Sunday, September 28, 2014

An Open Letter to American Men

Dear Fellow American Men,

Why do so many among us hate women? The amount of harassment and violence we inflict on our American sisters is astounding. Millions of women are physically or sexually assaulted every year.

The tremendous number of rapes perpetrated on female college students is one issue that has gained more attention as of late. A relatively well-known case is that of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia student that was raped by a classmate her sophomore year. But Columbia administration meted out little to no punishment for the offenders in Emma and other female students' cases. Leniency toward offenders is a common theme for college rape.

What's sickening is that some of us (men) blame women for their own rape: "When a woman wears clothes like that, she's asking for it", "This is why women shouldn't get drunk at parties", "She shouldn't have gone to the party without bringing a friend". We say these things oblivious to how unjust it is that men can roam free wearing and drinking whatever they want while women must vigilantly prevent their own rapes.

Colleges, of course, are not the only places where violence against women occurs--or where it is treated lightly.

As many among us are football fans, you've likely heard about the Ray Rice story. Rice, a football star with the Baltimore Ravens, knocked out his then-fiancée (now-wife) in a hotel elevator. His male coaches and teammates strongly defended him. Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti said (emphasis is mine):
"He's just been lauded as the nicest, hardest working, greatest guy on the team and in the community. So we have to support him. I think we'll be rewarded by him maturing and never putting himself in a situation like that again. 
"I've been on record of saying my definition of character is repeating offenses. If we're all one strike and you're out, then we're all in trouble. It's how you respond to adversity." 
The takeaway: A man must repeatedly beat his wife or girlfriend before we punish him, and the focus should be on not getting caught.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodall initially gave Rice almost negligent punishment. But once the video of Rice hitting his fiancée surfaced in the public, Goodall suspended Rice indefinitely in order to put out the subsequent firestorm of pressure.

A New York Times' report last week revealed that domestic violence by NFL players has been all-too-common and "Players charged with domestic violence routinely received considerably lighter punishments than players accused of other offenses, like drug use or drunken driving."

Goodall responded to this issue: "We should have had the personal conduct policy reviewed more frequently, to make the changes necessary to deal with the issues that have changed."

What changing issues? Mr. Goodall, directing violence toward the loved ones in our lives has been considered abhorrent behavior for a long time. The only thing that has changed is that your record of wrist-slapping these men has been uncovered by the American public.

Brothers, you might be thinking, "Hey, I've never physically or sexually assaulted a woman in my life." Many among us strive to be fair, caring, and supportive fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and friends. But even if you are treating the women in your life with respect, there are those among us who are not. 99% of sex offenders are men, and the far majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men.

Furthermore, our violence against women is more than a few sociopaths among men. It is engendered by a culture in America that men have allowed to persist for too long. A male culture that encourages violence, objectifies women, and tacitly approves the harassment of women.

Take catcalling, for example. By making off-hand remarks to women that we don't know, men are creating an atmosphere of intimidation and indifference toward the harassment of women. The feeling women get from such common harassment was satirically demonstrated in a recent Daily Show skit:

Another issue is men's general objectification of women as primarily sexual beings. How many of you have been around friends (especially in male-dominated contexts, like sports teams or fraternities) who talk about women like sex-bots? Have you participated in or been present for conversation about calculating the number of times a man has had sex with a particular woman, or the number of women that a man has been with, or valuing women as a factor of their physical attributes?

And then there is the question of men's culture of violence. Toughness is often interpreted among us as a desirable male quality. Indeed, some women look for toughness in men. But we must separate our desire for physical and mental fortitude--which can be developed by women or men--with the concept of violence. Violence is a tool used to subjugate someone or coerce them to acquiesce to authority or specific demands. There are rare, rare circumstances in life under which violence is imperative and just. Violence is usually abused and overused by men as a method to get what we want. If a man uses violence regularly and unjustly, he may exude "toughness", but he also showing himself to be unscrupulous, disrespectful, and callous. The problem is that men do not emphasize the latter.

Brothers, to stop the epidemic of violence and harassment against women, we absolutely must teach one another and our sons that women are so much more than sexy, and violence is a tool of defense that should never be used to coerce others except under the most desperate of circumstances (such as when the absence of violence may lead to violence against many innocent people).

We need to support one another to become better men in our families and communities. If you hear other men talking about women like they are objects or sex stats, don't just sit by passively. Speak up.


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