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Preface excerpt

1. Violence Against Women Is a Men's Issue excerpt
2. Facing Facts
3. Taking It Personally excerpt
4. Listening To Women
5. Male-Bashing?
6. Stuck in (Gender) Neutral
7. Bystanders excerpt
8. Race and Culture excerpt
9. It Takes a Village to Rape a Woman
10. Guilty Pleasures: Pornography, Prostitution and Stripping excerpt
11. MVP: Athletes and Marines
12. Teach Our Children Well
13. More Than A Few Good Men


From the Preface

Americans like to boast that we're "the freest country on earth," and yet half the population doesn't even feel free enough to go for a walk at night. Unlike the status of women in Afghanistan under the ghastly Taliban, women in the United States are allowed to go out. Fanatic men in government don't issue edicts to prevent them from exercising their basic freedom of movement. Instead, the widespread fear of men’s violence does the trick.

Women in the United States have made incredible and unprecedented gains over the past thirty years in education, the professions, business, sports, politics. The multicultural women’s movement has utterly transformed the cultural landscape. But at the same time, restrictions on women's ability to move about freely are so pervasive -- such a normal part of life in the post-sixties generations -- that many women don't even question it. They simply order their daily lives around the threat of men's violence.

And men? A substantial number of us simply have no idea how profoundly some men's violence affects the lives of all the women we care about: our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends. I had no idea, either, until the light bulb first went on when I was a nineteen-year-old college student.

Today, more than two decades later, I've lectured about men's violence against women on hundreds of college campuses. I start my talks with a deliberately provocative statement. The subject we're here to address, I say, touches every single person in this room – whether you're aware of it or not. Gender violence – rape, battering, sexual abuse, sexual harassment – dramatically impacts millions of individuals and families in contemporary American society. In fact, it is one of the great, ongoing tragedies of our time.

Is this alarmist hyperbole? I don't think so. An abundance of credible statistics – some from conservative sources -- bears it out. The U.S. Surgeon General, for example, maintains that violence by men is the leading cause of injury to women. Study after study shows that between one in four and one in six American women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. An American Medical Association report in 2001 found that 20 per cent of adolescent girls have experienced physical or sexual assault by a date. A major public opinion poll in 2000 found that two-thirds of American men say that domestic violence is very or fairly common in the U.S.

But statistics on men's violence against women, while shocking, only tell part of the story. Another part of the story unfolds in women's daily lives. To demonstrate this concretely, I request the students' participation in an interactive exercise.

I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side, a female symbol on the other. Then I ask just the men: "What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?" At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they've been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally a young guy will raise his hand and say: "I stay out of prison." This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states "Nothing. I don't think about it."

Then I ask the women the same question. "What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?"
Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine. Here are some of their answers:

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don't go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I go to sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don't put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man's voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don't use parking garages. Don't get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don't use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don't wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don't take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don't make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.

The exercise can go on for almost half an hour. Invariably the board fills up on the women's side. This is true, with slight variations, in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Many women say the list is like an unconscious mental checklist. Despite three decades of Take Back The Night rallies and feminist consciousness-raising about the politics of women's safety, surprisingly few women in audiences where I've presented think about their daily routine in terms of larger cultural issues or political questions. “It's just the way it is," they say. “It’s what we have to do to feel safe.” (At the end of the exercise, I always hasten to point out that most sexual assaults are perpetrated not by strangers lurking in the bushes, but by men who know their victims -- often in the victim’s home.) Some women do get angry when they see the radical contrast between the women's side of the chalkboard, which is always full, and the men's, which is almost always blank.

Some men react emotionally when they contemplate the full chalkboard on the women's side. They're shocked, saddened, angered. Many report its effects as life-changing. Many of them had never before taken the time to think about this subject. They knew violence against women was a problem in our culture, but not this big a problem. They didn't realize how far-reaching it was. They didn't think it affected them. They were unaware of – or in denial about – the fact that it has become the norm in the U.S. for women and girls to remain hypervigilant – sometimes 24/7 -- about the possibility of being raped.

How could so many men be oblivious to such a basic aspect of life for the women and girls around them? One of the most plausible explanations is that violence against women has historically been seen as a "women's issue." We focus on the against women part of the phrase and not on the fact that men are the ones doing it. But the long-running American tragedy of men's violence against women is really more about men and our problems than it is about women. We're the ones committing the vast majority of the violence! We’re the ones whom women have been conditioned to fear. In the 21st century, it is long past time that more men – of all races, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities – faced up to this sad situation, educated ourselves and others about the hows and whys, and then went out and did something about it.

