By Acharya Samaneti
*Disclaimer: Any time that men are mentioned in this article I, the author, am included in this group. I do not think that I am somehow not included in this group. This is work that all men must do—myself included. This is the first of many articles that will be dealing with toxic masculinity and the work of creating positive masculinity. This article was also written before the tragic attack on Asian women in Georgia.
The Sarah Everard story has shaken a lot of people around the world—yet another example of male violence against women.
Male violence is a serious threat to the safety of society; it is something that is however hardly addressed. We see the headlines talking about women’s safety concerns, we notice over and over how the conversation is centered around women’s behaviour and what they must do to be safer.
But this is about men—this is about male violence.
Look at any story about men’s violence against women: we will talk about how many women have been raped—not how many men have raped women; we talk about how many women have been harassed at their school or workplace—not how many men have harassed women at their workplace or school. We discuss how many teenage girls have gotten pregnant—not how many teenage boys have impregnated teenage girls.
This is called using a passive voice to have a political effect; it shifts the focus away off men and boys and onto girls and women. If you look at these articles and statements you can see how there is no active agent in the statements. These bad things happen to girls and women—even the statement of violence against women excludes who is doing it to them (like nobody was doing this violence to them). Like it just happens.
Why do men prefer to be neutral and silent instead of challenging other men?
We are also afraid of other men, afraid of them turning on us, abusing us, hurting us, bullying us and being violent towards us. We have to deal with this problem.
Correct, not all men are rapists. Some are rape apologists. Some tell rape jokes. Some are victim blamers. Some are silent.
This silence can be compared to white silence when examining white supremacy; it is a question of safety for the person that is benefiting from the privilege (in this case, men maintaining their safety when discussing male violence towards women). We men, have to be more willing to sacrifice our safety and become a better ally to women. We may be afraid of men and the possible retaliation, but it pales in comparison to what women experience and live with everyday.
What do I mean by safety? Physical safety? Well, yes, men may be afraid of retaliation in social or minor ways physically, but women fear rape, torture and being murdered.
Social safety (status and privilege, etc), by speaking out, we might lose contacts and have it become much more difficult to navigate our different social privileges. People that hold power always ensure that those like them can also still benefit from the privileges that their identity holds (this is not only applicable to gender but can also apply to race, class, etc.).
So if we start speaking out we may begin to lose considerations or protections by these people. Doors may be much more difficult to open, things will not come to us as easily etc. We can lose friends, connections, etc.
I work with a lot of incarcerated men who are guilty of male violence towards women: whether it is sexual assault, pedophilia, aggravated assault, homicide or murder, and everything else in between.
Usually, men who are guilty of these crimes will be put into a “protection” status because even within the criminal social order, violence against women and children is not tolerated. There is a kind of shame that is put on them that I feel centres the conversation on their hardship of being stigmatized instead of focusing on toxic masculinity and how it creates this culture of male violence towards women.
I have heard things like “well it was 30 years ago and I guess she needed money and attention so she took it out on me” and others that I will spare you from reading.
Another classic statement is, “why did it take you so long to come forward?” I cannot imagine what it feels like to live through this violation and all the suffering that goes with that, and I will never pretend to know.
How am I to know how long it takes for someone to have the courage to first risk their safety one more time with their aggressor as they publicly denounce them, go through the process of being questioned about the truthfulness of their experience, the doubt and victim shaming that usually follows, and all with no guarantee that justice will be served?
This is just one of many reasons why I find that when I hear a statement like that I feel like there is a need for a very important conversation.
I find it difficult sometimes as a chaplain being confronted by this; I am supposed to be there for the men that I serve and I feel that I have to be an agent of change in shifting the work on male culture and its complicity into male violence towards women. I remind myself of the Buddha’s many teachings about the roots of suffering and the roles of greed, hatred and ignorance.
I have heard some older men tell me “back then we weren’t educated about what is consent, so I take responsibility for my actions and will no longer repeat what I did now that I know,” and this is a good first step, but it is often followed by a statement saying that they should not be incarcerated seeing as they did not know better.
It is interesting how this ignorance would somehow erase responsibility. Also, I notice how these speeches centre the focus on them, but as victims.
The centering that is necessary is not to make men victims of feminism or whatever mental gymnastics are attempted. Also it is not my job to give him comfort in his deluded view of violence towards women.
If I truly believe in compassion and practice right speech I have to work towards waking him up to the harm that he is causing. It might be more of a calling in situation vs a calling out situation. The important thing is that we have these discussions and lean into the discomfort.
I am a man. I am deeply conditioned by the society that I live in.
I am a man in a man’s world and I still have a lot to learn to begin this dismantling. I have done some bad things to women in the past, and I am aware that it came from a conditioning that told me that I was allowed to act a certain way.
I have learned a lot since, and I continue to learn every day to be a better ally. I have realized that one of the most important things is that I have to be willing to sacrifice my safety. This is based in the “secret brotherhood” of complicity—this unspoken loyalty—and if you blow it up by challenging said loyalty, you put yourself at risk.
I have been called many homophobic slurs because I have tried to challenge toxic masculinity in public spaces. I guess denouncing male violence towards women is othered from the dominant masculine culture, so the retaliation must then take away the person’s masculinity as punishment.
I try and keep the conversations going, turning the discussion into a way to plant seeds in the mind of the person that I am challenging.
I am lucky to be surrounded by incredibly strong and fierce women who have shared perspectives which I hope to share with my fellow men. It feels way past the time that we continue to rely on the emotional labour of women. They have given more than their fair share and I have been told are often re-traumatized in the process (ever wonder why nurturing qualities and selflessness are usually linked to women? I think that we can all figure that one out).
It is more than time for us to do the work.
Yes, binary gender is finally on its way out of acceptance, but I think that this statement is dangerous in the wrong hands until all gendered violence is a thing of the past.
Men: speak up, and start risking what we believe to be our perceived safety. Let’s start centering the conversation on men’s behaviour. Because it is our male violence towards women and nothing else.
Editor: Dana Gornall