I love football

The Super Bowl has come and gone. But it’s left me thinking about masculinity and violence. Don’t assume I’m just another woman trying to rain on the manly mans’ celebration of blood, sweat and crunchy helmets. I love football. Seriously. I miss the Sunday afternoons on the couch, hollering at the TV, rooting for my team.

You know what else I love? Peaceful homes and couples who treat each other with kindness.

Now, I know the Super Bowl doesn’t cause domestic violence. Abuse happens every day, regardless of a football game. However, I do think that abuse in relationships can be linked to the qualities that we value in men in this country. Jackson Katz talks about this in his commentary on Ben Roethlisberger. Acting tough and treating women poorly is usually the best way to avoid being labeled weak or called some, um, colorful feminizing insult (as if being compared to a woman is the most terrible thing for a man).

After the Super Bowl, the director of a violence prevention organization in Iowa received death threats, death threats, just for running this ad suggesting that we can prevent violence by raising our boys differently. Let’s just dwell for a second on the irony here.

How about we make it perfectly normal for men to be kind, gentle and respectful? These qualities are not exclusive to women and we should value them more than aggression and brute force. There’s a great place for all that to stay — on the football field.

9 thoughts on “I love football”

  1. I don’t think the opposition in general is against the message that men should be loving and kind. But, when you imply that they need to BECOME so, i.e. that we need to raise them differently in order to achieve a different outcome, that implication has a nasty connotation toward the vast majority of men who are already kind, loving and non-violent.

    In the context of the ad, “redefine what it means to be a man” silently assumes that for most men, sexual assault is somehow presently part of their implicit definition of manhood. I find that deeply offensive, and it rings dramatically false in my experiences with men.

    There is an undercurrent in discourse on this topic that seems to comfortably assume that all men need to be changed. This is not true, and reflects a gender stereotype that some men (and some women, on their behalf) find offensive. There is nothing wrong with MEN, and women are violent in familial or romantic relationships as well. If PSAs like these and the character of discourse on the topic were changed slightly to either (a) focus on changing those who abuse regardless of gender, or (c) focus on creating acceptance and encouragement for non-violent behavior regardless of gender, I would find it inoffensive. But domestic violence is by no means an exclusively male-triggered problem, and most males are NOT domestic abusers. Part of my personal take on feminism, is that we don’t protect women by demonizing men, and I think our society is too tolerant of gender-based negative assumptions of men.

    Violence (against women by men, against men by women, against children by either parent, and so on) is deeply horrible and we need to really, really work as a society to put an end to it. But I truly believe we will better succeed at doing so in a context of mutual respect and acceptance, where we don’t implicitly assume that all males are abusers, or that there’s something about the essence of masculinity that is problematic. The fact is that we have a society with mostly great men, who don’t rape women or beat people up. Let’s not take them down with the bad ones, but let’s instead create an accepting environment where we celebrate those men and encourage them (through family leave for fathers, mentoring, and as many other avenues as possible) to become increasingly visible role models of their brand of loving, kind masculinity. Let’s stop assuming the only good parent is a mother. Let’s stop making sitcoms where the adult males are stupid, lazy and incompetent, and where it’s funny when a wife smacks some sense into them. Let’s stop celebrating the men – like Ben Roethlisberger – who get away with violence for the sole reason that they are good enough at a sport (one that I, too, love – Fly Eagles Fly!) to make millions of dollars of money for themselves and their bosses. Let’s stop tolerating the abusers, while never assuming that most men are – by nature of their maleness – bad.

  2. It begins with him, it also begins with social tolerance of violence, homophobia, a messed up discourse of gender and sex, institutional sexism, an American mythos of achievementindependencestrength, emotional insecurity…

    Now, to be clear, I stand in solidarity with Josh and Riverview. I’ve been reading his blog since he started, and have left comments there over a year ago. I get what they’re going for here, and I liked their work on the Superbowl bingo card. Also, I recognize the challenge of fitting a social critique into a 30 second spot. I mean, really, that’s kinda the point here.

    “If only they understood the root causes of violence and shared my critical analysis, we’d be rid of violence!” Perhaps.

    Maybe this is an internal existential end/means debate raging about in my mind, but I really don’t think we have to agree on all of our premises to end violence. Like, if you want to join Greenpeace, you don’t have to like Kombucha, you know? Sure, Sebastian might give you a crappy look on the way out of the collective-owned cafe, but you’re still trying to save the planet.

    Not about this ad, but about the noisy bits of the movement in general… I feel like there’s a lot of poking at bee’s nests, and then wondering why we get stung. Sure, we’ll call this baby a rapist, and by extension all men. Why so mad, uninformed about my gender and oppression theory general public? On the Internet the kids call that trolling.

    Hey, I’m guilty. My (cis/het/white) privilege even makes me want to dance fancy at how much I “get it” and lash out with all my internalized whatever at people who don’t “get it.” But it’s probably the worst sales technique we have going.

    That being said, I think it’s misguided to focus on the behavior of individual men exclusively. I mean, sure, give them tools to be able to manage their privilege and that sort of thing… that’s a given. And I can’t underscore its importance. But young men are still influenced by other things. Anyone with a daughter knows the power of the Princess Poison; likewise, young men are going to be influenced by a lot of stuff. Not just shore trash or VH1 spectacles, but powerful experiences like relationships modeled, implicit peer support for micro-aggressions and straight-up violence.

    Individual resiliency to resist can and should be built by educators, mentors, parents, but we also need to work to create environments where alternate narratives of masculinity AND femininity can be expressed. Hell, promoted. This means something something homophobia/heterosexism.

