We must raise the bar

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been discussing an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault with or in the vicinity of men and a man has piped up and said, “That’s not my problem. I don’t abuse or assault women. I respect women and treat them right.”

And that’s all well and good, but maybe we need to raise the bar of what it means to be a “good guy” a little higher than simply “I don’t abuse or assault women.”

Jackson Katz begins his keynote address at the 101men luncheon.
Jackson Katz begins his keynote address at the 101men luncheon.

On Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure not just of hearing Jackson Katz speak at 101men in St. Catharines, as part of the Coalition to End Violence Against Women‘s (CEVAW) recognition of November as domestic violence awareness month, but also of engaging in conversation with him as we shared the same table for lunch.

Katz’s message was not only that we need to raise that bar, but also that the leadership of women on issues like domestic violence and sexual assault has dramatically improved the lives of boys and men as well.

In reference to the MVP training that nearly 80 men in Niagara were participating in whilst we were having lunch and for the rest of the day, Katz acknowledged that, “Men wouldn’t be getting together and talking about what can men do as responsible members of the community were it not for women’s leadership.”

“It’s not about men against women and women against men, it’s thoughtful people who know that they live in a world together and we have to figure out ways of working together and solving problems together. Thoughtful people know this as a common sensical notion.”

I’ve become so tired of men and all-out MRA’s railing on about how feminism is a bad thing; how feminism is the enemy of men; how it keeps men down; and how it oppresses men. The fact of the matter is that without feminism and women’s leadership on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, the lives of so many boys and men would be so much worse.

The common perception is that feminism has worked to improve the lives of only women and girls through the creation of rape crisis centres, domestic violence shelters, and lobbying to have laws (like making marital rape illegal) changed. When, in fact, the lives of men and boys have also been profoundly affected in a positive way in these areas.

Men have been sexually assaulting women, children (girls and boys), and other men for thousands of years. So, yes, we need to talk about boys and men also being victims of sexual assault. Absolutely. I don’t know a feminist who would say otherwise. What we need to recognize is that men are, overwhelmingly, the perpetrators of these acts of violence.

As Katz pointed out, when a young boy sees his mother being beaten by his father, that boy is not simply a witness to violence, he is, in fact, a victim of it; he is not simply observing the violence happen to someone else, it is happening to him, and he is almost 10 times more likely to grow up to be an abuser himself than are boys who do not experience this violence.

“There’s no peace on the streets, if there’s no peace in the family. There’s no peace in the community, if there’s no peace in the family. There’s no peace in the world, if there’s no peace at home.”

So, while #notallmen has become a thing, it’s imperative that we acknowledge that simply not being an abuser or a rapist is not enough. The bar must be raised.

We need to acknowledge that men can use their privilege to help put an end to gender violence. They can stand up when other men say or do things about or to women and stop it. The effect is profoundly different when a man speaks up and asks a woman who is being harassed in the street if she’s okay than if I speak up and ask if she’s okay.

As noted by Katz, even if you don’t engage in the behaviour yourself; if all you do is stand by and stay silent, you are consenting to that behaviour. You are telling other men that the behaviour is acceptable. You are opening up the possibility that not just your mother, sister, daughter, coworker, teammate, aunt, grandmother, classmate, friend, cousin – any woman in your life – will be subjected to the same behaviour, but also that your brother, son, cousin, uncle, teammate, classmate, grandfather, friend, coworker – any man in your life – will be subjected to it, because no man has ever called it out as not being okay.

Raise the bar. Please.

I leave you with this: Ten Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence