Author Archives: mensantiviolencecouncil

About mensantiviolencecouncil

A volunteer group of men who create discussions and teach skills about how bystanders can get involved in making our community safer for eve

Turning The Page On Violence Prevention and Gender Identity Development

I apologize, this is a personal post and a bitter sweet one at that. This will be my last blog post in my professional capacity with the Men’s Anti-Violence Council.

Still, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the many papers, conferences, programs, people, places, and things that I have observed in my year and a half and offer a few notes on what I’ve seen.

Historically (and still to this day), the anti violence conversation has been dominated by conversations about how NOT to be a victim. Blue safety lights, improved reporting schemes, buddy systems, safe rides, personal defense class, and rape whistles came to symbolize all that Universities were doing to combat sexual assault. I think it is safe to say that these methods alone were not doing the trick. In fact, Dr. Emily Greytak has some poignant things to say backed up by her research in “Beyond Blue Lights and Buddy Systems.”

The Don’t Rape movement came next. Clarifying campus rules, social norming campaigns such as “My Strength is Not For Hurting” and campus wide programming such as performing theatre and videos exemplified this pedagogical shift. While the research on best practices in this area are mixed, it was a significant evolution because it rejects at its core the fact that victims somehow “choose” to become victims.

Any student in the North Carolina education system can tell you how victims have been turned on their head and systematically made perpetrators of a different nature – perpetrators of speaking out about their attackers.

Bystander education was developed as a value added component of the Don’t Rape movement. It addressed all students, of any gender and sexual orientation as active agents to prevent violence. At its core is the principle that we all have a responsibility to speak out about cultural and behavioral red flags of violence. It gave every person a voice and power to stop violence in some way shape or form. The efficacy of this approach is seen in the addition of the Campus SAVE act which MANDATES bystander intervention trainings not just for students, but faculty and staff.

But in all of my limited time working in this field, I have yet to see a good response to the phrase “boys will be boys.” Some have argued that boys “shouldn’t” be boys or that boys can be better than “that” (a synonym for boys being, by default, “bad boys”) but there has never been a credible counter narrative about what boys CAN and WANT to be. This is especially true given the varied lived experiences of boys from differing cultural, racial, religious, socio-economic, or geographic upbringing not to mention the experiences that gay men have and continue to face in the United States.

The Men’s Rights groups might argue that this stigmatization is where misandry and women are somehow oppressing boys, but I reject this claim as well because it merely reinforces that violence is somehow a part of being a boy and that all men must “reclaim” this heritage. In other words, man up boys, because otherwise women will get you and other men will mock you. Once again, using the threat of demasculization in the eyes of other men to transfer responsibility.

So let me offer you an executive summary of “the next page.” Real Men, at least according to the media, men on the street, Men’s Rights groups, and Suzanne Venker (in her work The War On Men) are the following: Strong, independent, handsome, sexually attractive and sexually active, heterosexual, bread winners, and otherwise dominant.

According to my sources (think little kids on the school yard, fraternity men, and athletes), any threat to these skills are considered bad. Like Sandlot, throwing “like a girl” is the WORST of all possible insults.

So we hide our fear, we don’t admit our weaknesses, refuse to ask for help, drink, drive, fight, and have as much sex as possible to prove ourselves. Or claim that others are less masculine than us.

Let me offer a counter narrative – being a cisgendered male / man is about being you without being measured against impossible standards of daniel-craig-as-James-Bond-esque behavior. Being a man is about being authentic, being honest, being open with others and yourself. Being a man is less about your biological sex and more about how you perceive your own masculinities. Being a man is about accepting yourself for who you are and accepting others as well. Being a man is about being ok with femininity in yourself and others and being ok with others regardless of biological sex being masculine in their own way as well. Being a man is NOT about NOT being a woman, it is about who you are in your gender identity and not about your sexual orientation. Despite a societal fascination with coming of age stories and rituals, being a man isn’t proven, it’s developed and understood through personal exploration.

But what does healthy masculinities have to do with violence prevention? Have you ever heard the phrase “make a man out of you?” Yeah…so have I. In Game of Thrones, it is often accompanied by a gratuitous sex scene. This is not uncommon. So often sex is closely associated with graduating from boyhood to manhood. It is an entitlement and barrier of sorts. 40 Year Old Virgin, American Pie, Sex Drive, Eurotrip, and Superbad have all tried to make this point.. Real men (see Don Draper or James Bond) are never turned down. Only weaklings, boys, and gay men can’t get women to have sex with them.

It’s time we reject this narrative as well. Sex (and physical/emotional intimacy) is a joint conversation between partners of any gender. It has nothing to do with coming of age of men through sex, violence, or financial coercion. The “nice guy” has no more entitlement to sexual gratification as the man in the mask who takes a person’s freedom at weapon point and no person in between.

Long story short, If I have learned anything this past year and a half, it’s this. Let’s talk. Let us talk openly, honestly, and in a safe environment. Boys and Men WANT to talk about issues of sex, manhood, and healthy masculinities. So often I have heard the refrain “no one has ever asked me.” So let’s ask. Let’s ask young boys what it means to be a man. Moreover, let’s ask ourselves, our friends, our media content providers, and the systems around us.

I think the answers might surprise us. In a good way I imagine, but some not so good ways too. But that, ultimately, is a good thing. At the very least, we’re not letting the conversation be dominated by the few and the hostile.

Together, we can create safer communities and supportive environments for all gender identities.

This is Jacob Oppenheimer, signing off.

A Call To Action: When Leading By Example Isn’t Enough

Let me be clear when I say that I have the utmost amount of respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country every day.

But the recent arrest of the Air Force’s Chief Sexual Assault Prevention Officer for sexual battery highlights one of my growing concerns about complacency over sexual assault in our country to date.

It is no longer enough to say “we are so much better off” than we once were and that we can “all lead by example.”

Case in point – despite the changing sexual assault policies in the US Armed Forces, reports continue to climb significantly among all three branches of the services. Despite a focus on values congruence, fraternity men continue to actively engage in rape culture promotion, harass victims of sexual assault, and chapters continue to be investigated for sexual assaults on premises each semester. This year has also seen several high profile investigations regarding athletes and sexual assault (in both high school and college). It isn’t just groups either – institutions of higher education also have a major role to play in sexual assault prevention as well as contributing to the problem. Despite changes to policies regarding Title IX and Clery Act as well as the adoption of the College SAVE Act (under the Violence Against Women Act) several high profile institutions are being investigated by the Department of Education for failing their obligations to investigate claims of sexual assault and support victims or going so far as to discourage victims from seeking help and filing reports.

While I do not believe that rape is the exclusive purview of the military, fraternity men, and athletes, these groups do exist in the spotlight not only for the risky behavior certain members continue to engage in BUT also for their extraordinary capability to make a difference in their communities.

All of which brings me back to my original point – yes, being a good guy is important. Not raping someone (for lack of a more diplomatic turn of phrase) is a necessary part of who we have to be. But here’s the problem, modeling good behavior is not enough. Silence in the face of so many overwhelming examples of men hurting others will not dispel the myth that all men are rapists. Silence will not tell the men who do hurt others that their actions are harmful. Silence will not tell the victims that they are safe and supported by their friends, family, communities, and the world around them.

So here’s a message for my fellow men. Enough is enough. You know that strength, independence, resiliency, and leadership we’re so fond of talking about? Time to put that into action. Break the silence, stop the violence, and help make a difference in your community. Violence is as acceptable or unacceptable as society permits it to be. Society is not just one gender, one race, one religion, one sex, one class, or one sexual orientation.

We all have an obligation to work with each other to promote a safer, healthier, more respectful environment.


Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2013 in Iowa City, IA

Today marks the beginning of sexual assault awareness month. If Steubenville (OH), Torrington (CT), Missoula (MT), Seattle (WA), and New Delhi (India), are any indications then we still have a long way to go in our efforts.

As part of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness about issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage men to speak out against gender violence, we wanted to bring attention to the many great events that the Rape Victim Advocacy Program is hosting in Iowa City!