That's why the intended audience for the chalkboard exercise about the steps women take to protect themselves is actually men.
That's why this book is about men.

From Chapter 1: Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue

Most people think violence against women is a women’s issue. And why wouldn’t they? Just about every woman in this society thinks about it every day. If they’re not getting harassed on the street, living in an abusive relationship, recovering from a rape, or in therapy to deal with the sexual abuse they suffered as children, they’re ordering their daily lives around the threat of men’s violence.

But it’s a mistake to call men’s violence a women’s issue. Take the subject of rape. Many people reflexively consider rape to be a women’s issue. But let’s take a closer look. What percentage of rape is committed by women? Is it 10%, 5 %? No. Less than one 1% of rape is committed by women. Let’s state this another way: over 99% of rape is perpetrated by men. Whether the victims are female or male, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. But we call it a women’s issue? Shouldn’t that tell us something?

A major premise of this book is that the long-running American tragedy of sexual and domestic violence – including rape, battering, sexual harassment, and the sexual exploitation of women and girls – is arguably more revealing about men than it is about women. Men, after all, are the ones committing the vast majority of the violence. Men are the ones doing most of the battering and almost all of the raping. Men are the ones paying the prostitutes (and killing them in video games), going to strip clubs, renting sexually degrading pornography, writing and performing misogynous music.

When men’s role in gender violence is discussed – in newspaper articles, sensational tv news coverage, or everyday conversation – the focus is typically on men as perpetrators, or potential perpetrators. These days, you don’t have to look far to see evidence of the pain and suffering these men cause. But it’s rare to find any in-depth discussion about the culture that’s producing these violent men. It’s almost like the perpetrators are strange aliens who landed here from another planet. It’s rarer still to hear thoughtful discussions about the ways that our culture defines “manhood,” and how that definition might be linked to the endless string of stories about husbands killing wives, or groups of young men raping girls (and sometimes videotaping the rape) that we hear about on a regular basis.

Why isn’t there more conversation about the underlying social factors that contribute to the pandemic of violence against women? Why aren’t men’s attitudes and behaviors toward women the focus of more critical scrutiny and coordinated action? In the early 21st century, the 24/7 news cycle brings us a steady stream of gender violence tragedies: serial killers on the loose, men abducting young girls, domestic violence homicides, periodic sexual abuse scandals in powerful institutions like the Catholic Church and the Air Force Academy. You can barely turn on the news these days without coming across another gruesome sex crime – whether it’s a group of boys gang-raping a girl in a middle school bathroom, or a young pregnant mother who turns up missing and a few days later her husband emerges as the primary suspect.
Isn’t it about time we had a national conversation about the male causes of this violence, instead of endlessly lingering on its consequences in the lives of women? Thanks to the U. S. battered women’s and rape crisis movements, it is no longer taboo to discuss women’s experience of sexual and domestic violence. This is a significant achievement. To an unprecedented extent, American women today expect to be supported -- not condemned -- when they disclose what men have done to them (unless the man is popular, wealthy or well-connected, in which case all bets are off.)

This is all to the good. Victims of violence and abuse – whether they’re women or men -- should be heard and respected. Their needs come first. But let’s not mistake concern for victims with the political will to change the conditions that led to their victimization in the first place. On talk shows, in brutally honest memoirs, at Take Back the Night rallies, and even in celebrity interviews, our society now grants many women the platform to discuss the sexual abuse and mistreatment that have sadly been a part of women’s lives here and around the world for millennia. But when was the last time you heard someone in public or private life talk about violence against women in a way that went beyond the standard victim fixation and put a sustained spotlight on men – either as perpetrators or bystanders? It is one thing to focus on the “against women” part of the phrase. But someone’s responsible for doing it, and (almost) everyone knows that it’s overwhelmingly men. Why aren’t people talking about this? Is it realistic to talk about preventing violence against women if no one even wants to say out loud who’s responsible for it?

For the past two decades I’ve been part of a growing movement of men, in North America and around the world, whose aim is to reduce violence against women by focusing on those aspects of male culture – especially male peer culture -- that provide active or tacit support for some men’s abusive behavior. This movement is racially and ethnically diverse, and it brings together men from both privileged and poor communities, and everyone in between. This is challenging work on many levels, and no one should expect rapid results. For example, there is no way to gloss over some of the race, class and sexual orientation divisions between and among the men ourselves. It is also true that it takes time to change social norms that are so deeply rooted in structures of gender and power. Even so, there is room for optimism. We’ve had our successes: There are arguably more men today who are actively confronting violence against women than at any time in human history.

