It is a word that often scares away men and makes the women activists seem like men bashers without a soul.
It may be misused as an expletive to undermine the strength of women (femi-nazi) or molded into a euphemism to underscore the emasculation of men who support the movement (humanist). It can serve as profound movement of emancipation for women or a profane mark of insecurity on the part of men who move against it.
10 points and the golden snitch if you guessed feminism.
The truth is that feminism isn’t just about fighting for women’s rights. In fact, the movement is just as much about supporting men and children as it is about women.
How can we exclude one part of our society when we all co-exist together in this world?
If a group of men inflict cruel violence against a woman on a public bus with iron rods, or a football coach secretly sodomizes young men in his home and locker room for decades, society is appeased when these men are portrayed as some derivative of a monstrous scum of the earth. The culprits may get away with the crime or be put under custody and punished. But over time, they tend to fall off the radar and no longer remain a headline target given that new cases of violence and rapes surface every day. In some situations, the abusive men quietly restore their esteemed place back in society. When new cases do show up, the process repeats itself. The end result is that the balance beam is tilted to focus on the woman, her plight, her injustice with the noble intention to help her cope up and heal. As important as that is, not as much focus is laid in understanding the men to prevent such crimes in the future.
And this is where more men need to become a catalyst for change.
Why is this awareness important?
Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in the United States. According to the UN, globally at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
“Violence against women is the single greatest human rights violation of our generation. This is a call to action—not an act that will make things better in six months or a year’s time, but action that might save someone’s life and someone’s future this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow morning.”
-Patrick Stewart’s wise words at International Women’s Day/7th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Patrick and his mother were victims of domestic violence from his father, who was suffering from PTSD after serving in WWII.
Why do some men inflict violence against women?
There are a depth of reasons. I have listed out some from my own research. For the sake of this blog, I have left out some of the more trivial human emotions like jealousy. If you have any more, please feel free to share.
p.s. I am not justifying that these reasons are correct or acceptable to commit violence, but just pointing some points of common sense. Also note that these reasons can be applicable for abusive women as well.
Unstable Family Environment due to an Abusive or Absent Parent/Guardian: A man may take out his anger and hurt on others, the same hurt he experienced as a child. Chris Brown is one such infamous example who received five years of probation for assaulting Rihanna. In a later interview, he disclosed that he grew up seeing his stepfather repeatedly assault his own mother.
Dire Financial Circumstances: There are plenty of cases of families from impoverished backgrounds with pools of debt where the man thinks of no other recourse than to prostitute his own wife, daughter or relative for money. Forget about the luxuries of education and clothing, some people are too poor to afford even a meal a day, leading them to forego their morals for the sake of survival. But then again, anyone with the lure of greed and lust can have the same consequence.
Victim of past sexual abuse: One cannot estimate the scarring depth of psychological trauma from being sexually abused as a child and having your innocence stolen and buried forever. In some instances, the perpetrators of abuse have been vulnerable victims of sexual abuse themselves. Sexual slavery of women and children is a serious issue in almost every nation. Even in my own safe and sound neighborhood in New Jersey, I’ve come across a few headlines of pimps luring women through dubious ads and forcing girls as young as 13 years old to prostitute in hotels. Even though there are very powerful channels that control this trafficking network, victims can be rescued when citizens are vigilant to tip the police or contact an anti-human trafficking organization (Polaris Project in US). It is important to remember that these rapes can occur anywhere, from military bases, to brothels to normal households.
PTSD from war and related conflicts: This also falls under the bracket of psychological trauma. There are many symptoms of PTSD ranging from insomnia to severe depression. Addressing the causes and recognizing the symptoms are crucial steps towards helping affected individuals readjust back into their homes and live together in peace.
Blindly Adhering Family Traditions with Patriarchal Roots and Myths: Sati (burning widow to death) and child marriage are some known social evils that are lawfully banned in India, yet they are still practiced in some close-knit rural communities under the pretext of tradition. Dowry is another prohibited practice of marrying a women in exchange for money, land and expensive possessions, all demanded from the bride’s side of the family. Here is a meme I created just for this lovely occasion.
As far as myths are concerned, one stigmatizing myth is that intercourse with a virgin/child can cure a person of AIDS. Many young children who are trafficked and assaulted end up with this deadly affliction. Other ridiculous notions perpetuated by backward-minded folks include that women should stay at home and cover up everywhere to prevent men from getting too excited to rape them. If I had a donkey for every instance some idiot talked about what a women should or should not wear, I would have, well, a lot of donkeys to trample over their asses. I’d be more comfortable wearing a burkha than be brainwashed by magazines, media and beauty pageants to think that a commodified bikini bod or a malnourished model is the true affirmation of a “free” women. Wearing too much or too little isn’t the problem — it’s using those extremes i.e. the burkha as a means to justify oppression and the bikini to promote western ideals of feminized liberty, and yet still trying to defend that no woman is asking for rape on any part of that spectrum.
