On April 26, YWCA Evanston/North Shore sponsored a dinner, “Men Taking a Stand,” attended by 180 men as a first step in engaging men to take a leading role  to end violence against women in Evanston and the broader community.

“Our goal at YWCA is to provide an opportunity for men who are leaders in our communities to come together to examine the deeper, more systemic reasons that lead to gender violence,” said Karen Singer, president and CEO of YWCA.  “Why do men abuse? What roles do popular culture, sports, economics, and other societal forces play, and how can men get involved to work for change?”

She added, “We really believe that until men engage in helping to solve the issue, we are not going to end gender violence.”

The keynote speaker at the dinner was Jackson Katz, Ph.D., a longtime leader in a movement advocating that men must take an active leadership role in ending violence against women. He framed the problem and discussed the “bystander model,” which is a leading approach being used to engage and train men.

“We come to this conversation,” said Ms. Singer, “as colleagues, friends, and leaders from across our community, to see how we can work together to create safety for all those we love and to create a community that is safer, more respectful and healthier for women and girls – and men and boys.” 

The Continuing Problem

 “Some gains have been made, but not fast enough and certainly not deep enough,” said Ms. Singer. “We should be outraged that violence against women is so pervasive and continues to be what many consider one of the largest public health issues we face. The statistics are staggering.” 

Nationally, one in five women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner; one in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

“Gender violence continues to plague our communities, impacting women from all different backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, ages, and religions,” said Ms. Singer. 

 “For the majority of women, they first experience violent episodes between the ages of 18 and 24; and they are likely to continue to experience that as they move to adulthood,” Kristen White, Chief Operating Officer of YWCA, told the RoundTable. “So it starts young, and the fact that girls are experiencing it tells us that boys are acting aggressively in that same age range.”

The issue is not just a national problem, it is a serious problem in Evanston. In 2015, the Evanston Police Department reported that there were 347 domestic batteries in Evanston, 113 domestic-related assaults or criminal trespasses, and 111 cases in which orders of protection were entered. The EPD says there were also 991 domestic conflicts that did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.

 “These numbers are important as we begin to understand the dimensions of the problem, but we also know they dramatically underreport the true incidence of domestic abuse in our city,” Ms. Singer said.

A Call to Action

 “The battered women’s movement formally started in the 70s and 80s when women formerly battered really took on the mantra, ‘We will not be beaten” Ms. Singer told the RoundTable. “They started shelters and started to seek legal remedies, and legislative reform, but the focus was on helping women as victims.

“As the years went on, there has increasingly been recognition that expands the focus from women as victims to men as perpetrators,” Ms. Singer continued. “We are not going to end gender violence if we do not address the root problem. And the problem is men abuse women. So how do we begin to engage men as allies with us in ending it?”

To address this issue, the YWCA identified 14 men who are leaders in the community and asked them to identify additional men to form a host committee consisting of 45 men. The host committee, in turn, invited additional men to the Men Taking a Stand dinner.

Ms. White said the group of men is diverse by age, race, and profession and employment background.

“This whole process has been very encouraging,” said Ms. White.

Dr. Katz, the keynote speaker, discussed many of the same issues covered in a TED talk he gave several years ago. In his TED talk, he said there needs to be a paradigm-shifting perspective on issues of gender violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse of children.

He said these “have been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with, but I have a problem with that frame, and I don’t accept it. I don’t see these as women’s issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I’m going to argue that these are men’s issues, first and foremost.”

Blaming the victim in the domestic violence field is pervasive, he said, “which is to say, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it.”

He said society has to get away from questions like, “Why did she go out with those men?” “Why did she keep going back?” and “Why did she wear that to that party?” to questions like, “Why did this man beat up Mary?” “Why do so many men rape women?” “Why is domestic violence such a big problem?” “What is the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, the economics?”

Dr. Katz said, “One of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say things that sometimes women can’t say, or, better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women can’t be heard saying. … We need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them.”