Rape Culture and the Steubenville Gang Rape Media Response

The verdict is in. Two young boys, among a group of football players of Steubenville Ohio, were found delinquent (the juvenile equivalent) of guilty in the case of sexually assaulting a 16 year old girl and one boy was found guilty of distributing nude photographs of a minor.

For more information on the tragic case of the Steubenville gang rape, you can read the full timeline at the Daily Kos.

The case was remarkable for the incredibly publicity generated both by the male perpetrators and the media both before, during, and after the case. Unlike other “acquaintance rape” trials, the evidence (provided by the defense itself through social media) was clear and unambiguous that rape had occurred.

It also mirrored the recent gang rape of a woman on a bus several months ago that spawned nationwide protests. The case in Steubenville was particularly noteworthy because of the age of everyone involved. Though, like many cases, it involved athletes, alcohol, and victim blaming.

Now the deconstruction of the tragedy has begun in earnest in a 24 hour news cycle desperate for lurid details.

On on hand, we celebrate any successful prosecution of perpetrators of rape. According to the Department of Justice, the decision to prosecute was roughly 50% of cases brought to police. On the other hand, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network reports that only 5% of rapists will ever be convicted of their crimes. 

But rape culture isn’t just a matter of statistics. In the literature, it is defined as ” a complex of beliefs that  encourage sexual aggression and supports violence, a society  where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent, and a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones  physical and emotional terrorism and presents it as the norm”. Society reflects these beliefs in the portrayal of sex, sexual relationships, power, and normality in every day words, action, and images.

You can find more articles about rape culture, challenging rape culture, and the affects of rape culture here, here, here, here, and here among many places.

Rape culture is especially prevalent in how the media talks about rape and rape enforcement. Jackson Katz does a particularly good job highlighting how men are decoupled from gender violence perpetration through simple grammatical syntax.

In particular, pay attention how the statement “John beats Mary” becomes “Mary is a battered woman.”

We see the degenderization of violence in the coverage of school shooting. BOYS don’t shoot up schools, STUDENTS shoot up schools. We also see it in the coverage of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill rape case and federal lawsuit.

But what does all of this have to do with Steubenville media coverage? Stuebenville exemplifies how pervasive rape culture is in our society still.

First, we normalize the behavior of the perpetrators and identify the victim as abnormal. Second, we justify even the most egregiousness behavior as relatively normal for our community. Third, if we can’t degender the perpetrator, we change the focus of agency to the victim. This is known as victim blaming.

CNN may have made the worst of the leaps into rape culture. Candy Crowley lamented the “lasting impact” on the lives of the boys who raped a “nearly unconscious” young woman. Further, their bottom screen texts routinely established the young boys as “football stars” versus the young girl as the “drunken girl” or “drunken victim.”

In these statement we see CNN attempt to gender and normalize the male perpetrators while degendering or abnormalizing the female victim.

However, CNN isn’t the only news organization that gets in on the controversy. ABC stressed how “this was every parent’s worse nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s world.” (emphasis added). NBC did a character piece on the male perpetrators as “promising football stars.” It was the Associated Press who focused on the level of intoxication while Yahoo News highlighted the emotional trauma for the town of Steubenville Ohio. You can find these examples and more from Think Progress.

Just recently, Fox News (among others) released the name of the female victim survivor in direct violation of state statutes that protect victim survivors who are minors.

The one element that ties these narratives together is in fact what is missing from the narrative – a focus on the female victim of sexual assault. This is a component of rape culture – a systemic set of blinders to the impact of rape on the individual and the fact that women are statistically far more likely to be raped by a man that they know. Though anyone of any gender can attack anybody else.

In fact, this blind spot is highlighted best by The Onion, who ran a parody news video about a young male basketball player “overcoming rape” after a “drunken mistake” his freshmen year.

It is time we stopped normalizing rape. We need a culture change to a firm stance for “affirmative consent” and we need to start teaching it to both boys and girls EARLY. No one has a right to your own body except for you.

As Dr. Harry Brode argues in his lecture “Asking For It: The Ethics and Erotics of Affirmative Consent” if you get into a car accident, telling the cops that you were drunk as well does NOT help your case.

