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Archive for September, 2010

* Note: this piece was originally published in the September 25, 2005 edition of The Manitoban.  It is being reproduced here with permission from the author to coincide with tomorrow’s Take Back the Night. Also note that this year’s organizers have also extended an invitation to march to both men and women. Illustration by Alexa Dirks*

What it means to be a man

Every year, a debate encircles the Take Back the Night March in Winnipeg over whether or not men should be invited to participate. Some feel strongly that the March, as a show of solidarity, empowerment, awareness and celebration, should be restricted to women. Others believe that real reduction of violence against women can only be accomplished with male participation.

This year’s planning committee decided to invite men to participate on the periphery of the September 22 event, to offer support, solidarity and remembrance of loved ones affected by violence. It is becoming clear that men do, and must, play an active role in making the streets and lives safe for women. In fact, men should be playing a bigger role in creating change not just on the streets, but in the locker rooms, the dorms and around the pub tables with their friends.

To look at this idea, let’s open it to the question: what does it mean to be “a man”? Every male confronts it as we grow up, enter adulthood, hang with our buddies — as we live our entire lives. Unfortunately, the answers often send us chasing an image lacquered in success, confidence and accomplishments that can be summed up in one word: pride.

When outside a bar spitting threats into each other’s faces we are boiling with it. When showing off our new toys to the boys we are revelling in it. When we refuse to say that we’re sorry for being a jerk to our partners/friends/parents we are hiding behind it — even if we know inside that we really were being a jerk. Whether you argue that the roots lie in biochemistry, mentality or socialization, pride is central to the lives of most men. Everyone has confronted a guy who puts his pride on the “number-one priority” pedestal and gets into trouble — because we all do it.

Our culture teaches us that the inescapable force of pride is to be used for our own interests to impress, awe and control. We are taught that “sucking it up — ” holding in and controlling emotions — is the key to making it in the world and appearing masculine and heterosexual. This makes it tough to confront other guys when you disagree with the way they act or speak, especially towards and about women — stepping out of line could lead to being ostracized or having your masculinity questioned.

Picture a bunch of guys sitting around talking about the night before. One of them starts telling a story about a girl he brought home from the bar: upon reaching his bedroom she was unconscious, but this made no difference to him. Do his buddies confront him on how wrong, disgusting and illegal his action was . . . or are they silent? Comfortable knowing that they are not a rapist, or an abuser of women, they do not see themselves as part of the problem of sexual abuse. Their silence, however, is the issue that we most need to address if we are to combat sexual abuse and achieve gender equity on a meaningful, systemic level.

It seems unfair to blame individual males for accepting the bystander mentality; as painfully easy as it is to go along with the guys, it is a cultural convention to stay out of your neighbour’s garbage. This is not to say that male behaviour cannot be changed, only that we must realize that sexism and abuse have been passed down from previous generations — we didn’t start it, but it is our job to work at stopping it.

Individual males need only look at our use of language to see the role of bystanders in allowing sexual abuse and gender inequality. Don McPherson, the retired NFL player that now spends his time as an activist against sexism, uses a simple story to demonstrate:

“Jack beats Jill. Jill was beaten by Jack. Jill was beaten. Jill is a battered woman.”

What’s missing in the conclusion of the story? Jack. The man has been disconnected from the problem, leaving Jill to shoulder the blame.

Rape, sexual assault, prejudice and verbal, emotional and physical harassment are commonly considered “women’s issues.” This distances men and allows them to take no responsibility for these crimes or any systemic sexism. But, if men are the perpetrators, then these are also “men’s issues,” and must be dealt with by men as allies with women.

Country singer Andy Griggs, a national spokesperson for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, explained the role of men to O, the Oprah Magazine, in October 2002.

“You hear a lot of women talk about sexual violence, but not men. It’s time for men to stand up and say, ‘I will not abuse women, and I will not support violence against them,’” he said.

It might be time to turn our pride on its head. Take a look at the slogans for the Strength Campaign from the Men Can Stop Rape organization:

“My strength is not for hurting. So when I wanted to and she didn’t: we didn’t.”

“My strength is not for hurting. So when I wasn’t sure how she felt: I asked.”

“Our strength is not for hurting. So when guys disrespect women, we say that’s not right.”

All men have women in their lives that they care deeply about, whether they are friends, partners, sisters, mothers or grandmothers. Participating in events like the Take Back the Night March is one way to ally support, but one night a year is not enough as change is needed within us as men, and within our social circles. Violence against women damages all women and demeans all men, so let’s take our pride in a different direction and use it to create a more equal and respectful community. That is what it is to be “a man.”

* Kyle Lamothe is a 3rd year student at Robson Hall. He spent his summer working as a research assistant for Prof. Schwartz and will be clerking at the Federal Court following graduation. If you ever invite him to a potluck, ask him to make his killer foccacia bread.

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A great resource and site of interest from LEAF:
www.equalityrightscentral.com
(including an awesome tab with facta!!)

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The FLF is thrilled to announce this very special invitation!

McNally Robinson Booksellers

and

The Social Justice and Human Rights Research Project

Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba

in association with

LEAF Manitoba

present

Constance Backhouse

 Friday October 15, 7:00 pm

Grant Park in the Atrium

 Special invitation to members of the Feminist Legal Forum: Dinner with Constance Backhouse at 5:30pm in Prairie Ink Restaurant (McNally Robinson) – Please RSVP to Debra Parkes at parkesd@ms.umanitoba.ca if you plan to attend. Don’t miss the great opportunity to meet one of Canada’s leading feminist legal scholars.

