We are living in an age of overt misogyny. Our culture is suffused with talk, music, literature, drama, and politics that demean or diminish women and at times applaud or advocate violence against women.
This is not new. For centuries – maybe even millennia – violence against women has been a theme of secular and religious stories. And, while there have always been excuses, there has never been a justification.
Evanston is not exempt. The Evanston Police Department reports that in 2015 there were 347 domestic batteries in Evanston, 113 domestic-related assaults or criminal trespasses, and 111 cases in which orders of protection were entered. There were also 991 domestic conflicts that did not rise to the level of criminal conduct, according to the Police Department.
Men are finally waking up to the notion that they can do something other than a) snicker in public at denigrating comments or so-called jokes or even repeat them in private, b) continue to blame the victims of domestic violence, or c) wring their hands. They made this mess, and it is time for them to step up. And in Evanston, some already have.
Late last month, the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore offered that opportunity to more than 180 male civic, business, and political leaders in this community, bringing them together to hear Jackson Katz, Ph.D. Dr. Katz, founder of Mentors in Violence Protection, challenges men to take an active leadership role in ending violence against women. He calls this the "bystander" model. It brings men who are not abusive into an active role.
Karen Singer, president and CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore, articulated some questions for the audience to ponder about the systemic causes of gender violence, such as how certain institutions produce abusive men and the roles that popular culture, sports, economics, and other societal forces play in this ongoing plague. Until men are involved in the solution, she said, the problem will continue.
Abusing people as an adult, teen or youth, is a learned – and, too often, fostered, condoned, or even glorified – behavior.
This is where non-abusive men can step in, assume a leadership role and interrupt the cycle: among peers, by verbally rejecting sexist or degrading comments; as church leaders, coaches, or scout leaders, by showing that respect and understanding are stronger than violence and aggression; and as individuals, by acting as leavening in the community to create a climate where violence is unacceptable.
We all have to play a part in changing the notion that violence against women is a cultural norm and basically women’s fault. Dr. Katz said we as a society must shift the focus from asking why the victim did certain things – wear that dress, return to an abusive partner – to the real questions of why that man beat that woman, why so many men rape women, and what roles some of our cultural institutions play in condoning or fostering domestic violence.
Ms. Singer and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore set the table, and 180 men came to dinner. The next steps involve evaluating feedback from the dinner and following up with men who will help create an Evanston model, and enlisting men to become leaders in ending violence against women.
Ms. Singer put it well: "We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women, and not against them."
We wholeheartedly support these efforts. Like everywhere else, Evanston could benefit from active bystanders in its effort to stem the public health problem of domestic violence.
Involving the men who are already at the table in creating the model is essential, as the YWCA has said. It is a giant and much-needed step in addressing this unconscionable public health problem.