We bring you this post from Karen Rosenberg, a Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence consultant.
Did you read about the guy who made threats against Jewish organizations as a way to hurt his ex-girlfriend? The Federal complaint reads in part:
“…the defendant appears to have made some of the JCC [Jewish Community Center] threats as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimate Victim-1…harassment of Victim-1 appears to have begun shortly after their romantic relationship ended and to have included…JCC Threats in Victim-1’s name…”
At first the whole thing just seemed bizarre: making bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers to get back at an ex? How random. But then I realized with a sinking heart: if we understand how domestic violence works, there is nothing random here. This is textbook harassment. People don’t choose their tactics in a vacuum. They draw on what’s going on around them. We’re swimming in a sea of hate crimes. This guy used anti-Semitism—and fears of anti-Semitism—to punish his ex-girlfriend.
The spike in hate crimes stresses our most intimate relationships. The separation between the public and the private is an illusion. Those who choose to abuse their partners have newly prominent cultural scripts of hate at their fingertips. From this perspective, signs proclaiming love for our neighbors, support of our immigrants, and solidarity with Muslims take on real importance. They displace the rhetoric of hate. They remind us that we all deserve to feel safe, loved, and respected. So show your love in public. Our relationships depend on it.
Lately I have been thinking about efforts to get men and boys involved in working to end domestic violence and sexual assault. There is a lot of good work happening now, but I wonder how many of us—of all genders—really expect men to be full partners in ending violence against women? How many of us still are surprised when a man speaks up against a rape joke, or shows empathy for a survivor of domestic violence? Can we imagine a world in which it was not just expected but obvious that most men would do these things (even when no women are around)?
I expect men to care about ending battering and rape for pretty much the exact same reasons women do. Because rape violates victims’ basic human rights. Because the threat of violence constricts women’s freedom and creativity and joy. Because men and boys’ fear of each other gets in the way of real intimacy. Because battering and rape are spiritual poison to people who batter and rape. Because violence at home tears communities apart. Because we can’t achieve any other kind of justice while women are silenced and terrorized.
Because men are human beings. Because women are human beings.
Simple enough. But talking about men’s work to end violence is not so simple. Too often I hear messages that tell men we should not rape and batter because “real men” don’t. Because men are meant to be powerful — protectors and providers for women who can’t (or shouldn’t have to) protect and provide for themselves. Those expectations might inspire men to stop hurting women (I have my doubts), but meanwhile they reinforce the idea that men are in control.
On the other hand, the bar is set so low for men it’s embarrassing. When it comes to being involved in anti-violence work, men are congratulated just for showing up, and called heroes for doing just about anything more than that.
What do you want to say to men and boys about ending men’s violence? What do you expect from men? What do you hope we can achieve together?
I just left WSCADV’s annual conference with almost 400 advocates in the beautiful city of Spokane. We had this moment in time to gather together, no matter our pressures at home and work, and dream big. Beth Richie, the brilliant author of Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women, challenged us to look at our movement to end violence against women and consider if we have defined our work too narrowly.
So much of our daily work is addressing what survivors and their children need to be safe. This is, of course, critical, but have we set our expectations too low? What about a world where all people are safe from all kinds of abuse? We’ve had these conversations many times, but to do this effectively we have to be willing to regularly reflect on and critique our efforts.
Beth reminded me that combatting violence in the lives of women, men and children is human rights work. You know, Human rights, those basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to. Working for social change is not something we can just think of when we have a spare moment. It is our job and has to be integrated into everything we do.
This is a tall order but I know we can figure out how to keep showing up for the individuals who need our support and also join the vibrant, creative surge of activists and other social justice movements around the world.