as a men’s issue is NOT the same thing as saying “all men are abusive.” What this is saying is that (like women), all men are impacted by some men’s violent behaviors and (also like women) all men can do something to help (either responding or preventing). BUT, men are impacted, in many ways, differently than the ways that women are impacted. While women are largely impacted, for example, by the threat of being victimized, most (perhaps all) men are impacted by being perceived as a threat. Nearly all of us, as men, have experienced being in a parking garage, walking down a street, or in many other situations, and experiencing women’s responses to us as a potential threat. We’ve seen women quicken their steps, look anxiously our way, get out their phones, or keys, or pepper spray in response to us simply being in their presence. While we all rationally recognize that she may not fear me, the individual; she doesn’t know who me, the individual is. Most of us also recognize that in order to stay safe, she has to conceive of us as a possible threat – for all she knows, we may well be. Being seen of as a threat hurts. Few of us, as men, perceive of ourselves as threatening, and even fewer want to be seen as a threat. For this reason, gender based violence is a men’s issue.
As men, we also know and love women who have been raped, battered, abused, or harassed. The data indicates that it’s virtually impossible for any man to not love at least one woman (and more realistically, probably several0 who have been victimized. One in three women are abused by a partner, one in four are raped, at least 50% are harassed in the classroom or workplace, most women experience harassment in the street… Loving a sister, daughter, mother, friend, aunt, colleague…who’s been raped or abused, battered or harassed, stalked or (in some cases) murdered hurts deeply,. For this reason, gender based violence is a men’s issue.
Because of the incidence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, it’s also likely that we, as men, know and love men who have perpetrated. Since the women we love are the ones being victimized, and women are significantly more likely to be abused, harassed, assaulted and raped by the men they know (and love), then we very probably know these and love some of these men too. As painful as it is to know and love a woman (or man) who’s been victimized, it is just as painful to know and love a man who perpetrated violence, abuse or rape. Few of us, want to acknowledge that our friends, neighbors, colleagues, brothers, fathers or sons might have or might will perpetrate rape or domestic violence. For this reason, gender based violence is a men’s issue.
There are countless more reasons that gender based violence impacts men, and for all these reasons, sexual and intimate partner violence is a men’s issue.
Recognizing this as “our issue” is important because when it becomes our issue, then we have real reason…and real motivation…to become part of the solution. Owning sexual and intimate partner violence, in part, means owning our role in responding to and preventing sexual and intimate partner violence. The Own It Initiative (www.menownit.org) of The Center for Women and Families, provides men with tools, resources and opportunities to find and create ways to “own” our part in responding to and preventing sexual and intimate partner violence. Own It also creates communities of men who are striving to “own it” in their own lives. If you or someone you know are a man who is doing your part to “own it,” consider becoming a part of the growing community of men who are doing so publicly.
Written by Rus Ervin Funk, Coordinator of Male Engagement at The Center for Women and Families