Prolonged Stress from Work or Family Environment: Man as the breadwinner (and women as the buttermaker) is one of the most commonly known social constructs. As women are slowly and steadily climbing the corporate ladder, men still carry the burden to uphold their breadwinner title and fear being deemed unworthy if they can’t afford the best for their family on their own merit. Failure to live up to expectations of their parents, wife and children can impact the way they treat their loved ones. Stress shouldn’t be an excuse to inflict violence but it can manifest from it.
External Addictions- Alcohol, Smoking, Porn, Gambling and Drugs: Each addiction works in the same way – It provides fleeting happiness and the craving resurges once you feel empty, lost and unhappy again. There are several brackets people categorize themselves into, namely, social drinker/smoker/junkie, party gambler and private fap fap; however, some may turn the addiction into a crutch for their existence, and consequently require therapy and rehab. While there is no universal causal relationship, correlation does exist between inebriation and risk of harming others (Suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott have been linked to cyber bullying and victim blaming from alleged rape incidents that occurred during underage drinking parties) from lack of complete consciousness. In turn, a multitude of laws are put in place to regulate the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes (passive smoking) in public venues. Porn, movies and TV drama have their share of titillating rape scenes, yet rape must never be misconstrued with fantasies of rough sex. The former is a violent form of asserting control. The latter should include the consent of the women. As far as drugs are concerned, there are a plethora of banned substances sold illegally but even many legally sold pharma drugs have terrible side-effects including suicide, depression, hallucinations etc. Addictions can play havoc with one’s mental stability.Moreover, the extent of violence from these addictions can be compounded by the presence of a dangerous weapon (gun control).
Governments are not our parents and we are capable of developing our own moral compass, but upholding safe regulation is crucial. Personally, I feel that people should have the freedom to decide what is right or wrong for them as long as they understand the consequences of their actions with age appropriate mental maturity.
Fulfilling the “Real Man is Tough” Image: This is, perhaps, the most neglected of all. Video games, toy guns, soldier figurines brainwash the minds of young boys just as much as barbie dolls screw with young girls’ perception of their own bodies.
A real man watches sports, cusses and bags as many women as he can. That would be as much of an exaggerated, sexist notion as saying that real women just cook and clean whilst parading around in Victoria Secret underwear. On that note of gender stereotyping, it is a real shame when sports coaches verbally abuse their players (Rutgers) or secretly molest young boys (Penn State). It is disgusting that many men accomplices stayed silent about these crimes and disheartening that the innocent victims internalized the pain for so many years without justice.
This “tough man” image is subtly conveyed in all forms of media. Women can get away with expressing their feelings with their girlfriends, wearing clothing of the opposite sex, and crying in public, if need be. But if a heterosexual man does the same, he fears being seen as emasculated, which may have its roots in homophobia. I don’t know about other women but I find a man, who has the guts to express his sensitivity through mature poetry, holding a pen, far more attractive than a man cussing and blowing puffs of smoke, holding a cigarette. But that’s just my personal two rupaiyas.
Here are three varying examples relating to the emotional bond between a son and his father.
- Iron Man 3 – Great movie with parallels to BP oil spill, offshore terrorism, American conspiracy and Paltrow kicking some extremis ass. Yet there is one scene that really caught my eye — Robert Downy Jr tells his young accomplice to “man up” about his father abandoning his family. His precise dialogue is “Dads leave. Don’t be a pussy about it.” Forget the fact that a man is telling an innocent boy, who is opening up about a missing father figure to a superhero he idolizes, to just suck it up and submerge the pain. But he is also suggesting that expressing his feelings makes the boy a “pussy”/less of a man. Where does the word “pussy” originate from? Oh right, it’s a pejorative of vagina, tied in with the inferiority of women.
- Now, let me show you an adult Will Smith’s emotional outburst and frustration when he realizes that his father plans to abandon him (yet again) in an eye-opening episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will asks Uncle Phil a simple question, “How come my father doesn’t want me?” It is a critical question to raise because no child should be betrayed of affection that way from his parents.
- Or take the case of this young boy who can’t help running into the arms of his father, a soldier deployed in Iraq. This is a small tribute to all soldiers who have to fight for their countries, leaving their families behind. War is truly unnecessary and detrimental to the lives of all people, soldiers and civilians, involved.
That young boy’s reaction is an innocent expression of love to his father in its purest form. As boys grow up, they may fear being seen as mental to be sentimental. In turn, their hidden hurt can turn into deep resentment, anger or depression and the only logical way left for men to respond is through outwardly forms of violence.