Further, we need to reject efforts to blame victims for what they were doing or what they were wearing. In this particular case, the defense tried to argue that “she could have said no if she wasn’t interested in sex”. What they did not say was whether she had said yes to sex. In fact, there is strong evidence that not only was the girl too drunk to give consent, but that she was nearly comatose.

Moreover, why does it matter if she was drunk? We need to move towards a society that sees sex as something that is not an entitlement but a mutually respectful activity.

As a side note, I think such a culture change could and would lead to better, healthier sexual relationships, but that is neither here nor there.

The fundamental basis of affirmative consent is that sex is principally up to the person being asked if they want to have sex or not.

A Department of Justice report indicates that 73% of victims know their attackers. Most rapists are men, though not all men are rapists. There is no magical bodily function that rejects rape sperm in the female body, rape-rape is not “fundamentally different” from acquaintance rape, and rape is not sanctioned by god.

It is time we start teaching boys not to rape, rather than teaching everyone else how NOT to be raped.

If Steubenville has taught us anything, it is that we continue to discount the dangers and impact of acquaintance rape. As a society, we still see how pervasive unhealthy sexual relationships are and are unable to seperate our own anxieties about sex to hold a critical frame to male perpetrators without seemingly attacking all men. We also desperately need to do more work to talk with children about healthy relationships and affirmative consent to promote safe and respectful communities.

If we take nothing from the Steubenville case, we accept that rape culture is an acceptable state of mind.

Do you agree with the idea alcohol negates your ability to give consent to your body? If not , then join the conversation and speak out against sexual assault and speak for affirmative consent.

Why I Am (and every Nice Guy should be) Supporting One Billion Rising and Other Efforts To End Gender/interpersonal Violence

As a guy, I wasn’t sure I ever really “Got It.” I was never told to watch out for where the next attack was coming from. I was never told that certain clothing or certain drinks were “off limits.” I was never told I needed to go to a personal defense class before I could begin classes.

I never had to worry about the kind of things that this woman talks about in her blog.

But I did have a very similar experience where I found myself as That Stranger. I was walking out of a meeting at the Old Capital Mall. As I rounded one corner, singing along to my iPod, a woman left the rest room ahead of me and turned left towards the parking lot. By pure coincidence, our steps turned in lockstep with me about ten feet behind her. Though I did not say hello, her reaction was as immediate and instinctual as my surprise was to find us in this classic workplace awkward situation.

She immediately glanced over her shoulder, clutched her purse closer to her self, and started walking faster.

Her response was not at all surprising in hindsight. When society tells women to not wear skirts, avoid drinking alcohol, or talk about sex and does not talk to men about how to prevent sexual assault, we have a problem.

I have a problem. Selfishly, I don’t want to be considered a perpetual perpetrator on sight.

But if I, and the other “Nice Guys” of the world want to avoid being labeled perpetrators, then there needs to be a communal response to gender and interpersonal violence that goes beyond not participating in hostile behavior.

We have to speak out against those who do.

That is why I will be at the One Billion Rising dance at the Old Capital Mall this Thursday (February 14) at 5pm. It isn’t a huge action, but I refuse to be silent when over 1 billion women in the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, often by my fellow men though not always. Students, faculty, staff, and the greater Iowa City community will come together and dance in solidarity with victims and advocates world wide. It may seem like a small thing, but the the more people stand together and speak out, the greater chance we can to show the small minority of perpetrators (of any gender identity) that their behavior is not acceptable.

Check out the event’s Facebook page here.

One Billion Rising is an organization built in cooperation with Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues production. It brings people of all genders together to show their support in the movement to end gender violence. It is but one of many organizations dedicated to the cause of violence prevention.

Whether or not you are able to make it to this Thursday’s event, I hope that you do SOMETHING in recognition that there is just TOO MUCH violence in our society. What you do, when you it, and with whom is not the issue. The issue is that we can no longer do NOTHING.

Not if we want to consider ourselves Nice Guys at any rate.

Move forward and speak out. Together we can help create a new culture of respect and safety. Together we can make a difference.

