Tony Porter, CEO, A CALL TO MEN
Every day, a new story about sexual assault, abuse, and harassment emerges. We are witnessing survivors coming forward to share their personal stories in a way we have not seen before. Celebrities, our friends, our sisters, our daughters, and ourselves—are speaking out about these experiences. From the simple yet powerful #MeToo to women’s detailed personal accounts in news stories and op-eds, this violence is at the forefront of our attention. The volume of the conversation is way up, getting louder, and showing no sign of stopping. It is inescapable.
For too long we have relied on those who have experienced violence to be the brave ones to speak out, stand up, and confront the problem or perpetrator. Yet we also know that for every survivor who comes forward, there is another who won’t—or feels that they can’t. We have a long way to go before survivors feel they will be believed and supported. Moments like these can be deeply challenging, retraumatizing, and triggering for survivors. They are affected by other people’s stories and the words and attitudes expressed in response to the headlines. We must support survivors’ healing in this conversation.
We can’t let survivors bear the burden alone any more. It’s time for all of us—especially men—to pick up the torch, and to sustain the fire of bringing about far-reaching cultural change.
We can transform society’s response to this violence if women and men work together. Together we can challenge—and ultimately change—the entrenched attitudes and beliefs that have allowed and supported sexual violence for so long.
Most men are not abusive. But far too often, they are silent about the abuse committed by other men. Their silence is as much a part of the problem as the abuse.
Why don't men speak out?
Institutions, corporations, and organizations typically approach sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault solely from a policy perspective. But this approach keeps the problem contained within one area, like the human resources department. It also allows men who are not actively harassing, abusing, or assaulting to say, “This is not my problem.” Those men can separate themselves from the “incident” when in reality, they are the solution.
These issues are not limited to the workplace and sexual harassment. They are pervasive throughout our society and serve as the foundation for all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and sexual assault. Men are socialized to believe that women have less value than men, are the property of men and are objects for men—specifically sexual objects. That collective male socialization creates a climate where men often give other men the benefit of the doubt, don’t believe women, or blame women for the violence that other men perpetrate against them.
That’s why sexist jokes at the water cooler, sexual harassment, and all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls persist, and will continue until men decide that it shouldn’t. Only men can end men’s violence against women.
There are things all men can do to change this.
Men can use their influence and platform to speak out about these issues. Some men don’t even realize they have a platform, but they all do. All men have friends, colleagues, family members, and young men and boys in their lives that they can talk to about healthy, respectful manhood. Speak up.
Today, we launched a new PSA campaign that magnifies the effect of men’s silence. This silence allows violence against women and girls to go unchecked and perpetuates it in our families, in our workplaces, on college campuses, our military, and everywhere else. Our campaign, “#IWILLSPEAKUP,” is a series of spots featuring notable actors and artists.
This campaign, gives us hope that men—in speech and in action—will speak up about the violence and abuse perpetrated by other men.
Join us. Together, we can embrace and promote a healthy, respectful manhood. Together, we can stand up and speak out against the violence and abuse that happens every single day in our country. Together, we can, we will, we must change this culture of silence and of violence.
Say #IWILLSPEAKUP. Today, we ask for your pledge—your promise—to use your influence and platform to speak out about these issues, to support survivors, to believe what they say, and to hold other men accountable for the abuse they perpetrate.
Take the pledge to speak up.
Co-written by Ted Bunch, co-founder of A CALL TO MEN and Maile M. Zambuto, national chief executive officer, Joyful Heart Foundation
Lately I have been hearing men express outrage over sexual violence toward women with phrases like, “because I have daughters…” I have been hearing all the violent reprisals for perpetrators, as well as teaching daughters self defense. Recently a man I work with bragged about how his daughters would take any guy out at the knees before allowing themselves to be harmed. And guys, before I go on, I want to say to all of you that I get it – I am the father of two daughters. I share your fear of being unable to protect our daughters from the violence of other men. I understand the need for our daughters to know self defense. But I want us fathers to go deeper and do better.