    A big part of the problem is tacit acceptance of “invisible” or acceptable violence. Developing that language, that lived social ethic, is the secret sauce. It’s developmental, and you walk before you run.

    This is social ecological stuff. Individual/relationship/community/society. If we’re looking for a burrito, focusing just on individuals won’t get us to Taco Town without a long stop in Falafel Frustration first.

    Having re-read the above twice, I have no idea what I’m saying but I think I should probably have some more coffee.

  3. Thank you both for your insightful comments. Mary, I must agree with you and reiterate that most men are not abusers. In fact, I have been very lucky to have wonderful, nonviolent men in my life. Others have not been so fortunate. In abusive relationships, the abusers are overwhelmingly male. 85% of victims of domestic violence are women who have been abused by men.

    I agree that we get nowhere by “demonizing” men. I believe that we need to celebrate and support boys and men who are gentle, respectful and kind, because unfortunately boys in particular receive many messages (from parents, mentors, friends, or the media) that these are not ideal ways for men to be.

  4. Traci, would you be so kind as to cite the source of that statistic so that we can use the facts to encourage discussion?

    I Googled your statistic and got some hits, but they say something different than what you presented.

    One says this:

    “Women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%.”

    What is interesting, is the source for that is a crime data brief. So it would be more accurate (before we draw the conclusion that it is appropriate and helpful to target men as “overwhelming” perpetrators of abuse), to represent that as victimhood of REPORTED intimate partner violence.

    This is an important distinction, because I have read time and time again that men are dramatically less likely to report abuse, that if they do then prosecution is less likely to ensue, and that we as a society tend to stigmatize men who report abuse. Now, there is MUCH debate about those assertions – not everyone would agree with them.

    Further, that statistic does not indicate the gender of the abuse perpetrator. With those issues in mind, I’d appreciate a big WHOA on casually tossing out un-cited statistics of abuse that paint men as by and large violent.

    Drawing from sources other than crime statistics, we see this: “Between 600,000 and 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year, and between 100,000 and 6 million men, depending on the type of survey used to obtain the data.” Those numbers aren’t far off: the low ends carry what must be a per capita minimal difference, and the high ends are the same. That of course again speaks to who is the victim, rather than perpetrator, of abuse.

    The sources for both of these are described at: http://www.dvrc-or.org/domestic/violence/resources/C61/

    Looking at the abusers, another report indicates that “248 of every 1,000 females and 76 of every 1,000 males”. This is a statistically significant difference, I don’t disagree; but I would hesitate at calling it ‘overwhelming.’ I hope it makes others think twice about using a broad brush to accuse most/all males of having something wrong with them, of being raised bad or simply just being bad. (Cite: Year 2000 DOJ Family Violence study, via Wiki)

    I do not present counter-statistics to negate the point that women are more victimized than men: it is probably true that they are. But is that important in this context? Does it justify your assertion that men are ‘overwhelmingly’ the abusers, or a social justice commercial implicitly assuming there is something wrong with all men?

    How are men to stop understanding themselves as violent, if the very people asking them to stop doing so walk around with a backpack full of accusations about the propensity to violence? I certainly believe that that kind of an attitude is not the message of support that we both seem to agree would be appropriate.

  5. It’s an entirely uncontroversial assertion that men are overwhelimgy the abuser in heterosexual relationships that contain power/control dynamics. Men are allowed social access to get away with violence. It doesn’t mean men are evil or anything, it’s not helpful to think about it like that. Simply that DV is complicated, and involves many aspects of the social strata– and gender is high on the list.

    There’s probably some underreporting on both sides. Mary, volunteer at a program for a week or two, it will save us both a lot of Googling and stat swapping.

  6. Grant, it was once an entirely uncontroversial assertion that women were not suited for paid employment, or that different ethnicities should not receive equal treatment at law. I don’t take the controversy associated with a stereotype as probative of its truth, and I hope you are just playing rhetorical games. If you truly believe that to be the case, I have a whole different approach to your comments.

    Furthermore, I don’t find your argument that I have no valid grounds for an opinion on the subject of societal attitudes toward male versus female-perp domestic abusers until I’ve worked in the field. I have views on prison rape, having never been imprisoned, for example. I think it would be ridiculous to assert that a scientist cannot tell us about Mars, until she has personally visited.

    So your only real goal can have been to silence me (something I find ironic since my first reaction to statistics – I didn’t raise them here you know – was to request they be used in a way that opens rather than closes discussion). So good job – you silenced me. I was invited here to discuss this topic and certainly won’t return.

  7. Mary, don’t let Grant scare you off! As people who all have the same goal (making violence truly unacceptable in this culture) this is exactly the type of conversation we need to be having. How can we deplore violence AND celebrate men?

    For me, the distinction is between men as individuals and masculinity as it is defined in this country.

    Men and boys receive a ton of messages about what it means to be masculine. Some of those messages excuse male violence and some even encourage men to be violent. (In spite of that, most men are not violent — awesome!)

    All of us who are involved in raising boys or trying to change the behavior of men who are violent would love to figure out how to silence those messages. If we could, there would be less violence. But, just as important, men and boys would be happier and feel better about themselves.

    What I mean is: Men who use violence to solve their problems, men who are tempted to use violence to solve their problems, men who are uncomfortable speaking up against violence, boys who are afraid of being seen as weak, are all struggling inside to reconcile who they want to be (honorable, decent, manly people) with these messages which tell them that in certain situations, being violent (or not speaking out against violence) is the only way to prove your masculinity.

    We have to find ways to talk about and confront and work to strip these messages out of the definition of masculinity without making seem as though we think men (or even abusers) are inherently bad or broken. It’s not an easy task.

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