Same old question: Where are the men?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. However, according to sociologist Dr. Evan Stark, the term “domestic violence” is a bit of a misnomer: Up until they try to leave, abuse survivors experience “coercive control” — a spectrum of instrumental violence consisting of intimidation, isolation, and physical abuse meant to maintain an abuser’s power. Thus, the abuse survivors experience is not necessarily domestic, nor is it physically violent. As such, abuse survivors often face three difficult options: Stay with the abuser and live in terror, try to leave and risk serious harm, or try to neutralize their abuser.

Toward the end of last year, several women and children in the Portland-metro area tried to leave their abusers behind. As a result, their abusers murdered them. Under the lead of the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, the community responded with a vigil. During this month of October, 2010, my thoughts turn back to my experience at that vigil last year…

As horrific as these murders are, an abuser’s final homicidal tendencies are just the tip of the iceberg of what abuse survivors experience daily in our communities. They live their lives in an atrocious terror that is completely preventable, and their murders are flash points, like lightning on a stormy horizon. The storm of violence will continue to surge in our communities and terrorize our loved ones if we keep ignoring the warning signs and their underlying causes. When will we commit ourselves to acting as a community?

Let me clarify who I mean when I say, “we.” The fact that women have had to do so much work alone on this issue testifies to women’s strength and begs the question, “Where are the men?” When will men find the courage to find our place in this struggle?

Sexism. Misogyny. Homophobia. As men, our silence on these issues is damning.

  • It is damning to the women who daily must protect themselves against the resulting violence: coercive and controlling abuse, rape and sexual assault.
  • It is damning to queer folk who have to hide who they are in plain daylight just to be safe and accepted in our society as people.
  • And it is damning to us men who care about the people in our lives facing these struggles. It is damning to us men who seek lasting and meaningful relationships.

Our silence gives passive assent to homophobic violence, abuse and rape, and it undermines our relationships with the very people we care about most.

“No more sexism.” “No more misogyny.” “No more homophobia.” As a man, I need to hear you, other men, say these things. I need you to believe in these things. As a human being, I am asking you to take this message to heart and let it permeate through every aspect of your life. When we collectively demonstrate our support for gender justice in our personal lives, solutions to violence in our communities will appear.

We men must step outside our comfort zone, and take a look at our own lives and relationships. People we know need our strength and compassion:

  • Survivors need us to listen to their stories in silent resolve, to empower and support them. To stand beside them as they face betrayal, confusion, victim-blaming.
  • Children need guidance to grow up strong and compassionate.
  • Other men need accountability and support — often times men who are close to us. Inasmuch as abusive men rarely think of their behavior as abusive, sometimes “those men” who need accountability and support are us.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, will you help me carry this message through? In the face of sexism, misogyny and homophobia, will you remain silent, or will you find the courage to speak your mind and stand up for yourself and your loved ones? Will you be a voice of strength and compassion? Will you use your freedom of speech to counter and protest those who abuse theirs?

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