Violence against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue
December 20, 2018
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As Christians, we are blessed with such rich scriptures. One such scripture we reflect on often within the ministry of Disability Concerns is from Paul’s letter from the church in Corinth. He reminds them that they all make up the same Body of Christ, united across distance and time, as we seek to value each person and their gifts offered to community. The entire passage also applies to our ministry in Safe Church as we seek to ensure all who make up the Body are cared for! Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). When abuse occurs, it is a community issue.
In a Ted Talk by Jackson Katz he urges for a paradigm shift to name men’s responsibility in ending violence against women, rather than continuing to consider it “a women’s issue.” It is a story, struggle, and call for the whole Body.
When the #MeToo movement started to take over Twitter, with millions of stories of abuse being shared, Katz demonstrated the shift needed in his tweet asking how many men raped women (instead of asking how many women were raped). He commented,
“In this sense using active language is itself a political act. It puts the onus of responsibility on those who engage in abusive behaviors. Asking the question: ‘How many men raped women?’ rather than ‘How many women were raped?’ is much more likely to lead to actions that prevent rape, because it shines the spotlight in the direction of the source of the problem.”
By shifting the language we use, attitudes will also shift. We understand this as people of faith: how we speak about God’s love impacts our actions, how we live out God’s love in the world. Katz explains, “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem.” When we do so, our words excuse men from paying attention. We use the social construct of gender as if it only applies to women. And he adds, “Men have been erased from a subject that is primarily about men in power.” To demonstrate this problem, Katz uses a shifting single sentence to examine whose story we tell and how we tell it shapes where we place power:
In our scriptures, James reflects on how we use words. He says of the tongue: “With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9). Our words can bless our neighbours, those in the Body together. Or, by removing “John” and men from conversations about violence against women, the whole Body suffers together. We need to remember both Mary and John are made in God’s image, both need healing, and our society must speak out to end this violence. Katz agrees that John needs to reform his behaviour – and society needs to transform alongside him with our words and our actions.
We must be asking different questions about this violence, Katz says. The world often places the blame on women by asking questions like:
Katz comments, “Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence.” He calls on society to ask these questions instead, questions focused on those perpetuating abuse:
These questions need to be asked by men as well as women. Unfortunately, Katz says, “Men can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying.” For example, men can challenge other men when hearing sexist remarks without being called names like man-hater. When we interrupt sexism, we act out of love for God and neighbour. He names this a “By-stander approach to gender-violence prevention”, calling all of us who are not the perpetrator or survivor of abuse as by-standers. He calls on leadership of organizations/churches/schools to not remain silent in the face of abuse. Katz says, “So many men care deeply about this but caring deeply is not enough – break our complicit silence and challenge each other.” As one example, he calls for mandated sexual violence prevention training and for those who abuse power to be held accountable for their words, actions, and silence.
Katz concludes, “I hope that, going forward, men and women, working together, can begin the change and the transformation that will happen so that future generations won't have the level of tragedy that we deal with on a daily basis.” The CRCNA has named abuse as sinful behaviour that harms the community: “The failure of men and women and of adults and children to relate to each other in a biblically healthy, affirming manner is the root cause of abuse.” At Safe Church we call on all people to speak, through words and actions, to end gender-based violence. One body, suffering together, rejoicing together.
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Ms. Spies: Thank you for such an insightful article. I wholeheartedly agee with Mr. Katz's call for a paradigm shift. He is spot-on about naming men’s responsibility in ending violence against women. Regarding domestic abuse, I have often been asked the question "why doesn't she leave?" I always respond with another question "why does he abuse her?", and then urge others to ask my question instead of theirs.
May God be glorified in all we do and say.
Thank you for sharing Jane - I love your response to that question!
Thanks for your words here Miriam!
A lot we can learn from Jackson Katz here about how we can become the body of Christ that stops violence against women. I just saw a poll taken from NPR that said a majority of people in the U.S. are against "political correctness." Personally - I'm tired of that specific word being used to excuse micro-agressions of verbal violence, discrimination and racism. It's not about politics - its about people - bearing the image of God, who are being treated as less than. Here is to hoping and praying that more men to stop ignoring and enabling sin - and for the grace of Jesus and his kingdom to lead to transformation of our neighborhoods, cities and world.