 The mission of The Feminist History Society is to publish books about the women’s movement in Canada between 1960 and 2010, books written by the very participants in the movement. The content of the books reflects the diversity and dynamism, strength and spirit of the movement. This special evening will involve a discussion of the Society and of Feminist Journeys edited by Marguerite Andersen, the first publication in their subscription series.

 Constance Backhouse holds the positions of Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.  She is internationally known for her feminist research and publications on sex discrimination and the legal history of gender and race in Canada.  A legal scholar who uses a narrative style of writing, her most recent books and articles profile the fascinating ways in which women and racialized communities have struggled to obtain justice within the legal system.

 McNally Robinson Booksellers Grant Park

1120 Grant Ave.

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http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/cbc-article.aspx?cp-documentid=25747052

A very interesting decision…worthy of debate!

What do you think?

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The FLF will be marching in this year’s Take Back the Night rally. All FLF members or other  interested Robson Hall students are welcome to attend (note: this includes males. Males are also encouraged to help out in a volunteer capacity at the march. Please e-mail flf.robsonhall@gmail.com if you are interested in volunteering). Bring noisemakers, drums, banners, placards and your voice…and wear your FLF t-shirt (available next week)!

TBTN 2010Take Back the Night is an annual march which takes place all over the world. It is a collective display of solidarity to reclaim the streets as safe for all, and calls for an end to violence against women.

This year TBTN will “shine a light” on violence against women which takes place in the street, but also that which happens under the cover of darkness and behind closed doors.

Rally begins at Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre (430 Langside Street) 7:00 p.m. March to follow. Reception with refreshments after the march.

There will be drumming, and music provided by Little Hawk after the march and a speaker TBA.

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Hello blog land friends!

We are so excited to announce that amazing FLF t-shirts will be available NEXT WEEK! The shirts will prominently feature our new logo. The FLF is selling the shirts at a subsidized cost of $10 a shirt. There is a limited selection of sizes, so as soon as we announce that the shirts are in, e-mail us at flf.robsonhall@gmail.com to ask us where you can get yours!

The idea is that you can wear your FLF pride in the hallways of Robson Hall, in your daily life and to FLF events/ events the FLF is attending. We think it will be awesome to see a contingent of FLFers wearing the shirts at Take Back the Night – and we have been assured the shirts will be in by then.

One of the most exciting things about the shirts is that they are being printed locally by Special T Shirt Company on sweatshop free, fairly traded t-shirts from Just Shirts. Just Shirts is an awesome company out of Calgary. The shirts are made in El Salvador by “The Madres”, a group of single mothers who are paid a living wage. Just Shirts is committed to co-operation, sustainability, and transparency. Just Shirts believes in social responsibility in a real way and works to ensure that not only their employees are taken care of, but their children are too. We’re so excited to print on these shirts! Added bonus – the shirts are awesome quality too! Learn more about Just Shirts here: www.justshirts.ca

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In many ways, the victimization of women and children is sadly an age-old story. Myths and stereotypes about gender have always permeated our society to such an extent that these forces have informed who we are and who we ought not to be. In the Jane Austen era (hardly the dawn of oppression, but provides a good example), a woman seen too often in the company of a man who had not yet proposed was ostracized for her promiscuity. An unmarried woman of thirty was spoiled goods, destined to forever be a “spinster”. A wife abused behind closed doors had little recourse. Her body belonged to her husband, and the private realm of domesticity was protected as just that – private.

Today, much abuse remains private and concealed. Under-reporting of abuses, both physical and sexual, remains the norm. For those who pursue justice, the experience is often painful and traumatizing. For these complainants, their experiences are on the record, yet to an extent, the system attempts to protect them (the extent to which it does not is a lengthy topic for another day). Notably, the system conceals the identities of children. The justice system, one of the most powerful forms of control in our society, enforces these rules of protection.

Yet, in the last month alone, the powerlessness of the justice system in an age of technology has become apparent. A woman’s husband posts private pictures of her on the internet. She becomes a judge, the story gets picked up and the website with the pictures cashes in on her very public trauma. Despite court orders to destroy all copies, the pictures remain alive in cyberspace. A 16-year old girl is drugged, brutally “gang-raped” and photos of the incident are posted on social networking sites repeatedly. Police warnings of child pornography charges have little effect on the power the cyber realm has in continually re-victimizing the girl. Those viewing the photos online have meanwhile re-written her story, proclaiming her obviously willing on national newscasts. Over the course of her re-victimization, cyber space has stripped her of even her victimhood, re-labelling her as a consensual and willing participant. This is one of the most powerful forms of victimization – a denial of the experience altogether. All this, and yet the official line is that her identity is protected.

We’ve moved on from Austenian times, but we face new challenges for which we have no answers. In an internet age, how do we stop a cycle of abuse? How do we ensure that a victim can be protected? How can a victim become a survivor when the internet shapes the story? Can the justice system hold any power in this new era? How can we help victims of abuse to heal when the internet provides a new venue of oppression?  

*Dayna Steinfeld is a 2nd year student at Robson Hall. She spent her summer working at Robson Hall as a research assistant. On the rare occasions that she is not at Robson Hall, she enjoys knitting what has become the never-ending scarf.

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