Men against sexism
Lecture given at the Prague Gender Studies Centre, June 5, 2000.
Ben Zeman studoval na Univerzite Massachusetts obor "vzdělavání k socialní spravedlnosti" - obor jediný svého druhu v USA. Mimo jiné získal znalosti potřebné k pořádání sociálně terapeutických seminářů s problematikou rasismu, sexismu, homofobie, diskriminace postižených, i s problematikou mužů a maskulinity. Rozhodl se naplno věnovat práci, ktera je usilím o odstranění mužských privilegií ve společnosti. Již osm let pracuje pro hnutí za odstranění násilí na ženách, v současné době je obecním poradcem pro tyrané ženy v Auburnu ve státě Maine (v rámci projektu "Obhajoba týraných žen). Je mluvčím Celonárodní organizace mužů proti sexismu (NOMAS - National Organization of Men Against Sexism). Pomohl již zorganizovat mnoho "akcí bdělosti" mužů vůči domácímu násilí.
I want to talk about a woman named Betty who I worked with in a domestic violence shelter in New Hampshire in the United States. Betty… we received a phonecall from a local police station at 4.30, just before I was going to go home and I drove in my car to the police station which had an entry room much like this one, walked in the door and I saw Betty in the other side of the room weeping in the corner on one of these waiting benches. Betty had been there for about an hour, crying her eyes out and she had no shoes on. In place of her shoes were large bandages which were actually covered with blood and it was very dramatic and intense. I sat with her, she put her arms around me, and she was crying and could barely speak. And as she began to speak, she got out the story of what had happened to her, which was that her abusive husband had used the car as a means to frighten and intimidate her. He had been driving unsafely and swerving at the last minute to avoid trees with their three kids in the car. A boy in a high school, a girl was four and a baby. She was so scared that she did not know what to do and on a bathroom break when she went out without her shoes to go to the bathroom, he drove off. So she had been running on a hot concrete in the middle of the summer, chasing the car screaming "my babies, where are my babies?", and that`s why she burnt her feet on a burning road. She was very distracted in the way that she was not getting complete sentences out and she told me that she had formerly been institutionalized in a mental hospital. So for this reason I wondered if she was appropriate for a battered women`s program or if she should go into a mental hospital but I remembered that in my training that sometimes women who were abused look crazy but really aren`t… that it`s simply that they are battered women. That often when the police would come to a house that has been a scene of a domestic violence, they find the woman acting hysterical and the man sitting acting calm and saying "Look what I have to put up with". So remembering this, I said: well, maybe we should bring her in a shelter and sure enough, when she got to the shelter and got to clean her feet and got a room, she all of sudden did not look crazy. And when we found her kids three days later, when the state police brought the kids back from the abusive husband, she seemed very sane and very, very happy.
Betty`s husband did not start out abusive. He was actually quite charming. When they met, he has told her right away that he was in love with her, he wanted a very quick involvement, wanted to move in very quickly, wanted to get married very quickly, put her up on a pedestal, said "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met, and I want to spend all my time with you". And "I want to spend all my time with you" became " where were you last night, you were supposed to be at home at 5.30, you weren`t home until 5.45, why didn`t you answered my phone calls?, I called you ten times and you don`t answer, I paged you ten times and you don`t answer… what we think of signs of prince charming, of a perfect men are actually often warning signs that the person might be an abuser. That kind of quick involvement, always jealous…when saying: "you were flirting with the guy at checkout counter", "you should not wear those cloth they make you look like a slut", "you can`t eat that, that makes you look fat", "you are too stupid to do this and that" - that kind of daily quiteling away of a person is what ends up happening in an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence is not… in my country, every 15 seconds, a woman is beaten supposedly by the man who loves her but domestic violence as it is understood - as a physical violence, is not simply that, it is more about power and control, it is about one person in a relationship, the man… thinking they have the right to say what the truth is just to be in control. As such, it`s really a microcosms, I am speaking of domestic violence, the women`s movement and because the men`s movement, the profeminist movement really came out of women`s movement… in case you are wondering what I am speaking about. Domestic violence in a relationship, the domestic violence movement in United States believes it is a microcosm, a small version of society where men are favored of women. So it is a small version of sexism.
