(WOMENSENEWS)--Sitting in an airport recently on my way to a non-violence conference, I watched as a mother and her four-year-old paced the concourse awaiting an incoming flight. I imagined her as a single mom and wondered how difficult it must be for women to raise boys on their own. As the boy began to whine in the typical protest of a child, his mother turned and demanded, "Would you be a man!" It was then that I realized that he had male influence in his life. It was the narrow example that taughthim to shut up, drop his head and take a seat.
I am a former National Football League player, who has joined Lifetime Television, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and music star Michael Bolton in a campaign to bring men and women together to bring an end to violence against women. Next week, we will convene in Washington to hold a speak-out and meet with Congress to bring attention to violence against women.
Several years ago, Jackson Katz, founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, opened my eyes to the many ways our society devalues and disregards the rights of women, viewing women as "less than" men. Although I thought myself to be a "good guy," I had to recognize my own culpability as a bystander. I became acutely aware of social dynamics that reinforced and supported sexism and misogyny. I also learned that calling violence against women a "women's issue" allows men to not be involved in the solution and often not even understand the factors that contribute to the problem. I learned that just being a "good guy" was not enough; it's going to take "good guys" speaking up, supporting women and confronting the men who would otherwise remain silent or unaware of the problem.
The boy in the airport, I thought, would grow to be a man indifferent to the reality of violence against women. He may even grow to be a perpetrator. He learned at a very early age that to "be a man" meant shutting off his feelings and ignoring his emotions. Ultimately, he learned that his feelings don't matter. When I explained this story to a group of middle school students several weeks ago, one of the boys, a 13 year old, asked if there was something wrong with ignoring our feelings. The answer is simple: If we learn that our feelings don't matter, why should we care about anyone else's feelings? More troubling, both of these boys understood that behavior to be required of a man.
'You Throw Like a Girl' Is a Taunt
The insidious power of sexism and misogyny is its ability to silence women's voices. But sexism works to silence men as well. The silence of the young boy in the airport is just one example. Every man has been silenced by the language that mandates "manly" behavior. It begins with comments such as "you throw like a girl." We learn not only to shut off the behavior and emotions of the moment, but to view girls as being "less than." This statement would not be an insult, if that were not the belief. While many women don't adhere to this thinking, they do want their boys to grow up to be "real men" since that is what they understand to be appropriate male behavior.
The notion that men and women are inherently from different worlds is an attempt to maintain the status quo and social hierarchy. We will never understand each other; therefore we must not attempt to communicate as equals, but rather accept where we are. This maintains the social hierarchy of women as "less than" men, and men being unable to control the unemotional and violent disposition that so accurately defines masculinity in our culture.
This is why it's so critical for men and women to work together. It can no longer be a "women's issue" to stop violence against women. We must work to dispel the convenient and narrow thinking that men are from Mars and women from Venus. We are all from Earth, and our children are being raised on the values we instill and deem appropriate.
Don McPherson is a former football player in the National Football League. He is currently on the board of directors for The Jenna Foundation for Non-Violence and lectures on non-violence around the country.
For more information:
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
The Jenna Foundation for Non-Violence:
Lifetime Television for Women--The Division: