As a man doing violence prevention, there is often a mantra that I hear when working with other men. It is used as a way to engage men. It is used as a way to rally men and to get them to care about the issue. I have often heard men say that they work to end violence against women because of the women in their lives. A daughter, a sister, a close friend, or their spouse has experienced violence, and that is the reason they choose to engage this cause. In some ways, I get that because we all have a story or an experience that brings us to this work. But, I am challenged by the story of "I do this work because she is someone's sister, mother, daughter, etc." First, in my opinion, using women as motivation to "act like a man" is grounded in sexism. I am intentional in saying sexism in regards to this because men are moving in the world from a place of needing to protect women; that protection treats women like they are incapable of managing their lives. In essence, it underscores the idea of maleness being superior because women need men for protection. It is as if men are approaching violence against women from the position of rescuing.
That idea of rescuing is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, men thinking that they need to engage in this work to protect or save women is challenging to me because it does not treat women like adults capable of managing their own lives. It treats women like they are subordinate to men, and therefore need their help. In other words men need to step in and save the day. Women do not need rescuing. Men need to change their behaviors. Men need to change their thoughts, actions, and choices. Ending sexual violence is not about men getting the glory, but moving differently in our everyday lives. What are our beliefs, attitudes, and actions? Sexual violence is systemic, and a caped crusader is not what is needed to solve these problems. Moreover, that type of thinking is what leads men into utilizing tactics that or more about stroking their egos and taking over situations under the guise of protecting women rather than contributing to situations grounded in safety and equality.
If the reason I am engaged in this work is mainly that a woman close to me was impacted, then I am missing the mark. I am missing the entire world around me. I am missing how everyone is impacted. I am missing how I impact others. As men, we all have to be mindful of how we move through the world and impact others. Am I engaging in sexually violent behavior? Are my beliefs and attitudes problematic? Am I spending time proselytizing about an ideal way of being rather than embodying those values as I move through the world?
By acting as rescuers are we taking away someone else's power and making it about us, our ego, and how others see us? The world does not need more men to be heroes.
I want a world where men step up not because she's someone's sister, daughter, mother, wife, or friend. I want men to step up because she is someone period. I want men to step up because she is a person. I want men to step up for all people. I want men to step up because everyone is connected to someone.