Thank you,


Superbowl 2013 Ads: New Ads, More of the Same Pandering

It is that time of year again. Arguably one of the highest rated programs in the country, the superbowl commands top tier, star studded advertising like none other.

If you are anything like me, this might be one of the few times you stick around FOR the ads.

If economic theory tells us anything, then the sky high costs of advertising for during the superbowl (estimated to cost well over $3 million per thirty second spot) should say what companies think sells with the American public.

So what is selling these days?

Besides the usual animated babies (in space!), amazing cameos (including Seth Rogen/Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler), Clydesdales, and farmers; the super bowl also featured a number of questionable choices as well.

What do I mean by “questionable choice?” I mean that these three commercials represent some of the worst advertising gender tropes and objectifications of the game.

3. If it has boobs, men will buy it.

GoDaddy is arguably one of the worst offenders of the bunch. It ranks as number three because their efforts are half-hearted and transparent. As a technology company that builds websites, nudity and sex has absolutely nothing to do with their services or their products. Yet like the game companies that sponsor “booth babes,” GoDaddy makes a wide assumption that men, particular men in the technology field, are helpless at the sight of buxom and scantily clad women. It is an endorsement of the objectification of women as “flair” for technology products. Furthermore, as someone who fancies himself a male  geek, I am offended. You can check out their video here:

GoDaddy Superbowl 2013 Commercial

2. Men who do not conform to gender codes are an object of derision

I’m a little torn on including the Dorrito’s commercial on this list, but ultimately, I think the ad falls short of its intended purpose (dorritos will make us do anything) and instead ends up casting aside the men who don women’s clothing to play tea party with their daughters as emasculated. This is shown in two parts, one of which being the mother who chastises the husband and the other in the fact that even wearing women’s clothing the men egg each other on, less like an enjoyment of the setting and more like a fraternity hazing event.

Feel free to disagree, but you can find positive images of cross dressing, but this is not one of them.

Dorritos Superbowl 2013 Ad 

1. Women are less important than objects

Objectification of women has long been a part of media strategy. It has percolated in US culture in a plethora of ways from the phrase “I would tap THAT” (emphasis added), and Comedian Daniel Tosh who joked about how “funny” it would be if a heckler at his show was suddenly gang raped.

I’m no expert on humor, but I imagine a few women in New Delhi, Steubenville Ohio, Montana, and across the world would disagree. As a man I disagree. But such is the freedom of speech. It allows us to debate about humor but does not and should not condone violence of the most intimate variety.

Which is why Gildan’s, a t-shirt manufacture, initial foray into brand advertising was so surprising. A man sneaking away from a one night stand, clearly suffering the affects of too much alcohol, is more concerned with his shirt than the woman he slept with is disquieting in ways that the other commercials are not. Whether this was the result of trying to start a national ad campaign for the first time or some greater design, their commercial hits the number one problematic advertisement of Superbowl 2013. Not because of its overt content, but for the implicit messages that it seems to condone.

Gildan Superbowl Ad, 2013

But that is just one person’s opinion. What did you think of the 2013 ads?

EDIT: Dishonorable mention goes to Volkswagon for the cooption of a Jamaican accent. It plays on stereotypical notions of accent, attitudes, and behaviors. Perhaps not the worst offender everywhere, but problematic none the less.


The Challenges with the Perpetrator/Victim Approach to Prevention

There is no silver bullet to violence prevention. No one approach, no one target audience, no one tagline that will solve gendered or interpesonal violence in the United States and abroad.

Sounds kind of depressing doesn’t it?

In a National Review Online story, one general seems to echo a consistent diatribe against the current slate of prevention work. “We’ve added more [educations and trainings] after every incident…but the trainings aren’t working. We’re wasting people’s time.”

In an time when Congress sees itself as so poor that it cannot afford victims services, then prevention becomes increasingly important. This was highlighted recently by a report by the US Armed Services academies showing 23% increase in reported cases of sexual assault.

There is a silver lining however, and one that belies the above mentioned General’s claim. More people feel comfortable reporting crimes that are already happening according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). This is, as bad as the situation still is, a positive development.