Thirty years ago, battered women had no shelters to go to in the United States, but as an offshoot of feminist women`s movement, domestic violence movement was formed by women , usually survivors of domestic violence themselves opening out their homes and living rooms as save spaces for battered women and their children to go. The same women`s movement was dealing with issues of sexual assault, sexual harassment in the workplace and on the streets, equity of pay, women being paid as much as men, reproductive freedom and control over women`s bodies, the rights of lesbians and transgendered women, the rights of women of color and dealing with issues of sexism but also issues of racism and homophobia, Jewish oppression, abelism, classism and the like.
Now thirty years later, there are battered women shelters in all 50 states in the United States, there are thousands of shelters as well as resources for battered women for when they leave, there are also efforts being undergone to change the culture of tolerance of the use of power and control in relationships. Since it is a cultural norm that the guy gets to call the shots in the relationship, we are changing that cultural norm. There are classes now being offered , not just support groups for battered women, but there are also classes being offered but for batterers who have been convicted by the court system, learnt and unlearnt patterns of power and control in behaviors. We are raising boys and girls in a way to understand new ways of relating. Certainly, you don`t get to hit your wife or girlfriend, but you also don`t get to control your wife or your girlfriend. I would say, we don`t target simply men, but we mostly target men because 95% of the time, it is men who are abusive and women who are victims. But we also serve men who are victims in both gay and straight relationships.
30 years of the feminist women`s movement and domestic violence movement of course had a profound effect on men in the United States. The main way, that I think men responded was as a backlash. Men began feeling victimized because our power is being taken away we thought. And we felt blamed whenever issues of domestic violence or sexual assault would come up… men would feel "what do you mean, I am not a bad guy, I am not like those men who beat, you know". "I feel awful, you are saying that men are bad". So the backlash was one really big way and still is a really big way that men responded to women`s movement. To such a point of organizing groups such as the so called Father`s rights groups. A second way that men responded to feminist women`s movement is to feel left out. To feel like something was missing here. Women are challenging their gender roles and we need to do the same. So many men responded by going on retreats in the woods and banging drums and discovering their inner men, their wild men. The third major way that men responded was by saying `feminism has something for men too`. We realized that like women were realizing being raised to be passive and accept men as the dominate partner in the relationship, to put women`s needs second. At the same time that women were challenging that, that men need to challenge how we were raised as men - to always be successful, to never have feelings… and we wanted to challenge that. We also wanted to challenge sexism and dominate masculinity, to find new ways of being as men. And so was one of the pro-feminist men`s movement.
Feminist men starting 30 years ago began as academics attending women`s studies classes and writing books about calling men to action and examining the way men and boys are raised within the light of feminist understanding. Feminist male activists began taking to the streets in support of the feminist women`s movement and support of the movement against violence against women.
Handout: from white ribbon campaign in Canada. The white ribbon campaign was formed after the Montreal massacre in 1989 when a man went into the Montreal University with a gun ordered all the men out of the classroom, yelled at the women for a long time saying "You are feminists, you are women, you are taking away all the jobs, you are taking away all the class spaces so that men can`t even take classes anymore", and then he opened fire, killing ten of the students and girls and women before turning the gun at himself.
In the aftermath of what was called the Montreal massacre, three men sat down at their kitchen table and said `we have to do something about this`. This is not just violence against women, this is men`s violence against women. And as men, we can`t simply sit by and not say anything when this is happening. So they thought of a symbol of a white ribbon, that Canadian men wear to symbolize that they were against men`s violence against women. That year, in 1990, a million Canadian men wore that ribbon. Half of their parliament and their ministers - this is in a country of 30 million people.
Meanwhile, the United States, twenty-five years ago, The National Organisation for Men Against Sexism was formed (NOMAS). And both organizations are on the World Wide Web… www.nomas.org. Nomas started at a national conference on Men and Masculinity with a broader based approach challenging sexism, racism and homophobia with also trying to enhance men`s lives.
Locally, other groups - subsets of NOMAS, have done activist and academic work in their States. And one of those local groups is a group that I helped to begin. In Maine, where I live, I have joined the battered women`s movement ten years ago at the urging of my feminist women colleagues who said that there weren`t many men in the movement. And that many of the men who were abusive unfortunately would only listen to other men. And if I did nothing else but come and support what feminist movement leaders were saying, it would still do some good.
