One of the things that has changed most about me over the past decade is the way I look at societal and cultural issues. I've found that with personal and internal change has come a desire to see and consider issues in a different way. In a world where we often want simple choices--A and B--I’ve found myself searching for a third option.
This was never more true than when I worked in the domestic violence advocacy field.
When folks find out I worked at a domestic violence shelter, one of the first responses I get is “I don’t understand why women stay with violent men” or “why doesn’t she leave?”.
The truth is, for every woman who experiences violence in a relationship, there are 10 different reasons why she doesn’t leave. Here are a few that often come up:
Now, while everything I've just said is true, the real answer to this question is that when we ask “why doesn’t she leave?”, we’re asking the wrong question.
When we ask the question this way, we’re putting all the pressure on the abused and forgetting that most abusers don’t just come out and hit someone on the first date--making their intentions known from day one. They slowly whittle away at someone’s self-confidence, making them dependent and in love and less likely to leave before they (literally) strike.
The real question we should be asking is, why does he keep hitting her?
This is what I mean when I mention looking for a third option, seeing issues in a new light. We can’t keep putting the expectation on women to leave an abuser. At some point we have to look at men and say “you don’t get to hit, ANYMORE”.
I thought about this during the #metoo movement as well. At some point these movements can’t just be women standing up and saying “we’re done being abused”. Men also have to stand up and say, “we’re done abusing and we’re done accepting this behavior from other men.”
Violence and harassment aren’t a female problem. They're a male problem. Only when men stand up and say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” is this behavior going to change.
So why doesn't she leave? It’s not for me to judge. Live a minute in a victim’s life and you’ll see most are just doing their very best each day to survive.
So it’s time to ask a new question--one that puts the pressure to change where it should be. It’s time we expected more from our men. Not just those who abuse, but all men.
Fellas, this is our problem to solve and it's time to start now.
Recently I read an article in TIME magazine discussing #metoo and what men can do when they “see other men behaving badly”.
The author, Susanna Schrobsdorff, suggests a list of “dos” and “don’ts” isn’t enough. She says we need men to hear from women directly and that we’d all benefit if men would ask if they’d done something offensive.
One of the things they teach when learning to work with trauma survivors is that facing one’s abuser can be a powerful experience. It can empower and heal in the most amazing ways.
It’s also not something to be taken lightly. We may not be ready to face those who have harmed us. It takes time and healing to build the emotional and psychological strength necessary to face our wounds.
In other words, it’s not the right time to face one’s abuser simply because said abuser is ready to talk.
That’s what struck me most about the TIME article. Certainly open and honest conversations are important, but when we, as men, see #metoo taking place and start asking questions like “have I ever done anything to make you uncomfortable?” we’re essentially choosing when and where a woman and potential victim has to answer a question about harassment.
We could be inadvertently pushing a victim to talk about something they may not be ready to talk about yet--and causing them to experience their trauma all over again. Even if it comes from good intentions, it’s still patriarchy and misogyny.
I liken it to a white person asking a person of color to tell us whether we’re racist. I wonder how many times in their lives a person of color is asked to assuage our white guilt to make us feel better? Each time they’re put in such a position racial inequality in America rears its ugly head.
This is why it’s so important men join the sexual harassment and abuse conversation. Because we can’t simply ask women to make us feel better about it. It’s not only up to women to fix sexual harassment--it’s up to us too.
It’s also why it’s important men work together on issues directly impacting those who have been hurt by unequal power structures in our society. For example, a local Bend organization, Saving Grace, puts together a monthly coffee chat (Bluebird Cafe, 8am on every Third Thursday) for men to talk about ways to get involved in the anti-violence movement.
It’s a great opportunity to meet other men, develop trust, and wonder about the choices we’ve made and the pain caused. It’s a great place to engage our complicity in violence against women and find healthy ways to impact the problem.
#Metoo has the power to stop the silence and change the way we engage violence and harassment in America. But it will all have been for naught if it simply reinforces the power structures already in place. Yes, men need to wonder about their past actions, but a victim isn’t the best place to start.