Make no mistake. Women blazed the trail that we are riding down. Men are in the position to do this work precisely because of the great leadership of women. The battered women’s and rape crisis movements and their allies in local, state, and federal government have accomplished a phenomenal amount over the past generation. Public awareness about violence against women is at an all-time high. The level of services available today for female victims and survivors of men’s violence is – while not yet adequate – nonetheless historically unprecedented.

But one area where our society still has a very long way to go is in preventing perpetration. We continue to produce in the United States hundreds of thousands of physically and emotionally abusive -- and sexually dangerous -- boys and men each year. Millions more men participate in sexist behaviors on a continuum that ranges from mildly objectifying women to literally enslaving them in human trafficking syndicates. We can provide services to the female victims of these men until the cows come home. We can toughen enforcement of rape, domestic violence, and stalking laws, arrest and incarcerate even more men than we do currently. But this is all reactive and after the fact. It is essentially an admission of failure.

What I am proposing in this book is that we adopt a much more ambitious approach. If we are going to bring down the rates of violence against women dramatically – not just at the margins – we will need a far-reaching cultural revolution. At its heart this revolution must be about changing the sexist social norms in male culture, from the elementary school playground to the common room in retirement communities – and every locker room, pool hall and board room in between. For us to have any hope of achieving historic reductions in incidents of violence against women, at a minimum we will need to dream big and act bold. It almost goes without saying that we will need the help of a lot more men -- at all levels of power and influence – than are currently involved. Obviously we have our work cut out for us. As a measure of just how far we have to go, consider that in spite of the misogyny and sexist brutality all around us, millions of non-violent men today fail to see gender violence as their issue. “I’m a good guy,” they will say. “This isn’t my problem.”

From Chapter 3: Taking It Personally

Several years ago I was in a theater watching a movie with a girlfriend when she abruptly got up out of her seat and, without saying a word, ran out the door. I didn’t know what to do. Follow her out into the lobby? Keep watching the movie and wait for her to come back? I was not sure how to react because I did not know why she had left. Was it something she had eaten? Was it something I had done? I shifted anxiously in my seat. Was she angry at me?

Later, when we discussed what had happened, I was both relieved to find out I was not responsible and amazed at my own lack of awareness. Her response had been triggered by a scene of violence. She was a rape survivor, and something about that scene brought back intense fear and pain; she had to flee. I knew about the rape, which had happened when she was a teenager. At that point we had not discussed the details of her assault, or the trauma symptoms she still experienced. I spent some time agonizing over how I could have anticipated and prevented the entire incident. .But she picked out the movie, didn’t she know it would have violent scenes? Eventually, as I moved through some initial – and reflexive – defensiveness, I realized there probably wasn’t anything I could have done. This was not about me, after all; it was about her.

But I was not a disinterested third party, I was her boyfriend. I cared about her. How could we even hope to get closer if I had no clue about what she had been through? If she retreated rather than reached out when feeling overwhelmed, how could I possibly help? There were practical concerns. How could I know when to touch her? How could I feel confident that I would not inadvertently trigger another traumatic flashback?

This incident was not the first time that violence against women became personal for me – and it was hardly the last. I would have a hard time counting all the women I know who are survivors of some kind of men’s violence, abuse, or mistreatment. There are way too many. And it is not just me. Every single man I know has at least one or two women in his life who have been emotionally, physically or sexually abused by men. Some of us have many more.

From Chapter 7: “Bystanders”

Feminists have long argued that we live in a “rape culture” and a “battering culture.” In other words, individual acts of gender violence emanate from an unequal and sexist cultural context, within which heterosexual men are conditioned to objectify and dominate women in the sexual sphere, and exert power and control over them in intimate relationships. If we accept this, then primary prevention efforts need to move beyond short-term safety precautions for women e.g. women being advised not to put their drinks down at parties; to park in well-lit areas; to recognize the warning signs of abusive relational behaviors, etc.

