Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Recent Reading

A quick read through the local paper last week turned up the following headlines:

Four males charged with gang sexual assault
Two arrested in sex assault
Film studio owner arrested in sex a ssault
Snake owner faces sex charges
Engineer had sex with underage girl
Man charged in Niagara-area woman's death
Half sex charges withdrawn against Frost

To be clear, I did not include any articles about incidents that happened outside of Canada, I only selected acts of men's violence against women, and I didn't look very hard. While the sheer volume of incidents of male violence against women is staggering and extremely disturbing what seems most bewildering about these stories is not what they are saying but what is absent. The glaring similarity between these headlines and so many of the headlines that fill our papers is that the acts of violence are committed by men.

I'm not writing this because I'm anti-male. In fact, I'm writing this because I believe in men's capacity to be positive, non-violent, respectful human beings. I believe that men aren't the problem but the way we are taught to be men is extremely problematic. And I believe that what's missing from these articles is the truth.

The truth that is not being told is that we have a serious crisis on our hands. That crisis is our current concept of what it means to be a man. With devastating results boys are taught from the earliest moments of their lives how to act in the world if they are to be accepted by the community of men. This strict code of attitudes and behaviours is laid out for us and quickly defines the parameters of our identities.

In the first article I listed above four young men in Toronto raped an unconscious teenage woman while taping all or part of the incident on a camera phone. When I think of these young men choosing to violate another human’s body and soul I think of four people who have chosen to perform this code of masculinity to its ultimate conclusion. Four men who are more bound to masculinity then they are to the moral code our society at large has turned into law. Four men who would rather lose their own freedom to fit into their ascribed gender boxes.

When you read a story about a male hockey player he is referred to as a hockey player. When you read a story about a female hockey player her sex is always mentioned. His gender is not relevant because it is norm, the standard by which others are compared. When the media (the newspaper I used for my examples is not unique) reports stories of men's violence and doesn’t mention gender we ignore the single most important determining factor in who commits these acts of terror. When we speak about violence and don’t talk about masculinity we are erasing the truth and we are not addressing how we, as a society, condone these behaviours by continuing to believe on some level that “boys will be boys.”

- Tuval Dinner, Education Officer, White Ribbon Campaign


Anonymous said...

Thanks for raising the issue of media language and headlines. As I am leading up to participating in a V Day event in London, England this weekend I find myself scanning the paper's headlines and mentally I'm adding up all the incidents of male violence against women that occur, even within a week. And these are only the stories that actually make it to the paper. Awareness through the media is a powerful tool. The problem is that once it gets there, I see a huge lack of analysis to take it beyond a 'crime' story and see the situation for what it really is...a social crisis, something created from, as you describe, the way men are taught to be men and the roles of power and violence intertwined. We need a new social freedom for men to be empowered to create a positive and non-violent 'masculine' identity. And I would love to see that it the headlines.

Kaizer said...

Everyday I get an 'alert' from a very popular serch engine. The engine serches for every artical, webpage, or blog that has the certian word or phrase that i am looking for. One of the phrases is sexual assault. Everyday my mail has my alerts ready for me to look over. In 95% of the articals that i recive, from this alert, are men who have assaulted women. Yet the message that these articals is all the same, as you pointed out, they are mearly "erasing the truth" about what happened. I am saddened by this. Moreover, because i believe most men themselves probably do not recognize the implications of this message. A message that tells us this is not a man's issue. A message that repeatedly minimizes, and dehumanizes the survivor. Looking to hold 'someone' responsible, yet not willing to look at the beilefs and attitudes that allow this violence to happen.

Although my comment might seem a little jaded, I am glad there are men (and women) that will continue to look past the 'messages', to find not someone to blame, but a solution to men's violence against women. So that hopefully one day my search engine won't have anything to find.


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