We founded a group called Mainly Men Against Violence and Sexism which ended up being a chapter of NOMAS. And started organizing visuals - in Maine last year, there were fourteen women killed by their husbands and boyfriends. After each murder, we would hold a vidual as men in the town square saying that we as men were not willing to simply sit by while our brothers were killing our sisters. In addition to this, we published for Father`s day an ad and had people hang it out of their windows. And for mother`s day, we collected the signatures of men who pledged as a Mother`s day gift, they pledged to never use violence and to work against violence. Last year and this year, we did it. This year, we got 140 men and 110 boys to sign this ad which we printed in all local newspapers.
We also launched a multi-media campaign, using radio and television ads to change the cultural tolerance of sexism and violence against women. (radio broadcast)
One other difference that we bring as men to this movement is, even though we are men against sexism, we are also men who have been effected by a sexism. The movement which has been for the most part of women`s movement is having somewhat of a hard time adjusting to men entering the movement. Women have been begging for men`s help for so many years and now when the small stream of us are actually, finally showing up, we tend to want to take over. We tend to want to interrupt in meetings, we tend to want to be the presidents of things, rather then supporting women`s leadership. Does this sound familiar to some people?J So it is a constant struggle, I think - it is a struggle for feminist women when very well meaning men come into this movement trying to be helpful but sometimes doing as much harm as we do help.
For me as a man, it was much easier to be the good man, the saving man… to come in and be distancing myself from these men who are rapists, who are batterers, who are sexists. To say `look at me, I am the good man` and after few years I began realizing after being told that actually I had work to do on myself, on my own sexism. This is more difficult than, but it felt hypocritical to be standing on a corner of a street, holding a sign "I am against sexism" while treating the women in my lives less than full respect. And this is journey, that I think every man who enters the feminist men`s movement has to go through because I`ve got to meet one of us who is completely sexism free. And we go through this part with various degrees of success. Mostly, when I was challenged on my sexism by my feminist women`s colleagues, I would be very defensive and say `what, you are attacking me? I am one of the good guys". And so it becomes very difficult for feminist women, and they have to spend lots of time with us and sort of train us. And sometimes the women I work with wonder if it is even worth it. But almost every man I know who has taken this issue seriously, has had to go through that and eventually, hopefully break down the defensiveness and shut up and listen.
The NOMAS in the United States and the White Ribbon campaign in Canada are still much smaller than the movement of men in the backlash against feminism. The traditional men`s movement that wants to claim power back from feminism. Yet, we are still going and White ribbon campaign is actually international women`s movement. It has chapters in seven different countries, including some Scandinavian countries. If any of the men or women in the room wants to start a chapter of a feminist men`s group, I would suggest them contacting the White ribbon campaign and getting their organisers` manual. It can be a very overwhelming issue, issue of sexism, of violence against women, of rape and sexual assault. But you are not alone in doing this kind of work. And I know I wanna help this as much as I can doing any of this kind of work. And if it gets overwhelming, maybe just give me a call or send an email, so.. please keep in touch.
Now I want to tell the end of the Betty story. I heard from Betty again. She moved from New Hampshire to a place that I have never heard of. Fiver years later, I was working in Maine and was on television for one of our men`s visuals. The reporter from Channel 8 called me afterwards and said there is a woman named Betty who wants to reach you. I being terrible with names, had no idea who this was but I called her anyways and it was Betty. It was the same woman with the bleeding feet, with the three kids. And she had done very courageous things with her life. She had started all over, she found a support system for herself, she got her high school diploma which she had not had before. She had got a job, she was attending a support group for battered women. Her daughter Rachel was four years old at the time of being in shelter, so she was eight at the time when I heard her in the background - she was one of the first kids in the shelter that I completely fell in love with. And I said, is that Rachel in the background? At the same time I heard little girl`s saying `is that the guy with really long hair?`. And I talked to Rachel on the phone and Rachel had started elementary school and had friends and was really starting all over again as was all of Betty`s family. I am sure her life was not perfect, nobody`s lives are but she had taken those courages steps to start over. And this is very inspiring to me, and I think we as men and we as people need to work for the day not just when women are safe in their homes, when women are safe on the streets, when women have equal pay, when women`s history is learned, as well as men`s history, when women have control over their bodies, and I am not going to stop doing this work until that happens. And I wanna thank everyone in this room for working here in the Czech Republic who are doing all the work towards these ends.