I wrote this piece for A CALL TO MEN. Fathers and Daughters. I hope you will give it a read.
After it went live, I had an interesting conversation with a father of daughters. He was very passionate about teaching his daughters to be aware of the dangers around men and to protect themselves. Honestly; I agree with him on this. But the piece I had difficulty getting across to him was men’s responsibility to intervene with other men. That we have a job to do in ending the violence. His responses to me were in two categories. The first is how we need to teach women and girls to defend themselves, and the second was that fathers need to show up to teach their sons respect for women.
Afterwards I came up with a good analogy. It seems to work like that a lot – a day or two after the conversation I think of all the brilliant things I could have said. At least brilliant in my mind. So I figured I could write about it here.
If you and I were at the mall together (assuming for a moment dear reader that you are also a man) and we saw another man harassing a woman, we would be faced with decisions. The first would be if we would intervene or not. In my experience, most guys will tell you that they will intervene. In this analogy, we decide to do something.
We have three options that I am drawing from my conversation with the father mentioned above. They are;
- Instruct the woman in self defense.
- Call the perpetrator’s father and have him school his son.
- Intervene with the guy on the spot to let him know that what he is doing is not ok – with us.
Just thinking about this situation in real time it seems pretty obvious that the most effective intervention is to talk with the guy. Teaching the woman self defense is hardly practical in the moment, and finding this guy’s father would be near impossible if we didn’t already know him. Even if we did know the father, getting him to come down to the mall in that moment to school his son isn’t going to happen nearly fast enough.
But talking with this guy is going to have an impact. He will witness that two other men are not ok with his behavior. This may not always be a safe intervention, and caution is warranted. But let’s move out of the analogy and think about this from a larger perspective.
The best time to intervene is before anything happens. I sincerely believe that men do violence to women, trans folks, non-binary people, as well as other men who do not “fit” in the Man Box, because we have been taught three things – women are of less value, women are sexual objects, and women are men’s property. These three teachings allow men to do violence towards anyone not a “real man.” We police each other and reinforce the beliefs through thousands of subtle and not so subtle interactions.
How we talk about women when they are not present (see; “locker room talk”). How we demean non- and less-masculine men. How we posture ourselves as being invulnerable. How we readily express anger. How we seldom or never express weakness. How we deny and repress sadness and pain. Basically how we teach boys to devalue anything deemed “feminine.”All of these things send messages to boys at incredibly early ages of how to “be a man.”
It is long over due that we change this. It is not simply the responsibility of women to defend themselves – men must stop being dangerous. It is not simply that fathers need to show up for sons – my father was very present and deeply respectful to women and I still learned toxic masculinity by heart. We need to actively re-define what healthy manhood is and practice it daily. Men have the responsibility and power to end the violence. All Men.