That does not negate the worries of generals, school administrators, parents, friends, and family. Rape, and gender violence, is still prevalent in word and deed in the United States.

Which brings us back to the issue of whether our education is working or not and why?

Traditional risk management education has focused on telling men not to rape and women how not to be raped. In other words, it focuses on a gender binary and perpetrator/victim model.

This model also assumes that men will always be rapists or violent and women will always be victims.

This educational model is based upon a sometimes spoken, often unspoken, assumption that “there may be a limit to how much gender-sensitivity training can do to reengineer some brutish but basic human impulses in an institution still at least formally dedicated to a high-testosterone activity.”

In other words, men are genetically coded to engage in violence channeled through training essential to the survival of our soldiers. Moreover, according to the National Review article and many others, this is somehow preferable to continuing to engage all people in conversations about healthy and respectful behavior.

While no one can deny that there are biological differences between men and women, I find it personally and professionally insulting to be told that I am just one bare shoulder away from turning into some sort of beast.

For that reason alone I support the continued education, specifically engaging men. For one reason, the current model makes assumptions about me and my behavior purely based on my gender. I’m uncomfortable about that. But two, these assumptions are not unfounded. Department of Justice statistics show a significant trend that Men are the perpetrators of violent crime ON THE BALANCE. This does not mean that men are the only perpetrators or that women are the only victims, but the trends are pretty slanted towards that intrepretation.

You can see the impact that has on people in this well written blog entry about street harassment.

There is a third reason that I support engaging men as bystanders in violence prevention. The research supports a bystander model. While not perfect, a second study conducted by the Department of Justice and published through the National Criminal Justice Reference Service shows that there is an increasing efficacy in the developing bystander models promoted by programs like the Mentors in Violence Prevention program and Coaching Boys Into Men. More specifically, these programs show results in increased knowledge, stronger attitudes, and changed behaviors regarding gender based violence.

Finally, the current model while useful to some degree, makes assumptions about violence that does not comport with today’s violent actions. Violence does not just have to be physical. It can be verbal or emotional as well. Violence is also pervasive, not just the effect is has on victims, but on the chilling affect it has on communities. It creates fear, panic, and prejudice where none need be present.

Violence prevention does not have one solution. No one person or organization can tackle such a broad issue. However, together, working on intersecting issues of mental health, access to violent instruments, promotion of violent behavior, and acceptance of violence in society, we can create a violence free future.


Re-Authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994. It provided $1.6 billion for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It has subsequently renewed in 2000 and 2005.

According to Federal Department of Justice statistics, intimate partner violence has declined by 67% between 1993 (when the government began focusing on these statistics prior to VAWA’s passage) and 2010. Intimate partner homicides against women have declined 35% against women and 46% against men between 1993 and 2007.

Moreover, VAWA has promoted both victims services AND prevention efforts across the country These efforts include prevention programming funded through grants by the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) and the establishment of the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (which reported receiving 22,000 calls a month, many callers indicating it was their first time requesting help). VAWA also provides state funding through grants to encourage training of police officers and prosecutors, establishment of statewide networks of shelters for individuals and families affected by domestic violence, and the enforcement of no-contact orders across the country.

While the trends are positive, the statistics still show that there is a major problem. A census taken of the 27 remaining domestic violence shelters showed a significant need for services. In a single 24 hour period, crisis lines recieved more than 15 calls per hour and over a 1,000 victims served. Unfortunately, 119 requests for services were denied. This may not seem like a lot, but when research indicates that victims often do not seek services until abuse becomes so significant as to threaten physical safety, then 119 cases can become substantial for any community. 81 of these cases involved a request for emergency shelter which could not be provided in what experts consider a safe space (space secured, separate  and inaccessible from perpetrators).

December 14 marks the last day that the Violence Against Women Act re authorization is in affect. Currently, there are two bills (one in the US Senate and one in the House of Representatives) which have been passed but not reconciled. If Congress fails to act, then funding for services nation wide will be cut leaving an even more significant gap in services (both prevention oriented and victims services) will develop during the holidays which is when domestic violence typically increases.