QUOTE from the talk:
"Those of us who work in the domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive in this realm, which is to say, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it. And we say: why do they go out with these men?Why are they attracted to them? Why do they keep going back? What was she wearing at that party? What a stupid thing to do. Why was she drinking with those guys in that hotel room? This is victim blaming, and there are many reasons for it, but one is that our cognitive structure is set up to blame victims. This is all unconscious. Our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about women and women's choices and what they're doing, thinking, wearing. And I'm not going to shout down people who ask questions about women. It's a legitimate thing to ask. But's let's be clear: Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence."
Thanks, Eric, for your response. I think you may be right about victim blaming. It will do little to remedy an abusive situation or relationship. Instead, we each should ask of ourselves, how have I contributed to this situation and how can I contribute to the solution. What am I willing to do to restore a bad situation. Instead of casting blame, let’s take the proactive approach toward resolution. Thanks again, Eric.
I very much agree with this article. The violence against women is a men's problem and we must all work against this violence. Here is a letter that I sent to our local newspaper some time ago that may be a helpful addition to the discussion.
Letter to the Editor, Hamilton Spectator, 2017 November 6
The Hamilton Spectator, November 6, 2017, GO section, page G1
Re: Article “Hollywood’s gender problem may be a matter of simple math”
Your heading is misleading. The authors are right that the huge preponderance of men in the media industries “enabled” and still enables harassment and sexual assault in those companies. But “Hollywood’s gender problem” is that men commit criminal acts of sexual abuse and harassment against women, and that other men do not speak out against it. Men are at fault, men are to blame. The fault lies squarely with men. And we men have to change.
Every man should speak of women only in honourable and respectful ways. Every man ought to speak up in defence of women who are harassed and molested. Every man ought to challenge other men who speaks or acts abusively to women, also when it’s “locker-room talk” or in a “boy’s club.” Every man ought to set the example of speaking and acting right with respect to women. Every man should teach his sons to respect women at all times and teach his daughters that this is their due.
We also need to adjust our language. Some articles refer to a sexually abusive man as a “bad boy.” Don’t use that term: It treats the man as if he were a kid who didn’t know better; it excuses his behaviour. Call him what he is: a bad man, an evil man acting criminally. We men need to change our ways and stand beside our wives and daughters and friends to bring justice and fairness with respect to gender.
Thanks so much for sharing your letter to the editor in this space. Men have a tendency to listen to other men, therefore we need male allies who will speak up against a culture that finds it easy to devalue women in so many ways, both subtle and not-so subtle. This perception of women as "less than" provides an underlying context for all kinds of abuse. Our silence can speak volumes, so thanks again for speaking up!
thanks Miriam for the insights in this article. When men step up and place the responsibility of abuse where it rightfully belongs - with the person who has offended - it has a significant impact in the church.
In my work as the Abuse Prevention and Response Coordinator for BC Safe Church - the ministry of the BCNW & BCSE Christian Reformed Churches, and in conversations within our church communities, I often hear women make statements that imply fault and blame on victims as well. It is not uncommon for a woman who leaves a marriage due to domestic violence to be severely judged by the church community - even the women. The same kinds of responses also occur when a woman discloses sexual abuse that occurred as either a child, youth or adult.
Thoughtful, informed dialogue and sensitive listening is so important when abuse becomes known. Learning to refrain from the judgemental "why" questions is imperative for a healthy response to persons who are living in or surviving abuse. Your references in the article explain that well.
I say it often... ALL church leaders desperately need training in understanding, preventing and responding to ALL forms of abuse. God is calling all the CRC classes and church leaders to establish functioning safe church ministries to provide that training. Church leaders - as part of their calling - need to engage in the necessary training to learn the effective prevention and response steps.
thanks for all the work you do!
I shared this on both Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you very much!
Hmmm...it's almost like men should teach their sons to cherish and protect the women in their lives. To honor those women. To hold the door open for them. To speak to women respectfully, and not like they would to "another guy." To practice modesty and act in a chivalrous manner. To treat women better. In other words, to act like a real man.
And then to expect the same honorable behavior from their brothers, friends, and fathers.
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