Having daughters didn’t exempt me from my complicity in a culture of masculinity that views women as objects, as less than, and as the property of men. In fact, having daughters motivated me to elevate my “real man” status. The most common advice I got as a father was, “better get a shotgun.” Because a real man protects his women. I needed to double down on projecting my willingness to perpetrate violence and simultaneously reinforce that my daughters were my property. They belonged to me, and anyone crossing the line would feel my wrath.
I continued to show up to reinforce my brothers in our twisted construction of manhood. Of course men rape, but if you rape my daughters I will end you. Of course women are asking for it, but if you come for my daughters I will hospitalize you. Of course women are here for our pleasure, but if you think my daughters are here for that, then I will be here for you.
My daughters gave me perfect cover for reinforcing my existence in the Man Box. I was able to dive in head first justifying it with fatherly love. I could laugh at rape jokes because the guys knew my daughters were off limits. I could ignore sexual harassment, because at least my daughters were safe. I could defend my brothers accused of sexual violence, because they weren’t doing it to my daughters.
My oldest daughter was about fourteen when I learned that seven in ten victims of sexual violence know their perpetrator, meaning that (statistically) I am a bigger risk to her than some stranger lurking in the bushes. I looked around at the men in our lives. I thought about the trust I have had for men who professed as much disgust as myself at sexual violence (because those were just jokes! Get a sense of humor!). How could these men be in agreement that sexual violence is bad, while one in five of them perpetrate? Something didn’t add up.
This means that four out of five aren’t stopping the one perpetrator. But even more insidious – it means that five out of five men are creating a culture where one feels empowered to be violent toward women and girls. Every illusion I held that somehow, I would be able to protect my daughters from sexual violence was replaced by a host of sickening realizations.
All this time striving to maintain my Man Card, I had been reinforcing the culture of violence that is impacting women and girls at epidemic proportions. Far from protecting my daughters with my crazy dad love, I was actively participating in creating a dangerous environment. Each time I laughed with the guys at a rape joke; each time I remained silent as another man sexually harassed a woman; each time I defended a brother from accusations of sexual violence; each time I did these things, I was increasing the danger to my daughters. It wasn’t about protecting them. It was about me proving I am a “real man.”
That is the trap of the Man Box. Even as I love my daughters and want to shield them from harm, the rules of manhood keep me supporting the violence. I can’t speak up against the rape jokes, because the other guys will think I’m weak and my daughters will be in danger. I can’t speak up when I see a man sexually harassing a woman, because maybe my daughters will become his next victim. I can’t confront my brother on his sexual violence, because then I am a traitor to men and my daughters will be in danger.
This is an illusion. Showing up for my daughters means I need to show up for everyone impacted by the violence of manhood. It means I must remove myself from the Man Box and voluntarily revoke my Man Card. My own status as a man does nothing to protect my daughters from sexual violence.
I believe that most parents, of all genders, want to protect their children, of all genders. I will certainly still show up to defend my kids. But this parental drive to protect my children is not enough to create safety for my daughters. At A CALL TO MEN, we often say that women shouldn’t need men’s protection – men simply need not be violent and safety takes care of itself. There are concrete ways we can do this.
- Speak up in the face of rape culture – not laugh along as if sexual violence were something funny.
- Allow ourselves and other men to be weak – not simply violent in word and deed.
- Learn to express our full range of human emotion – not just anger toward anyone who threatens our manhood.
Because it isn’t just our daughters that are being impacted. This violence is also hurting men and boys that don’t measure up to “real man” status. It is the same violence that is killing trans men and women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Our addiction to the violence of the Man Box is the very root of all gender violence being perpetrated today. None of us are safe from it as long as we continue to believe that the best protection for a young girl is a father willing to perpetrate violence on her behalf. The best protection we men can provide is to end the violence of manhood.
