By Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting
A good friend of mine, and fellow change-agent, Tracy Knutson offered me an opportunity this week that I couldn’t pass up- an opportunity to be a part of a men’s leadership session with Dr. Jackson Katz, a world -renowned subject matter expert on the issue of men’s violence against women. If you haven’t had a chance to check out his TED Talk on-line, you need to take 15 minutes and watch him, as nearly 2 million others have, share his views on why domestic violence is a man’s issue.
When I was asked to participate in the session with Dr. Katz, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see what he had to say, and wanted to learn about his philosophy about Domestic Violence being a man’s issue. I’d seen his YouTube video a few times before meeting him and knew about some of the messages that he would bring to the discussion, but there were also a few things that surprised me when we started to talk about why it was important to have 30 male business leaders come together for a leadership session on addressing Domestic Violence.
The biggest surprise was that Saskatchewan leads the country with the highest rate of police –reported family violence amongst the provinces. It’s also near the top when it comes to self-reported family violence according to a recent Stats Canada report, released earlier this year. This blows my mind. As someone who hasn’t been exposed to domestic violence, I can’t imagine that these numbers would be accurate. I don’t know of anyone that has been a victim of domestic violence. My family wasn’t affected by domestic violence. I don’t know of any of my friends that have been impacted by domestic or family violence.
But in a way, that’s the whole point isn’t it? Most family and domestic violence isn’t reported. It’s not something that people really talk about, and even worse yet- it’s not something that generally others see. It happens in the home, with the doors locked and the shutters pulled down so nobody can see what men do to abuse their spouses. So how WOULD we know if this horrible thing is happening around us? And if we aren’t connected in some way, shape or form, why would we get involved?
But IT IS happening. All around us. Whether we see it or not.
If we don’t get involved in reversing the trend, changing the culture and lending our voice to social change – it’s going to keep happening. The stories of rape culture that we see on television on University campuses, the vicious attacks on Aboriginal women who all to often even go missing or murdered, the stories of women being drugged or abused when they are too incapacitated to consent- all things that we watch on our TV screens on read about on-line and think “what the hell is going on in this world?!”. But we take a wholly passive approach. And if we want change, we need to take greater responsibility. We need to own the issue. All of us. And here’s how we are going to do it.
Change our language about men’s violence against women.
Dr. Katz talked about the passive language that we use when we talk about men’s violence against women, like "Sue was a victim of violence". The way that the majority of domestic violence is presented to the masses rarely even mentions the aggressor (overwhelmingly the aggressor is a man by the way) and even speaks of the event as past tense, as if to say “its in the past and what’s done is done”. The ownership of the action is placed squarely on the victim. It’s a cheap parlour trick to take your eyes off of the issue at hand, but an effective trick none the less.
We need to start talking about men’s violence against women in a way that includes the aggressor and as the catalyst and OWNER of the action. Women are the victims of the violence and the act of violence is not something that they “experience” – it’s an act of dominance through abuse and violence in an attempt to control their partner.
Start to have open and honest conversations.
If you want to change a culture, you have to start to talk about the issues that you wish to see altered or modified. It’s got to be open and honest, and in a space where people feel safe and trusted. MOST people seek to understand, but tend to stay silent out of fear that there will be repercussions if they say something stupid. But this is too important an issue to let that stand in the way.
I was really appreciative of Dr. Katz’s approach yesterday in that he created an environment for the men in the room to ask questions, be engaged and try to understand the issue in a way that they never have before. Stories were told rather than stats, bringing us closer to the issue and real-life examples were presented to bring the issue to life for us all.
There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that I like that says “Once you see, you cannot un-see”. To me, this is one of the critical pieces of understanding this issue. Once you know that men’s violence against women exists, and how our current social norms accept existing actions that support the violence, only then can you engage people in the desire to shift the culture.
We all have a role to play.
Dr. Katz spoke about the bystander effect, of which he is one of the architects of in the men’s violence against women movement. This mirrors the approach that I tried to take with the I Am Stronger campaign back in the day when I ran the anti-bullying campaign through the SaskTel Corporate Social Responsibility Department.
The idea is that we all have a part to play in the issue. This isn’t just about the two people that are involved in the act, but also everyone around them. The approach that we took through I Am Stronger was more about being able to stand up and speak up at the time of the actual act of bullying, but that isn’t necessarily the same situation for men’s violence against women, due to the fact that most men’s violence against women happens outside of the public eye. What isn’t different however, is the role that bystanders can play in influencing social change.
When someone in your circle speaks about women in a sexist or pejorative way or if there is a scenario you witness a situation where men degrade women in any way, you need to understand that your silence is consent. Engaging bystanders in the process opens up the accountability and the responsibility of us all to act on influencing the social norms that contribute to men’s violence against women.
One of the other reasons that I absolutely love the bystander approach to dealing with social issues is that the bystanders hold the power to change things, and change things quickly- all they need to do is stand up and be counted, and lend their voice to the cause. The real challenge is creating a compelling enough story for them to get involved and be willing to stand up and challenge the status quo.
Leadership (and more importantly leadership from men) is vital.
Influencing social change and creating an environment that rejects men’s violence against women is one thing, but if the behaviours that we wish to see aren’t modelled by those in leadership roles, then the intent of the culture change becomes lost or at the very least less powerful. It’s up to the leaders of organizations and our communities to speak loudly and model the behaviours that they wish to see changed in their culture for things to truly change.
Want to see what speaking out looks like at it’s finest – check out this video that was played at the conference featuring the second in command of the Australian Army Chief Lieutenant David Morrison address inappropriate behaviour within the ranks.
Now, am I suggesting that you go to the extremes of Chief Lieutenant Morrison goes in the video? I guess if the shoe fits…..
But what I do think you have an opportunity to do, what we all have an opportunity to do, is to speak up and say “that’s not right” when something, well, isn’t right. To call out behaviours, teach our children and reinforce positives when they happen in our world. If you are more comfortable with “clicktavism”, then share some posts of positive stories of people standing up against violence on social media. We all need to act at a level that we are comfortable with, so do what you can – just don’t do "nothing" anymore.
Men need to lead that charge for change.
Dr. Katz spoke about the idea that exists today in which men are not seen as the current owners of the issue of men’s violence against women. Let’s take advantage of the lack of understanding use it to our benefit. We can build an army of male leaders who we can educate on the issues of domestic violence (once they see......), and help influence social change.
Like it or not, when it comes to dealing with issues that require others to see the world through another communities eyes (whether it is Aboriginal issues, disability issues etc.), the message is almost always more clearly understood when it is presented by someone from outside that community. The thought that there is an ally outside of the given community somehow creates the belief that the information shared is presented without secondary agenda. Sad, but true.
In this case – men addressing the issue is against the norm of what the majority of the public have seen, and that helps drive home the message of male ownership of men’s violence against women.
The last thing that I will say on this subject is that the leadership event I went to was organized entirely by women- smart passionate and visionary women who understand that getting men to start to talk about this issue is exactly the kind of push for social change necessary for this issue.
Where do we start? What do we do?
We get involved. Make small changes. Push the envelope. We become willing to take risks to change behaviours. We teach our kids and our friends what men's violence against women is and how to treat each other with empathy and compassion. We take responsibility. We start to change things. Together. We be human.