In the Suburbs: Ending violence in relationships
FAIRFIELD — This column is addressed to men of all ages but mainly to high-school and college men who are in relationships with women or other men. If those relationships are triggering any kind of violence toward a partner, the violence must be stopped NOW!.
But in so many of these relationships, young men who have come from backgrounds where they were abused physically or emotionally, have had no role models. According to Gary MacNamara of Fairfield, Executive Director of Public Safety & Government Affairs at Sacred Heart University, “ We need to reduce violence of any form! What is critical in regards to men and domestic violence is to realize while most of the offenders in domestic violence cases are men, most of the men are NOT offenders. We need to stop focusing solely on how victims can prevent this violence, and look at having discussions with men and boys to show them what a healthy relationship is so they do not offend in the first place.
“The best way to prevent men and boys from becoming offenders in the first place is to have role models that share that the strength of a man is not defined by the control he can have over someone, and that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness.”
MacNamara, is also the chairman of the local White Ribbon Campaign to prevent violence among men through the Center for Family Justice, which fights domestic violence across six towns including Fairfield. On Friday, Nov. 15, CFJ will host the second annual “Men Speaking With Men” event in Stratford. The event is designed to reach out to men of all ages and backgrounds and teach them that there is no room in relationships for violence and most importantly, No means No when it involves consensual sex vs. rape.
To bring the issue of sexual violence and men more into perspective, I asked two young Fairfield University students and colleagues from the bookstore where I work to talk about this delicate subject.
Nathan, for example, pointed out that “Relationships and domestic violence among men is something that the world has started to see more of. Although this is an unfortunate circumstance, I believe there are many factors.that cause the behavior. The most important factor to me comes from a man’s upbringing. My father has taught me to always have respect for women and for everyone. He always told me if I ever was to lay my hands on a woman that he would make me regret it, and as I have grown older, I understand his philosophy. Men and women should be able to respect each other in all circumstances.
“ I feel as though the number-one cause of violence in men is from childhood where a boy is not taught proper respect and etiquette toward women from his father. But there are definitely more factors to violent behavior, including mental health and other things of that nature.”
Nathan added that “Solutions to this problem are one of the many dead-end arguments that we have in today’s society. Where do we start? Again, referring back to my aforementioned statement, a father figure seems to be one of the most important points. If there is a way to implement a sort of “father figure maker” into today’s world it may make a difference. And If I was ever put in a situation where a male tried to cross the line, I would most definitely step in. I have zero tolerance for a man who would be at a level to hit a woman and/or try to make her do something she does not want to do.
Alan, also a Fairfield University student, echoed Nathan’s comments. “I believe a major cause of this type of abusive relationship is an improper upbringing, from an unstable household or a bad example set by parents,” he said. “Additionally, I believe a large factor in male violence is insecurity. This can also be traced back to someone’s upbringing, but is harder to pinpoint. It will cause the man or boy to need to feel dominance in the relationship or a sense of control.
“A solution would be to educate men and boys about the nature of relationships as they enter maturity. The biggest thing in my opinion is getting information out there so that people can make the right decisions on their own. On campus, we are made highly aware of sexual harassment and the importance of consent. Of course I agree that no means no when there isn’t consent. However, the situation and circumstances are not always simple. In any case, there are things people can do as bystanders if they see the consent issue happening, but in the bigger picture there’s a lot of pressure on a woman to escape the relationship.”
Todd Pelazza, Executive Director of Public Safety at Fairfield University and a member of the White Ribbon Campaign, pointed out, “The social climate that many of our students have grown up in has led to an acceptance of violence in relationships. There are a smaller minority of men who are offenders but there is a much larger majority of men who are not offenders but need to not accept violent behavior and work toward preventing it.”
Todd added that some other valuable pointers from which men can learn a lot also. For instance, to be complicit by acting as bystanders is the wrong thing for all men to do. We need to get all men engaged in conversation to prevent violence. We need fathers and brothers to be good role models in efforts to prevent male violence.”
Todd referred the Man Box, which has been around a long time and encompasses various stereotypical attributes of how men should behave; like men should be tough, men should be powerful, etc. Ideally, if men can get out of the Man Box, they will live healthier lives and become healthier emotionally. A lot of men’s violent behavior today is being fueled by things like video games, music and movies, many of which are treating women as objects and not as human beings to be respected by men.”
Todd spoke about two mentoring groups on the Fairfield University Campus who meet regularly and seek solutions to the problems of domestic violence. The first, Distinguished Gentlemen, has regular meetings and focuses on men becoming better role models. The second group, Man 2 Man, is for freshmen and is built around mentoring as well. The group has meetings and discusses domestic and sexual violence issues.
Eric and Greg, two of my teaching colleagues, said, “The most valuable lesson we would teach men regarding relationships is to respect one another. Respect is a top priority.”
Eric added, “On the subject of No means No, while my first inclination is to define this in terms of a sexual moment, it means so much more. No can also mean no in terms of relationships: “No, I do not want to date you.” One must respect the other’s wishes. There is no alternative to this.
“Violence is an issue that needs to be addressed in the home: father-to-son. Additional opportunities to drive the importance of this matter home would be to have role models address it as well — particularly coaches and teachers. While I do not subscribe to the concept of “toxic masculinity” I do believe strongly in teaching gentlemanly behavior. It should be stressed that no male who abuses a woman can ever be a man.”
The Men Speaking to Men event on Friday, Nov. 15, will reinforce most of the ideas that the gentlemen with whom I spoke expressed. Guest speaker Byron Hurt will speak out about the importance of educating men as young as high school or even middle school and teaching them the differences between no and consent.
According to his biography, “Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, anti-sexist activist, and lecturer. He is also the former host of the Emmy-nominated television show, REEL WORKS with BYRON HURT. For more than 20 years, Hurt has been using his craft, his voice, and his writings to broaden and deepen how people think about gender violence, race, music, visual media, and food justice. As an activist, Byron has served as a gender violence prevention educator. The former Northeastern University football quarterback was also a founding member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading college-based rape and domestic violence prevention initiative for college and professional athletics. Hurt also served as an Associate Director of the first gender violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps. . Because of his work, Hurt has been invited to speak and guest lecture at hundreds of campuses. He has presented at numerous professional conferences, and trained tens of thousands of young men and women on some of today’s most cutting-edge gender issues.
Byron’s writings have been published in several anthologies, including Michael Eric Dyson’s “Know What I Mean?” Kevin Powell’s “The Black Male Handbook,” April R. Silver’s “Be A Father to Your Child,” Richard Lapchick’s “Sport in Society,” and Shira Tarrant’s “Men Speak Out.”
I was fortunate enough to attend last year’s event and came away with a great deal of inspiration and enthusiasm about how violence among men can be prevented. I am hopeful this year’s event will be even more exciting.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.