By Scott Davis, A CALL TO MEN Trainer
There is an old folk tale that shares a story of an elephant taking a stroll one day. The elephant notices his friend, the hummingbird, on his back with his feet in the air. The elephant asks him “what are you doing?” "Oh," says the Hummingbird, "I heard that the sky was going to fall, so I decided I'd better get down here and put my feet up in the air so I'll be ready to hold it up when it falls."
"Oh, Hummingbird," he said, "you have to be the tiniest bird I know. How in the world are you going to hold up the sky?"
The hummingbird looked up at her friend. "I didn't say I was going to do it all by myself," she said. "But I'm ready to do my part."
At that moment, the hummingbird challenged the social consciousness of what was happening in the world. On the contrary, the elephant was unconscious to the issues occurring around him. But the hummingbird demonstrated the difference she could make if we all do our part.
Many people are unaware of social injustices within their community or the world around them, and have become complacent or uninterested in many of the social ills we face today. This is what it means to be socially unconscious.
In the early 1950’s and 60’s, the Roman Catholic Church was accredited with awakening the social consciousness of the communities they served through gospel messages from the pulpit. This is where we first find the term Liberation Theology, which is an interpretation of Christian theology that emphasizes a concern for the liberation of the oppressed.
The concept was embraced by the African-American pulpit during the Civil Rights Movement, and was also called Black Theology. Renowned pulpiteers such as James Cone, and the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were well known for paralleling the gospel message while galvanizing support to propel the Civil Rights Movement forward.
These were the hummingbirds that awakened the social consciousness of the elephants around them. Sadly, I’m disappointed to find a limited number of hummingbirds in the pulpit fighting for the rights of women within our communities.
Too often, I hear from congregants that domestic violence is not addressed, or even mentioned at their place of worship. How can we ignore the fact that one out of four relationships are impacted by domestic violence? How can we ignore that over 90 percent of domestic violence victims are female? How can we ignore the number of women who die each day at the hands of someone who once said they loved them? These women I’m speaking of are from all nationalities, religions, socioeconomic classes and races.
Dustin Axe, a social justice activist, attributed social unconsciousness to our culture’s emphasis on individualism. Consequently, it becomes easy to ignore social problems and the welfare of others when the primary concern is our own personal happiness.
I hear many resounding sermons through the airwaves of our televisions, radios and internet that lend to individual prosperity. However, it seems as if even the pulpit has become socially unconscious to many of our societal ills.
The gospel message should arouse a great awakening within our communities that motivates everyone to develop a hummingbird mentality. When this happens, we can eradicate domestic violence not only in the faith community, but in all communities.
The faith community can, and should, play a major role in the prevention of all forms of violence against all women – we should be the moral voice of the community. Additionally, there are many different areas within this effort where we should be in the forefront.
1. Collectively, we have an opportunity to develop and implement policies that do not condone violence against women in any form.
2. We have an opportunity to train individuals within the community to support victims of domestic and sexual violence without re-victimizing the victim, which lends to supporting individuals on their journey to healing and wholeness.
3. Premarital counseling sessions provide a great opportunity for clergy to introduce these important issues, and could include respectful relationship segments. Allowing couples to share their expectations of the relationship, and how their individual socialization will impact their lives moving forward, may be key in preventing domestic or sexual violence from ever taking place in their marriage.
4. The faith community can set aside time within their youth groups to provide programming that would address some of the risk factors children and youth are exposed to early in life. This same programming could address risk factors that expose youth as victims, or perpetrators, of domestic and sexual violence. Programming for children could include teaching children to make positive choices with both their actions and their words. Furthermore, this programming should address bullying prevention, both cyber and physical.
5. Teen and youth programming can address the risks of teen dating violence. Youth leaders could choose from the many resources that address red flags in abusive relationships, while providing classes on what healthy relationships look like. A CALL TO MEN’s LIVERESPECT Curriculum is an excellent resource. Abusive teen relationships are very prevalent within our society because of the lack of visibly positive relationships within our society, and our failure to teach respectful relationships.