I don’t have a PhD in Understanding Men but I think we can all work together to lessen the severity of the problem. I’m grateful to know many men who speak up in this matter and I can only appeal for more men and women to take action.
Break the Cycle
“I have seen too many lawyers who manage by intimidation and fear, whose default mode is to bludgeon or belittle. And they justify it by claiming to be perfectionists who just demand excellence. That’s a load of nonsense, and don’t ever fall for it or emulate it. Abusive people are weak, not strong. As the late five-star general and commander-in-chief Dwight Eisenhower once said, “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”
-Preet Bharara, US Attorney, at his Columbia Law School Class of 2013 Commencement Address. Preet is highly respected for putting many insider trading/Wall Street miscreants in jail.
Breaking the Cycle often takes tremendous compassion for the affected person and for oneself, if you are the victim. Empathy and forgiveness are a few such stepping stones to overcome the pain. As the deeply poignant 1994 “I’ll Stand by You” ballad of The Pretenders goes, “If you’re mad, get mad. Don’t hold it all inside, come on and talk to me now. Hey, what you’ve got to hide? I get angry too. Well, I’m a lot like you.”
Help a brother
Apologies for the cliché, but remember that epic Good Will Hunting dialogue where Robin Williams gently repeats – “It’s not your fault,” to the deeply traumatized yet wunderkind Matt Damon. Well you don’t have to be an Academy Award winning Mrs Doubtfire, but if you have a friend who has been a victim of any kind of violence or abuse, help them heal.
Interesting Take on Dealing with Perverted Thoughts by a Feminist Dad
“When you catch yourself objectifying women, think about your daughters, sisters, and mothers. Try not to ogle. Don’t overanalyze sexual thoughts. Follow the Three Second Rule. …. Instead of undressing them with my eyes, I’m cloaking them in imaginary burqas. It seems like I shouldn’t have to do this, and that it’s not the ‘right’ solution, but it’s working, and it’s less draining than catching myself furtively checking out the parts that are—forgive me—on display, and then creep-shaming myself….This technique of essentially ignoring women’s physical presence may not be sustainable, and it may not be desirable. But it also seems like as good an alternative as any to giving women unwanted (or even wanted) sexual attention, and maybe spending some time with this perspective will at least give me a taste of freedom from “perverted thoughts.”
It’s perfectly natural to feel attracted to someone. Getting turned on is nothing to be ashamed of either. But one must be respectful of the person in mind.
TED Talk by Jackson Katz, creator of “Mentors in Violence Prevention Program”
This is a great speech from a man who gets to the root of the problem. He isn’t on the side of the man or the woman, but he brings forth a balanced understanding of how to tackle gender based violence. Katz points out an important point of contention- When we hear gender, we think women; when we hear sexual orientation, we think homosexuals; when we hear race, we think black people. The marginalized group that is perceived as weaker is always under our microscope while the elite group remains outside our purview of discourse.
Join a movement- As part of an Org or as an Individual
One example of a human rights org is “Breakthrough” which is dedicated to help end domestic violence. #RingtheBell or #Bellbajao (in India).
Look within your own families, your children, your spouses, your uncles, your brothers, your little nieces and nephews and even yourself. Be cognizant of any changes in behavior or actions that may point towards abuse. Ignorance is not bliss in such a situation.
Meditation/Counseling/ Therapy/ Contacting a Support Group
These options would be useful for both victim and perpetrators (after they have served their penalty for an offense.)
In the video below, Patrick Stewart makes the excellent point that, often times, victims are blamed for starting an argument, when in reality, there was never any provocation, as was the case with his own mother. “Even if she has provoked him, violence should never be the answer men should have to take,” he says. Patrick brings out a deeper psychological understanding behind the need to provide rehabilitation and refuge to women who are victims and also provide care and treatment to the men who commit the acts because of their hidden symptoms.
It’s a problem when we hear stories about men luring women and children into prostitution, on one side of the equation, and men abusing sex workers on the other side, whilst the victims are imprisoned in the middle.
It’s a bigger problem when, instead of receiving help and justice, the victims receive blame and are ostracized with awful names of “slut” and “whore” (Steubenville rape coverage)
It’s a severe problem when you hear about men from seemingly normal households, sodomizing young children or raping their nieces and daughters in secrecy.
Men and women, if you are concerned about upholding the rights of your daughters, your wives, your nieces, your sisters and mothers, and your sons, your nephews and husbands in general, don’t be afraid to embrace feminism. Or forget the feminist tag, just strive to eliminate sexism and fight for human rights. To be fair, a small section of feminists do take their agenda to the point of being misandrists based on their own personal experiences, but that is not what feminism is about. Feminism is striving to achieve equality for all.
We are all on the same team, the team of humanity.