Dr. Katz is a co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, which is a widely used model, and it introduced the bystander approach. A bystander includes friends, teammates, colleagues, coworkers, and friends.

In this approach, “the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are.” It recognizes that abuse occurs along a continuum and “we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other.” As an example, if men are playing poker and one man makes a sexist or degrading comment about women, a fellow man  in the game could interrupt and say, “I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.”

Dr. Katz said, “The bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture.”

He said the paradigm shift that has to occur is not just understanding these as “men’s issues,” but “they’re also leadership issues for men.” 

The goal is to turn men into “empowered bystanders,” who are allies in ending violence against women.

Building an Evanston Model

The YWCA has been looking at several national organizations that have models, such as the bystander model and the white ribbon campaign, to help men become leaders in ending violence against women, said Kristen White, Chief Operating Officer of YWCA. Many of these models have training programs, and the YWCA is still in the process of considering whether one model might be a good fit for Evanston or whether it would make sense to pull parts from a number of different models, she said.

 “We also want to take time to get input from men who attended the Men Taking a Stand dinner,” Ms. White said. “We are inviting them to a follow-up breakfast, expected to take place in a few weeks. We’ll have an informal conversation and really begin to talk with them about their questions and concerns: What do they need to know, how do they need to be educated, and what will resonate with their peers to create interest in the effort? We want them to help shape what this will look like so it’s responsive to their interests.”

Ms. Singer said, “Men have to have input into that. This nucleus of men we’re hoping to form will help create the path in terms of what makes sense for them in our community. We don’t want to come in and say, ‘This is what you should do.’”

She wants men in the community to come up with a model that will change the culture in Evanston.

“When a man works to end gender violence, he not only changes the life of women, he can change the lives of children as well,” said Ms. Singer. “When a boy hears from men in his life, and society as a whole, that ‘being a man’ is about love, strength, and kindness and not power, control and aggression, that changes him.”

A Nucleus of Men in Formation

Many men who helped to organize the dinner and who attended the dinner are prepared to take a leadership role to help end violence against women.

 “One hundred and eighty Evanston men took a stand on April 26  to demonstrate to all the woman in our lives – moms,  wives, daughters, female friends and colleagues – that we care; that we want our society to be as safe for a woman as it is for a man,” Mayor-elect Steve Hagerty told the RoundTable. “Sadly, that’s not the case as domestic violence affects one in four women. Because domestic violence often occurs at the hands of men – many of whom have experienced violence themselves in childhood – it’s important that we be part of the solution. We need to alter our language making sure it’s clear that men are involved and take positive action when we observe physical or verbal assaults or remarks directed towards women.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable, “I think we have a unique opportunity in Evanston to bring together men from all walks of life to understand and talk about domestic violence issues in different ways. Changing the dialogue on this subject raises needed awareness that these issues affect both men and women. We all are responsible for creating a society that has no tolerance whatsoever for domestic violence. Period.”

Marcus Campbell, Assistant Superintendent/Principal of Evanston Township High School, told the RoundTable, “It is important that men take a stand against gender violence because historically men are the overwhelming perpetrators of violence against women. Engaging men in conversations about how societal definitions of masculinity propagate concepts of violence and dominance are important to eradicating this cycle.”

“I came away from that meeting reinforced with the fact this is a men’s issue, a boy’s issue, that we’ve got to more purposeful about,” said Chris Livatino, Athletic Director of ETHS. “There’s a sense of machismo, and this whole messaging in our society that you have to learn to crack through, and that can be difficult for young men and boys. The heart of the matter is how do you change boys into men who respect and value women the way that they should.

Mr. Livatino said, “Our focus and mission for athletics in Evanston is to develop great human beings and great people. We’re trying to develop people who care and respect other people. We don’t have a perfect system and framework in mind, but we have the intentionality and the purpose to try to improve in this area with the young men in our athletic program.”

Ms. White told the RoundTable she hopes a model that makes sense for Evanston will be developed by mid-summe

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...