Today is White Ribbon Day. It is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In Australia, the focus is on domestic violence, as this is the single most common violence that Australian women (and children for that matter) will suffer. In fact, world wide, violence at the hands of men that women know and usually love is the most prevalent form of violence that women will suffer.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. My father was a man who violently beat his family (in particular my mother and I) until we left him when I was 14. It was the second time that we had attempted to leave him. My clear memory of the first time was begging my mother to carry through her decision to leave because I knew if we didn’t, he would probably kill either one or both of us. I was 13 at the time. However he continued to violently abuse me until I was 20 years old whenever I saw him. I was terrified of him and consequently all men.
I also suffered domestic violence at the hands of my stepfather and other male relatives, whom I shall not name because I know that they have made changes to their lives and have never revisited this behaviour.
Domestic violence is particularly nasty because it is at the hands of the men who are supposed to love you. Wives/partners and children are the victims. The men who are supposed to love you most (fathers, grandfathers, husbands etc) are the ones doing you the most harm. Not only does that physically hurt you, but it emotionally and mentally hurts you for the rest of your life, even after you move from victim to survivor. These are scars that will never fully heal, despite the fact that they may fade.
Every year, on White Ribbon Day, there is a rash of “But men suffer violence too!” statements. Not only from men too – I see it from women all the time. This falls into two categories. The first is the good old fashioned “What about the mens?!” where men simply fail to get the importance of the issue being discussed and think women are “making a fuss”. More on that in a minute.
The second is when there is a legitimate case of a man being a victim/survivor and he feels voiceless. This second category is valid and men need to be able to speak about the things they have suffered. But what it means is that men need to create this space themselves, and not negate when women speak up about their suffering and demand change to cultural attitudes around this.
Back to the “What about the mens!?” (WATM) issue. From the WATM article linked above from Finally Feminism 101:
No one is saying that discussions on men and masculinities shouldn’t go on. It is absolutely important to have dialogue on men’s issues, including discussions on violence done towards men. The thing is, a feminist space — unless the topic is specifically men’s issues — is not the place to have that discussion and neither are spaces (feminist or otherwise) in which the topic is specifically focused on women’s issues.
What it boils down to is this: Men, not women, need to be the ones creating the spaces to discuss men’s issues. There are a lot of feminist allies who do this, in fact, and there also a lot of non-feminist (or anti-feminist, if you really want to go there) spaces that are welcoming to this kind of discussion. Thus, the appropriate response to a thread about women is not to post a comment on it about men, but rather to find (or make) a discussion about men.
Women are conditioned from a very young age that we should be nice. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t whinge. Be polite. So it’s intimidating and annoying to some men when a day of action and awareness about violence against women gets attention. They’re not used to having the attention diverted from them. They don’t like being told what to do when it comes to how they treat women. So they call it out with “But it happens to men too!” Suddenly the focus is about them again, and they are happy.
When women pull the WATM card, it is for the same reasons. Either they are uncomfortable with women having the focus of an issue and action being taken about it, or they’re speaking on behalf of a male who is suffering or has suffered. Again, the latter is valid and has it’s place, but when introduced during action for the benefit of women such as White Ribbon Day, it negates the voice that women have on that day.
From the White Ribbon Day fact sheet (pdf):
What about violence against men?
While this campaign focuses on violence against women, it is important to acknowledge that men too are often the victims of violence. Many of the victims of murder, manslaughter, and serious physical assaults are male.
Men are much less likely than women to be subject to violent incidents in the home and are more likely to be assaulted in public places. Violence against men is far more likely to be by strangers and far less likely to involve partners or ex-partners. Of all the violence men experience, far less is represented by domestic violence (less than 1 percent, versus one-third of violent incidents against women). Boys and men are most at risk of physical harm, injury and death from other boys and men, but small numbers are subject to violence by women.
It’s pretty straight forward. White Ribbon Day is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is one day per year. Deal with it. Get over the fact that the focus is not going to be on men for a day, that it is on women for this one day, and that this issue is real, huge and needs to see cultural change before it will go away.
Want to never hear about White Ribbon Day again? Take the oath. Be proactive about changing the culture that it is acceptable for men to be violent towards women and eliminate the problem, and you’ll never be pressured to buy a white ribbon again.
This post is dedicated to my friend Ian, who was the first man I ever trusted not to hurt me, and to Dave Earley, whose speaking up on Twitter this morning inspired me to write this post. And all other men with the testicles big enough to stand up and say that violence against women is wrong.