How Men Can Honor and Support Women During Women’s History Month?
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and take time to recognize both the incredible contributions and leadership of women across all sectors of global society, we also take this time to recognize the barriers and structures still keeping women from full access and opportunity to a, still, very male-dominated world.
This is why I am taking this opportunity during Women’s History Month to speak directly to men.
Dear all men,
As we consider the many achievements of women in the face of many barriers – including those faced by Black women, Women of Color, Indigenous Women, Trans Women, Lesbians, Immigrants, Differently Abled Women, etc., we must ask ourselves not only why the barriers exist, but who is putting up the barriers in the first place.
And, in just about every instance, it’s men, and the societal, cultural, and religious patriarchy…and sexism, and misogyny, and racism, and homophobia, and transphobia, and more – that is not only creating these barriers but sustaining them.
In particular, I would like to focus on men and violence against women.
Just this week, the White House announced that “President Biden signed into law the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022, which was a bipartisan legislation passed by Congress as part of the Omnibus appropriations package.”
Now, in the years this law has been on the books (it was first passed in 1994), we have seen a gradual decline in violence against women.
But, we have also heard more and more in the “masculinity echo chamber” cries of men being “targeted” by these types of legislation. The implication of “attacks on manhood and masculinity” has been propagated by conservative lawmakers, right-wing media, and others who suggest that there has been an ongoing “war on men.” The blame, they say, falls squarely on feminism and a supposed ideology that teaches folks to “hate men.” And, they make these claims while simultaneously denying the existence of all the toxic ways in which violent forms of masculinity manifest in our society.
The hyperbole of these arguments reveals a fragility that seems to betray the façade of strength and “manliness” these folks try to portray.
Here is the reality…
The reason why we need to identify and name violent masculinity is that the leading perpetrators of overall violent crime in America, and in particular, violent crime against women is – you guessed it – MEN.
While men make up 49 percent of the US population, they are disproportionately represented in the percentage of violent crime committed in America.
Let’s look at the FBI data on the percentage of violent crime being committed by men in the United States (2019):
- Murder 88%
- Rape 97%
- Robbery 84%
- Aggravated Assault 77%
- Burglary 79%
- Arson 78%
- Vandalism 77%
- Weapons (illegal carrying, possession) 90%
- Sex offenses 93%
- Drunkenness 79%
- Disorderly Conduct 71%
And, the statistics are particularly staggering when we look closely at sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape.
- 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female
- 90% of adult rape victims are female
- In 2019, over 652,676 women were raped
- Over 40 percent of women in the US have encountered sexual violence
- Nearly 80% of female sexual assault victims experience their first assault before the age of 25
- Approximately 70 women commit suicide every day in the US following an act of sexual violence
- Sexual violence incident, preceded by stalking, increased by 1.9% in 2019
- During 2019, 13% of all women in California were victims of rape
- Statistics show that 1 in 6 US women will be raped annually in the US
- Over 1.5 million women were raped by an intimate partner in 2019
So often we hear that the issues of sexual assault, harassment, and violence are a “women’s problem.”
And, while it is true that women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence, we also know who is committing the vast majority of these crimes.
It is men. And, that makes it a “men’s problem.”
It is not a “women’s problem” that they have to walk home with keys between their fingers, and a safety contact for dates, and to cover their drinks at bars, or monitor every move or statement they make towards a masculine figure. It’s a “men’s problem.”
Educator, filmmaker, and author Jackson Katz addresses the narratives that our society often delivers which seem to put the onus on women to address male violence while letting men off the hook.
He states: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls.”
Over and over again, men, and our society, go to extremes to put the burden on women to address these violent realities.
How can men honor and support women in March and beyond??
We can start by ridding ourselves of the toxic and destructive behaviors that have been used to define “masculinity” over centuries of patriarchal oppression of women.
These include a cycle of socialization that teaches destructive ideas that “real men” must be violent, cold and aloof, physically powerful, sexually promiscuous and dominant, not having to answer to women, emotionless, etc.
Instead, masculinity must be redefined to demonstrate new ways of exhibiting strength through compassion and a commitment to equity and opportunity for all. It would include a sincere desire to forge relationships – including the most intimate physical expressions of those relationships – built on trust, mutual respect, dignity, safety, and consent.
It would include men demanding that an “equal playing field” in every field always include women. It would mean creating a world where men would insist on expanding the pool of talented women leaders, educators, influencers in traditionally male-dominated fields such as corporate leadership, STEM fields, political leadership, etc.
And, it would mean having consistent and intentional conversations and educational moments with boys – starting at a young age – about what it means to support girls, women, and non-binary humans. It would mean inculcating the idea that equity and access and freedom and opportunity for women are good, and necessary, things. It would mean teaching boys about how men have oppressed women throughout history. It would mean teaching boys that treating women with dignity and respect doesn’t make you less of a man, but the very definition of a man.
Men can honor and support women by centering the realities, experiences, and lives of women, admitting how men have failed women, and then recommitting to show up for women, walk beside women, and follow the leadership of women every day and in every community from this day forward.
About the author:
Roger Moreano is the Director of Strategy and Innovation for MSM Global Consulting. He brings over twenty five years of experience in DEI work and social justice in education, having served in various leadership positions for Carthage College and Elmhurst College.