The faith community is an ideal place to awaken the social consciousness of men. National statistics reveal that more than 90 percent of domestic violence is perpetrated by men, but we know that all men are not abusers. The problem has been the failure of good men to get involved, or play a role in ending violence against women. Men of faith could serve as role models to boys, and lead the charge in developing young men of character.
Men of faith should hold one another accountable, but more importantly, we should use our influence and our platforms to awaken the consciousness of other men within our communities. We can’t change the world individually, but like the hummingbird, we can all play a role in ending violence and discrimination against all women and girls.
- Rev. Rickie Houston, A CALL TO MEN Trainer
As I write this I am feeling two very contradictory different things. I am feeling broken, but I am also feeling whole. A wise woman once told me that many things can be true at once and we can hold these truths at the very same time. I am beginning to believe her.
When people are hurt, physically or emotionally, we need to seek comfort, shelter, or safety. Without the access to individuals or communities of care, we are susceptible to crumbling under the weight of pain. We as human beings are built to connect with one another. When we experience intense pain, there is an inexplicable catharsis that occurs between people who have felt similar pain. It is within this space that the miracle of healing can occur.
Unfortunately, under our current social conditioning – what we at A CALL TO MEN call the collective socialization of manhood, men are told to stand strong as individuals and be independent in their suffering. Our manhood is, in part, defined by how "well" we handle pain by ourselves throughout our lives. Men are celebrated for their ability to handle pain in solitary and suffer quietly. When men endure pain by themselves, without help, relief, or support, we regard them as heroes.
The next generation of manhood can find a new way, a healthier way, a more humane way. If we men continue to define ourselves by our ability to suffer quietly then we are only hurting ourselves. The restrictions of our socialization cut us off from the single greatest source of healing available to us as humans – each other. To suffer alone is to agonize aimlessly. To suffer in the presence of others offers healing to yourself and to those who lend their ears to hear your pain. Don't believe me? Ask any long-standing member of an alcoholics anonymous group or member of wounded veterans group. But I am not here to prove my point. I am here to share my pain and my story in hopes that it helps you maneuver through yours.
I am going to get real with you – sharing how I am learning to navigate the treacherous waters of hurt. I must be honest and authentic because that’s how we access ourselves and each other. When I tell my truth, I show my vulnerability, which is off limits according to men’s socialization. Men are socialized to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless, and successful at any cost. When my walls are down it allows others in to help. So here goes.
My pain has come in many forms as of late. Recently I have felt shattered, broken to pieces. Inside one month I have had my heart and my bones broken. While my heart was freshly broken and my soul confused, I was thrown from a motor vehicle and had my bones crushed. As I lay in an ambulance, drowning in agony and hurt I asked myself, how will I endure? The doctors told me surgery would fix my body, but I asked myself, what would heal my heart and soul?
Some of the things I deemed most precious had been stripped away in what felt like an instant, and I was left to figure out how to pick up the pieces. How am I supposed to stand tall and move forward when the world around me feels so unsafe? I found my answer in my manhood.
I have been on a journey of redefinition for quite some time. This journey has led me to build my manhood not by my ability to tolerate pain, but by my ability to connect and care when in pain. I have spent years building lasting, loving connections with others through mutual trust, respect, and dignity. I spent time making sure the people in my life felt safe, cared for, and loved.
In the midst of my hurt, I remembered how I had loved, cared for, and treated my connections and I reached out hoping to receive that love in equal volume. Once I asked for help, I received what can best be described as a flood of support. People were willing to drop their lives to come make sure I felt safe and valued. There are no words to describe how supported I felt. While I am healing from multiple wounds, some that are guaranteed to mend in time and others that may last a lifetime, I remain confident because I discovered what I refer to as my healing network. These are the people in my life who have shown me understanding, compassion, and empathy during the hardest time in my life. It took courage to construct this network, but it was worth the effort, the vulnerability, and the emotional investment.