Instead, educators need to address the attitudes in male culture that encourage or legitimize some men’s abusive behavior. One way to address these attitudes is to examine and work toward changing group dynamics in male peer culture, where rape and battering supportive attitudes are nurtured and reinforced. If more men spoke up before, during, or after incidents of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse by their peers, they would help to create a climate where the abuse of women – emotional, physical, sexual -- would be stigmatized and seen as incompatible with male group norms. That is, a man who engaged in such behavior would lose status among his male peers and forfeit the approval of other males.
Ultimately, this would cause a shift in male culture such that some men’s sexist abuse of women and girls would be regarded – by other men -- not only as distasteful but as utterly unacceptable. In this new climate, individuals would be strongly discouraged from acting out in abusive ways because of the anticipated negative consequences: loss of respect, friends, and status, and greater likelihood of facing both legal and non-legal sanctions. In fact, if men’s violence against women truly carried a significant stigma in male culture, it is possible that most incidents of sexist abuse would never happen. This is because contrary to popular myth, the vast majority of boys and men who assault, harass and bully girls and women are not sociopaths. They are average guys. Many of them see the sexist treatment of women as normal. They behave toward women the way they think men are supposed to. If the example and the expectations of the men around them changed, they would be likely to adjust their behavior accordingly.

From Chapter 8: Race and Culture

In virtually every public discussion about violence against women in rap – from trainings for battered women’s advocates to graduate school seminars -- someone mentions that its primary consumers are white suburban males. But few people go one step further and ask why. Why do so many young white guys get a charge out of lyrics where male narrators boast about slapping bitches around and smokin’ ho’s? It is important to look at the misogyny of black male rappers and explore what their lyrics say about them, as well as about the fault lines in black culture, especially in relations between the sexes. But we should not ignore what misogynous rap’s popularity among young white males says about white masculinity, and relations between the sexes in white culture. The misogynous fantasies of black male rappers have clearly struck a chord in white male America. These artists and their record companies figured out years ago that there was a big white market for lyrics about men treating women like dirt. If a majority of (white) boys and men were turned off by the contemptuous attitudes toward women expressed in rap and other forms of music, market forces in music production and distribution would long ago have caused the sexism to fade. So we need to turn our attention to the demand side of the marketing equation. What is going on in contemporary white gender and sexual politics that prepares so many white suburban males to accept such crude expressions of anger and contempt for women? Many women in 21st century rap narratives are derided as two-dimensional objects whose only purpose in life is to be penetrated like blow-up dolls by contemptuous men. What do these angry characterizations tell us about the white boys and men who buy the albums, download the songs, and memorize and sing along to them? It is possible that millions of young white men do not even question the misogyny in rap because they grew up with it and thus it seems normal and unremarkable to them. After all, rap had already become the status quo in music culture since before many of them were even born. It is also possible that many of them do not feel any particular anger toward women, but nonetheless take on the misogynous front in response to pressure on them to act “hard” as a means of gaining respect and establishing their “manhood.” Notably, this phenomenon long predates hip hop culture.

Music journalists and scholars of American culture have addressed the general question about white fascination with and cooptation of hip hop culture. Many contemporary writers have attempted to update Norman Mailer’s controversial and widely discussed 1957 essay “The White Negro,” where he argued that in a conformist white society, the image of the “Negro” is subversive and countercultural, and hence enormously appealing. But the typical focus of these writers is on the process whereby black ghetto style has been commodified to meet white suburban consumers’ need to act cool by parroting the speech and styles of the “niggaz” in the ‘hood. In a 1996 essay, Robin D.G. Kelley argues that for many white, middle-class male teenagers, gangsta rap provides an “imaginary alternative to suburban boredom” and the ghetto is a place of “adventure, unbridled violence, and erotic fantasy which these young men consume vicariously and voyeuristically.” But however insightful, these sorts of essays rarely discuss the reasons why brutally sexist gender politics appeal to white boys and men. More than thirty years after the modern women’s movement transformed the social landscape, increasing opportunities for millions of girls and women and catalyzing momentous changes in men’s lives, why do so many white suburban males relate to the retrograde sexism in much of contemporary rap? Why do so many of them gleefully sing along to lyrics about worthless “bitches” whose sole purpose in life is to manipulate unsuspecting men? Why can they identify with male narrators who seem to derive perverse pleasure from having sex with women and then tossing them aside like pieces of meat?

