Why do men batter women? We have to discard the easy answers. Portraying
batterers as ogres only serves to separate "them" from "us."
But men who batter and men who don't are not all that different. Male violence
is normal in our society and vast numbers of men participate. Men batter because
we have been trained to; because we live in a society where the exploitation of
people with less social and personal power is acceptable. In a patriarchal society,
boys are taught to accept violence as a manly response to real or imagined threats,
but they get little training in negotiating intimate relationships. And all too
many men believe that they have the right to control or expect certain behaviors
from "their" women and children; many view difficulties in family relationships
as a threat to their manhood, and they respond with violence.
Young people's definitions of femininity and masculinity often reflect
rigid explanations of what they must live up to in order to be a "real"
woman or a "real" man. Time and again we hear boys say that they are
supposed to be tough, aggressive, in control, that they are not to express any
feelings except anger, not to cry, and never to ask for help. And many boys expect
girls to acquiesce to men and be dependent on them.
boys get these ideas about male identity and manhood? Often from parents, but
our whole society contributes to the process. As many as one of every six boys
are sexually assaulted, and many, many more are hit, yelled at, teased, and goaded
into fighting to prove they're tough. At the Oakland Men's Project [an organization
devoted to eradicating male violence, racism, and homophobia], we believe that
many boys become convinced that they will be violated until they learn to use
force to protect themselves. Then they move to take their pain and anger out on
other the way older males have done to them.
In our work we
often use role play as a way of getting at some of these issues. One particularly
effective exercise involves a ten-year-old and his father: the father arrives
home from work and demands that the boy turn off the TV, then berates him for
the messiness of his room. The boy tries to explain; the father tells him to shut
up, to stop making excuses. Fueling the father's anger is the fact that he's disappointed
by the boy's school report card. The father shoves the report card in his son's
face and demands to know why he has gotten a "D" in math. The boy says
he did his best. The father tells him that he is stupid. The boy protests and
begins to stand up. The father shoves him down, saying. "Don't you dare get
up in my face!" The boy is visibly upset, and begins to cry. The father explodes:
"Now what? You little mama's boy! You sissy! You make me sick. When are you
going to grow up and start acting like a man?"
do this exercise in schools, it gets the boys' undivided attention because most
have experienced being humiliated by an older male. Indeed, the power of this
exercise is that it is so familiar. When asked what they learned from such encounters,
the boys often say things like: A man is tough. A man is in control. A man doesn't
cry. A man doesn't take crap.
We write the boys' comments on
a blackboard, draw a box around them, and label it the "Act Like a Man"
box. We talk about how males in this culture are socialized to stay in the box.
Eventually we ask: What happens if you step out of it, if you stop acting tough
enough or man enough? Invariably we hear that you get called names like "fag,"
"queer," "mama's boy," "punk," "girl."
Asked why, the boys say it's a challenge, that they're expected to fight to prove
themselves. Homophobia and fear of being identified with women are powerful messages
boys get from an early age, and they are expected to fight to prove that they're
tough and not gay-that they're in the box.
like the father/son interchange, helps us examine how the male sex role often
sets men up to be dominating, controlling, and abusive. We ask: How safe is it
to stay in the "Act Like a Man" box? Usually, most admit that it isn't
safe, because boys and men continually challenge each other to prove that they're
in the box. When a boy or man is challenged, he can prove he's a man either by
fighting the challenger or by finding someone "weaker"-a female or a
more vulnerable male-to dominate. Hurting girls relieves any anxiety that we may
not be tough enough and establishes our heterosexual credentials. It's both a
sign of our interest (we're paying attention to them) and a symbol of our difference
(we're in control).
The Unspoken Contract
we are taught that women are primarily sexual objects, this behavior seems perfectly
natural. And many men come to believe that a woman is just another material possession.
We initiate dates, pay for our time together, protect them on the streets, and
often marry them. We are trained to think that in return, girls should show their
appreciation by taking care of us emotionally, putting their own concerns and
interests aside, and putting out sexually.
This unspoken contract is one that
many heterosexual men operate by, and it often leads to the assumption that women
are our dumping grounds. If we've had a hard day at work, were embarrassed or
humiliated by a boss-challenged in the box- the contract leads us to believe that
we can take those feelings out on "our" women, and thus regain our power.
If we end up hitting her, then we have to blame her in order to deny our aggression
and keep our self-esteem intact. So we say things like: "She asked for it.
She pushed my buttons. She deserved it."
comes as a surprise to us that women don't meekly accept our violence. So we respond
by minimizing and justifying our actions: I didn't mean it. You're too sensitive.
That's the way guys are. It was just the heat of the moment.
men to take responsibility
In order to get men to take responsibility for
their own actions, we have to get them to talk about what they did, and what they
said, and what they felt. Making the connection between how they have been trained
and hurt and how they have learned to pass that pain on by hurting women or young
people is essential.
To get men to reflect on their experiences
and behaviors, we use exercises we call "stand ups." We ask everyone
to be silent, and then slowly pose a series of questions or statements, and ask
men to stand every time one applies to them. For example, we may ask, Have you
o worried you were not tough enough? o been called a wimp, queer, or
fag? o been told to "act like a man"? o been hit by an older man?o been
forced to fight? o been physically injured and hid the pain? o been sexually abused,
or touched in a way you didn't like? o used alcohol or drugs to hide your pain?
o felt like blowing yourself away?
Later in the workshop we
ask, Have you ever: o interrupted a woman by talking louder? o made a comment
in public about a woman's body? o discussed a woman's body with another man? o
been told by a woman that she wanted more affection and less sex from you? o used
your voice or body to intimidate a woman? o hit, slapped, shoved, or pushed a
woman? o had sex with a woman when you knew she didn't want to?
participant is asked to look around and see other men standing, which helps break
down their sense of isolation and feelings of shame. Since we are not a therapy
group, no one is questioned or confronted about his own experiences. All of our
work involves challenging the notion that males are naturally abusive and that
females are natural targets of male abuse. We give boys and men a way of analyzing
social roles by drawing insights from their own experiences, and help them to
recognize that social interactions involve making choices, that we can break free
of old roles by supporting each other in choosing alternatives to violence.
An important part of our work is getting men and boys to look
at how power, inequality, and the ability to do violence to others are structured
into social relationships in this country. We discuss how these inequalities are
maintained and how violence against one targeted group encourages violence against
others. This is not to excuse men's behavior; it is done in the belief that in
order to make better choices, men must understand the framework of power and violence
that constantly pressures us to be in control and on top.
are growing numbers of men who are critical of sexism. All too often they are
isolated and fearful of raising their concerns with other men because they worry
about being targeted for violence. We try to help them break through the fear
and reach out to other men. But we also work to get men to understand how they
are damaged by sexism and how male violence against women keeps us from the collective
action needed to confront racial, gender-based, and economic injustice.
us personally this is powerful, life-changing work. We were each drawn to it because
of troubling issues in our own lives: issues around our relationships with our
fathers (one emotionally abusive, the other emotionally distant); relationships
with women partners where we found ourselves repeating controlling, sexist behaviors
that made us feel guilty, ashamed, defensive; and the fear that we might do to
our children what had been done to us as children. Through the work we have discovered
that many men share these concerns, but they are hesitant to talk about this with
other men. Sadly, we have all learned that "real" men don't admit vulnerability.
But despite their initial hesitation, many men are eager to talk about their lives,
and to change the controlling and abusive behavior they've been trained to pass
on. Doing this work is healing for us and for those we work with.
Robert and Paul Kivel in Sexual Violence: Opposing Viewpoints, Mary E. Williams
and Tamara L. Roleff, eds. Green Haven Press : California, 1997.
Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information
about the opinion that society teaches men to be violent. Write three case study
examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
According to Allen, what is an important part of his work with male
violence? Record the letter of the correct answer the .