Because I have spent so much time redefining manhood to mean so much more than what the Man Box dictates I have been the beneficiary of an intimidating social experiment. Deciding to reach for empathy, connection, and vulnerability as a man often comes with severe consequences from other men. The consequences are usually invalidation, isolation, and rejection. This happens because acting in these ways is associated with femininity and weakness. That’s what makes asking for help is so terrifying. Men might be perceived as feminine and weak, and we have been taught there is nothing worse. Through this redefining process I have benefited not only from finding my healing network, but I have found myself.
I learned that when it feels like the ground under your feet might just sink and drag you into the abyss, there is a way out, a way to save yourself. Nobody is going to force you to ask for help, only you can make that choice. So be brave and ask for help, be vulnerable and reap the benefits. Let’s allow our definition of manhood to include the ability to reach out in a crisis and to reach back when someone else has extended their arms toward us. When we make that choice, we can feel broken but whole at the very same time.
Jay Taylor, A CALL TO MEN Trainer
Embracing a healthy manhood and working to end men’s violence against all women and girls requires men to understand what we’ve been taught about manhood, and how those often, rigid teachings can be repaired and expanded to include open expressions of emotion, the ability to ask for help, and investing in friendship and community. Part of my work with A CALL TO MEN is helping men re-imagine our thoughts and ideas to match what is in our hearts – to unleash the joy, fear, sadness and love that has been caged in our “man box” shaped souls, hidden behind flashes of anger and repressed pain.
Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who suppress their emotions are one-third more likely to die prematurely than people who regularly express what they are feeling. Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms can manifest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is four times higher in men than in women.
Data supporting the link between physical and mental health is abundant, which tell us that to be our authentic selves, we must consider the vessel which allows us to navigate this journey – our bodies.
For many men, the last time we had a physical exam was in high school or upon entry into the military. Rather than venture into a doctor's office for an exam to consult about an ache or pain, we revert to the programming we received as boys to "suck it up." Or maybe we give it a deadline, like "if it still hurts in a month, then I'll get it checked out." What if this was how we treated our cars? Rather than get that clanking noise in the engine checked, you turn up the stereo to drowned the noise out!
Men have been socialized not to ask for help, not to offer help and not to accept help. Studies show that men who equate seeking assistance with weakness, or the appearance of not being able to handle their own problems, experience more soured relationships with their significant others, higher rates of debilitating illnesses and earlier death.
For men to continue the work A CALL TO MEN invites us to do, we need our heart, mind and body synced like a NASCAR pit crew; different specialized tasks aligned with the same goal to live a full and healthy life. I invite you to consider who you can add to your pit crew for healthy manhood:
· Schedule an annual physical with a primary care physician and GO TO IT! Make time to go see your doctor when you are sick or injured.
· Collect stories about your male family members’ (father, brothers, grandfathers and uncles) health histories. Some men never discuss their illnesses, such as testicular and prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, and other intimate diagnosis. For future generations, knowing our relatives experienced these illnesses can aide in prevention efforts. In my own family, I discovered one uncle who died from cancer that originated in his prostate. Early medical attention could have improved his outcome. And after a conversation with my father, he shared about his recent experience with kidney stones and an enlarged prostate. These stories help me narrate my family history during my annual physical.
· Ask your barber to join your pit crew. Barbers see areas of your neck and ears that rarely catch any looks. Ask them to keep an eye on any dark spots or moles. If they change shape, contact your primary care physician for a follow-up.
· Make time for an evening with friends. Recent studies have identified maintaining relationships as a preventative measure for mental and physical health. These get togethers can help to reduce stress and maintain bonds that will keep you connected to community to fight off loneliness.
· Read. Exercising your mind will keep it strong, sharp and stimulated. If you discover a family history of memory loss or something more severe, let your primary care physician know and together you can develop a plan.
Not only do our loved ones deserve our best selves, but we men deserve health, happiness and authenticity.
- Jeff Matsushita, A CALL TO MEN Trainer
Tony Porter, CEO, A CALL TO MEN
A CALL TO MEN Staff