“A Maine man against violence against women.”
You may notice this nontraditional slogan on my car and on a growing number of bumpers, laptops and tool cabinets in your neck of the woods. That’s because I am part of a growing number of men and boys who are bucking tradition. We believe that standing up and speaking out against domestic and sexual violence is the duty of every Mainer — and especially, us guys.
Why? Because men have deep connections to the women and girls who are victims and survivors — former, current and future. They are our classmates, co-workers, wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters and daughters — the women we love.
Because men are confined by a society that most often defines “real men” by how tough, aggressive, athletic or wealthy we can be. Vulnerability and emotions (other than anger) are seen as weaknesses. We learn that power, dominance and even violence are valuable tools for “success.” And lest we not silence and push them to the margins: because men are abused and raped, too.
Because when we get really honest about the reality of who is perpetrating the vast majority of sexual and intimate partner violence in this world, it becomes obvious that we men have the most ability to do something about ending it!
In my five years as a Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program educator for Family Crisis Services — Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center — one of the most consistent challenges I face is engaging men and boys in a way that transforms the acknowledgment of men’s violence against women into the actions that will prevent it.
That’s exactly what the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program has been focusing on through our recent “Guys & Pies” and “Coaching Boys Into Men” initiatives at South Portland High School. It’s proven an amazingly fertile ground where students and faculty are motivated to be part of the solution.
Since 2010, Matthew Perry, my mentor and co-worker, and I have been bringing pizzas to a weekly, lunchtime boys’ group (hence “Guys & Pies”). We create a space where they can openly and honestly explore these issues as they directly, and theoretically, relate to their own lives and experiences.
The South Portland High School athletic department has found enormous success in implementing “Coaching Boys Into Men.” So much so, that they have committed to involving every one of the boys’ sports. “Coaching Boys Into Men” is a coach-led curriculum that progresses student-athletes through a series of guided discussions. As a team, they examine the virtues of respect, integrity and nonviolence through the lens of sportsmanship, teamwork, accountability and their relationships with peers and significant others.
It isn’t enough to be one of the “good guys.” Merely conceding that any form of abuse in relationships is wrong still falls far short of the goal. The call for all men to reevaluate our influence and impact on the safety and well-being of women and girls has never been louder.
“Guys & Pies,” among so many others, have answered that call and defined their mission: “To inspire awareness and critical thinking around the issues of relationships, masculinity, reducing sexism, and reducing violence — especially men’s violence against women. To develop as leaders who are beneficially impacting our communities.”
How many of you are willing to man up and join them in making this your mission, too?
Carlin Whitehouse of Portland is a prevention program educator for Family Crisis Services in Bridgton. People may call 767-4952 to receive a free bumper sticker. This is part of a series of OpEds about domestic violence that will appear during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.