Many people assume domestic violence and sexual assault are women’s issues. But men and boys are not only directly affected by violence, but they play a crucial role in the movement to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
We sat down with Tony Porter, the co-founder of A CALL TO MEN and a leading voice on engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women. Porter’s 2010 TED Talk (below) has been named by GQ Magazine as one of the “Top 10 TED Talks Every Man Should See” so we turned to our longtime friend and partner for his thoughts on the role men play in creating the culture change necessary to address domestic violence and sexual assault. Read the Q&A below!
Tell us briefly what your organization does.
A CALL TO MEN’s primary focus is engaging men on domestic and sexual violence prevention as well as the promotion of healthy and respectful manhood. We work to create a society of men and boys who are loving and respectful. The large majority of men in our society are non-violent. We believe that it’s the responsibility of those men to challenge the minority of men who are violent while raising a generation of healthy and respectful boys who also promote non-violence.
How did you get involved in this “movement” of men making change? Why?
In my former life I worked in drug and alcohol treatment. Through that work I had an interest in the correlation with race and class with alcohol and drug addiction in the community. So while addressing race and class I found myself in the same rooms with women who were addressing male domination as the roots of domestic and sexual violence. These women began to encourage me to find my voice in challenging male domination. One of the reasons I became interested in doing this work is because here I had the opportunity to become a part of the solution to oppression because I was a member of the dominating group just as I would encourage white folks to challenge racism. I realized as a member of the dominating group I could be very effective in working with men in gaining men’s attention in ways that women were challenged.
I started volunteering with a program that worked with male perpetrators of domestic violence. After a few years I became a part of a national training team that toured the country teaching effective techniques and skills for working with male perpetrators of domestic violence. At that time, my foundation of the understanding of domestic violence included a political analysis that male dominance was rooted in patriarchy. Patriarchy is a latin word for “father’s rule”. I began to realize that if male violence against women was patriarchy, then it was about all men, not just perpetrators. That’s when I decided that I wanted to work with all men and not just perpetrators because the minority does not operate absent of the majority and I could influence the majority.
Why aren’t these issues not just “women’s issues”?
Obviously it can’t be just a “women’s issue” if a majority of the perpetrators are men. To me, it’s a people issue, an issue of humanity. Violence against women is in epidemic proportions in the US; the Centers for Disease Control has identified it as a leading cause of injury to women. And as a major health risk, it is very close to cancer.
If country “A” did to country “B” what men do to women in the USA, we would be on the front lines determining how we would get involved. We would do something. We would have to, as a humanitarian issue, demanding a humanitarian response. Just the same we all have a responsibility to end violence against women in our relationships and homes, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our future.
Your TED video speaks right to men, about real stories that we can all relate to, why is this important?
In the work of A CALL TO MEN, we believe that although the academic approach is important, to engage men—to help the transformation of men—we have to reach in and grab a man’s heart. One way to accomplish that is by giving of ourselves, sharing stories and experiences in our quest for manhood. We are in this to transform men while holding on to the many wonderful aspects of manhood, and challenging the norms that have a direct link to men’s violence against women. Our goal is to help the next generation of a boys grasp early that to be a real man means to be loving, kind, gentle and not violent.
Who should watch the video (and why)?
We want all men to watch the video. We are invested in the majority of men who are loving men who would never hurt a woman. That is our primary audience. We have hope for the men who are abusive, but we want to talk to the majority of men. They are the ones that will help transform our families and children.
We know that women watch the video and that it helps them understand about men and how they can help men understand what is going on in their own lives and relationships. Women have been instrumental in our work to bring men to the table. They watch the video and take it to their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, and families.
How have people responded to the video and A CALL TO MEN?
We have had over 3 million views on YouTube and get emails from people all over the world that have been touched by the video. The large majority of responses from, both men and women, are very positive and supportive. We’ve have had some backlash, in emails and blogs, from folks that disagree. Some of their responses are outlandish which serves to encourages us to keep doing the work we are doing.
After watching the video we know that many men (and women) will be inspired to get involved. What’s the one thing they can do to jump start action in their own families and communities?
Immediately challenge yourselves on the language we use, how we think about and how we talk about women and girls. At A CALL TO MEN we examine the collective socialization of men that are taught to look at women as less valued, as property of men, and in particularly sexual objects of men. This creates a culture where men’s violence against women becomes a norm. I tell men, coaches, and mentors to stop saying to young boys things like “you play like a girl” because what that is saying is that girls are less than boys. I say tell them to say things like “try harder, you have the ability to do this”. When we change our language we change our values. Every man that tells a boy to “stop playing like a girl” should ask himself the following question: What am I saying about girls?
I ask men “see where you can change and if you have influence over men and boys then challenge them on how they act and behave and what they say about and to women.” If we did just that one thing alone the change would be astronomical.
Why is it important that parents start these conversations with their kids and teens? What resources are available to help parents talk to their kids?
We do a lot of work around fatherhood as well as what it means to be men and what manhood is in our relationship from fathers to sons. It’s very important to talk to sons and other boys around us. If we don’t provide the right message they will simply go elsewhere and learn from others. We have to be the positive role model for our sons and other boys, but we have to teach ourselves first.
I was in the car with my daughter and son the other day and she was asking me something and my son told her to “grow a pair” because he thought she was not being assertive enough. In my previous life I might have been ok with that; I might have agreed with him. But think about it, we never tell a man to grow a vagina. I asked him “grow a pair of what?” and he didn’t want to answer. I told him what he was saying “grow a pair of balls”, male genitals and then asked him why does she need to “grow a pair”? I asked him “What if she told you to grow a vagina?” They laughed, we laughed, and then we talked about what that means and how that plays out to create a society that benefits men and demeans women. As parents when we become more educated about the things we say, and what our kids say, then we can start creating a society where boys are loving and respectful and women and girls are valued and safe.
Can you give our readers (and those who watched the video) a quick “takeaway” that you want them to remember?
If women could end violence against women they would have by now. While we can’t depend on the perpetrators to always change, I do have hope for them. But who is left from this equation is the majority of men—good, kind, loving men. Violence against women won’t end until good men become part of the solution. It’s time for good men, the majority of men, to develop a voice, stand up, speak up and speak out to create a world where boys and loving are respectful and women and girls are valued and safe.
Learn more about A CALL TO MEN and check out their free resources available to the public as well as school groups and families. You can also learn more about their programs around the country as well as ways to educate, empower and engage your community on these issues.
This blog originally appeared on NFL Player Engagement website.