From Chapter 10: Guilty Pleasures: Pornography, Prostitution and Stripping

Three young white men were convicted in March, 2005 of sexually assaulting an intoxicated 16-year-old girl in the summer of 2002 in Orange County, California. The central piece of evidence in the trial that gained national notoriety was a videotape of the crime made by the defendants. The then-sixteen and seventeen-year-old men had made a 21-minute video of them shoving a Snapple bottle, lit cigarette, apple juice can and pool cue into the vagina and anus of the unconscious victim. One of the young men, whose father was then the assistant sheriff of Orange County, had proudly shown the video to some acquaintances, some of whom thought the girl was a corpse and called the police. Many media discussions of the crime and trial took their cues from the defense lawyers’ offensive strategy, and focused on the actions of the victim. According to R. Scott Moxley in the OC Weekly, the lawyers for the young men called the girl – named Jane Doe for the court proceeding. -- a “slut” and a “whore,” who loved giving “blow jobs” and enjoyed “doggy-style” sex. They claimed that she dreamed of becoming a porn star and had staged the entire episode in order to get them to gang bang her on film. With so much attention fixated on Jane Doe’s morals and motives, there was little room to discuss the heart of the case: the morals, motives and mindsets of the young men. What were they thinking as they molested her? How could they be cruel enough to rape and degrade this girl, and brazen enough to videotape the entire thing and then brag about it? What did those actions say, not about the character of the girl, but about their characters, and the values of the white affluent culture that produced them? What did this case reveal about young men’s attitudes toward women’s sexuality? What did it say about sexual norms in male culture, and the role of pornography in establishing or maintaining those norms? Is it so hard to believe that “normal” boys could videotape a grotesque gang rape when porn sites that brag about “invading privacy to the limit” and feature “Gym Cam, Locker Room Cam, Up-skirt cam, Toilet Cam, and the Infamous Gyno Cam” are just a mouse click away and part of millions of boys’ sexual socialization?

The Orange County gang rape case was far from an aberration. Over the past decade there have been numerous criminal cases, some of which made the national news but most of which did not, that involved boys and young men who videotaped sexual activity with girls and then shared it with their friends. In a number of these cases, the young men involved were normal, primarily law-abiding kids who did not see anything wrong with what they had done – until they were held accountable. For example, an 18-year-old soccer star and high school honor student in Ohio was charged in 2001 with posting nude pictures of a girl in an Internet chat room. He posted the pictures the same night that a 17-year-old girl had changed her clothes at his home. He called the incident a practical joke, but was charged with unlawful use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, which is a second –degree felony. Interestingly, in 1999 the U.S. Justice Department formed a partnership with the Information Technology Association of America to educate people about computer responsibility in the Internet age. One goal of the program was to help children and young adults develop an “awareness of potential negative consequences resulting from the misuse of the medium.” This seems like a smart initiative, because everyone knows teenagers – like adults -- have a tendency to sometimes act without thinking. But any serious attempt to help boys think through their decisions about how to treat girls has to examine those places in male culture where sexist and abusive behavior is presented as normal and masculine and even expected – and where there are no real consequences for hurting people, including Internet pornography. Even hit Hollywood films present this attitude, such as American Pie, where the main character arranges to videotape himself having sex with a Czech exchange student and broadcast it by web cam to his friends watching in another room. When American Pie was released in 1999, critics hailed it as good clean fun. Practically no one mentioned that one of the main plot points turned on the lead character’s stumbling attempts to commit an unforgivably cruel and sexist act – the type of act that ruins lives when it happens in the real world.

* * * * * * * * *
Girls and women suffer the most harm from a culture awash in misogynist pornography, but boys and men are hurt, too. It is important to discuss this hurt both for pragmatic reasons, and out of genuine concern for these boys and men. In order to stem the tide of cruelty, callousness and brutality toward girls and women that is now mainstream fare from the porn industry, men and boys in sufficient numbers will need to make the decision to stop paying for porn magazines, videos, and Internet porn sites. Some men will be motivated to give up their porn habits as they develop a greater sensitivity to the damage that eroticized cruelty does to girls and women – inside and outside the porn industry. But altruistic concern for harm done to women can not motivate anywhere near as many men and boys as enlightened self-interest. In other words, if they can be shown that porn hinders rather than facilitates a healthy sex life for men, there is at least a chance that enough men will reject it to truly make a difference. But unless heterosexual men perceive that they have a personal stake in a sexual culture that is not dominated by the cartoonish version of sexual fulfillment created by middle-aged businessmen in window-less studios in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles, it is hard to see how the current trend toward greater acceptance of sexualized brutality will be reversed in coming generations.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-0401-2 ISBN-10: 1-4022-0401-9

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