The Other F-Word: How Boys and Men Can Help Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls

There is a growing number of videos of public intimate partner violence on the internet.

Several weeks ago a friend emailed me a link to a viral video of a man publicly beating his girlfriend in a Jamaican neighborhood.  As neighbors watched, one of them taped the brawl.  Some people jeered, and some, mostly male watchers commented that the had man rightfully beaten the woman because she had taken too long preparing his lunch.  Several minutes into the video, a Samaritan woman cajoled the man and stepped in between the blows.  Then, the Samaritan woman helped up the exhausted, beaten woman from the road and the two walked away from the view of the camera.

Another viral video was taped by a hidden elevator camera.  The eery, silent recording featured a couple with two young children as they entered an elevator. Almost as soon as the elevator doors closed, the woman demurely backed into a corner with her head down, and started rubbing a young girl’s head. Then, suddenly, the man who entered the elevator with the group, pushed the girl aside and began launching his fists into the woman’s body and face as the children watched and cowered into the opposite elevator corner.  Moments later when the elevator doors reopened, the man pushed the woman from the elevator  into what seems to be a street.  She fell to the ground, and he beat her in view of the camera.  When he stopped,  he left the woman and took the children back onto the elevator as the doors closed.

In yet another recent video, a young couple riding the New York City subway began to argue..  Both of them were loud and confrontational, when, the male partner began to hit the pregnant woman – his girlfriend.  Gradually, as the argument and hitting escalated, passengers mostly ignored the couple until a Samaritan woman, sitting close to the couple, stood up to challenge the man.  She told him that she would call the police if he did not stop hitting his girlfriend. Minutes later another Samaritan woman stepped in and encouraged the pregnant girlfriend to leave her boyfriend.  More passengers began to chime in with their opinions.  The din of voices grew louder encouraging the beaten woman to leave the relationship. Some people called her “stupid” for staying with her abusive partner and she retorted- I don’t have anyone else. Another Samaritan woman offered to find her help, but the abused woman still only sobbed. Eventually, the abusive boyfriend put his arm around her waist and the two walked off of the train together.

As I watched these videos I found myself moving from empathy to anger and tears One outstanding thing about each of these videos is that the beatings happened in public spaces and with public involvement.  I was also struck by the role that men – other than the attackers – played.

Many of the men in the first video cheered on the abuser, and allowed him to beat his partner – even if for a time.  In the second video a young boy watched – what I presume is his father beating his mother.  In the final video a soon to be father beat his partner in public while some men watched in silence and others condemned the woman for allowing her partner to beat her.  Where did these men learn these behaviors? How did they learn to be complicit in violence against women?

We live in a culture that not only perpetuates violence – but actually celebrates violence against women.  Last year, Zombie Industries, a maker of zombie shooting targets, launched a now discontinued “Ex-Girlfriend” target that encouraged men to use guns to take out their anger on mannequins that look like ex-girlfriends. And we plant the seeds of violence long before a man reaches the age to own a gun or vent anger against an ex-girlfriend.  We teach boys to “suck it up,” don’t cry, hit, or run like a girl.”  Living in cultures of violence and misogyny produces men and boys who cannot express real anger; and it robs both men and women of their full humanity.

Eliminating violence against women and girls means bringing men into the movement to end gender based violence.  Eliminating violence against women and girls means cultivating more feminist men.

Here are 5 Steps men can take to join the movement to end violence against women and girls

  1. Act.  Stand up and speak up, intervene- yes, this may mean  putting yourself in potentially harmful situations. Don’t just be a bystander. Alert others and ask for help.
  2. Communicate. Talk with and listen to women in your lives about their wishes and values.  Consent should never be assumed.
  3. Contribute and Organize – Get involved with the movement to end violence against women. Bring other men along with you.
  4. Know the Facts. – In the U.S. a person is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  These maybe women who are your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your friends.
  5. Lead by Example. – Show no tolerance for violence against women and girls. Teach children that women are equal partners in relationships. Never be abusive or disrespectful against women.

Note: I am not posting links to any of the videos mentioned because to do so  –  and to lesser extent  writing about them –  feels a voyeuristic trespass in the temple of another person’s pain.  The very idea of posting these videos feels too much as though I am an active participant in peddling the abuse and trauma of women.


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