The current House bill unfortunately provides several key caveats to types of victims who can be helped under federal funding.

According to the National Task Force to End Sexual Violence Against Women, House Resolution 4970 will eliminate the requirement that state grant administrators work with community organizers and other stakeholders in developing plans to distribute the state’s federal grant money. This reduces the effectiveness of comprehensive state wide initiatives and focuses domestic violence funds directly into the sole discretion of the elected authorities and their political preferences.

HR 4970 also excludes services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer victims of domestic or intimate partner violence. A 2010 task force regarding LGBTQ services found that even though members of the LGBTQ faced slightly higher rates of violence than the general population, nearly 85% of victims were denied services because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. More than 50% of victims were denied protective orders for similar reasons and state laws defining co-habitation and domestic partnerships which are pre-requisites for services and legal protection in many states. And only 7% of survey respondents said they would report violence to the police.

HR 4970 also creates added burdens on immigrant victims by allowing the perpetrator to be present at hearings for temporary residency which allow undocumented victims to receive immediate protections. It also requires states to hold separate hearings to determine emergency residency status for victims which increases the likelihood of retaliation and joint deportation which does not remediate the problem of domestic violence, only changes its location and likelihood of escalation. It further limits the number of visas that can be given to victims who cooperate with authorities to bring violent perpetrators to justice. This can have a chilling affect on community relations with police and hamper investigations against violent perpetrators of a wide variety of crimes regardless of documentation status.

Last, but certainly not least, is that HR 4970 fails to protect Native Americans against crimes perpetrated by non-immediate family. Native American women face rates, according to the Department of Justice and Indian Affairs, at rates twice the national averages. Estimates are as high as 1 and 3 Native American women will be raped and that 4 out of 5 of those cases will involve men from outside of their tribes, usually white. Under HR 4970, Tribal Authorities, already overwhelmed with a large number of domestic violence and sexual assault cases and claims, would have no jurisdiction to investigate cases where one of the parties is not a part of the community. This creates a serious gap in jurisdiction because of restrictions on US authorities within tribal territory as well. The Senate version (S.1925) addresses this particular gap by granting explicit jurisdiction to Tribal Authorities to include domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protective orders which can be sought in Tribal Courts against anyone who meets the already stringent requirements.

This issue is too pressing not to act. In an ideal world, we would not need these funds nor these emergency services but we are not there yet. No one should live in fear of an intimate partner. We must all work together to make the world a safer place not just for a few, but for all.

Speak out and call your congress person. Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act now. Reauthorize it for everyone.


EDIT: In the interest of full disclosure, the Men’s Anti-Violence Council was founded at the University of Iowa with the help of an OVW grant. Like many programs, the seed money was critical in generating interest and developing critical mass in terms of participation. Now, thanks to the work of Linda Kroon of the University of Iowa Women’s Resource and Action Center (along with many in the Division of Student Life), MAC is a part of the institutional budget. Grant money is still used on occassion for campus programming, but is rapidly becoming an accepted and acceptable use of institutional resources. We could not have started though without Linda, Jerrod Koon, the University of Iowa, our wonderful volunteers, and the seed money provided by the Office of Violence Against Women.

Reinforcing the Gender Boxes: A Critique of the “War on Men”

Nature versus nurture. This is a debate that has been on people’s minds since at least as early as Victorian England. It has also been a cornerstone of the debate in the violence prevention field. I am not here to answer the debate, but I am here to critique the reliance upon the “nature of man” that has become a center piece of the counter-feminist movement.

Sometimes these authors act under the banner of being “pro-men” and is best represented by Suzanne Venker’s recent article “The War On Men”.

Venker concludes that “Women have the power to turn [the marriage wars] around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to [their masculinity.]“

What are the marriage wars you ask? The marriage war, according to Venker, is the natural extension of the feminist movement which “changes the dance” between men and women because women are increasingly obtaining degrees in higher education and obtaining jobs while simultaneously wanting to get married.

Men, on the other hand, do not want to get married. This is leading to the “dearth of good men (also known as marriable men).”

There are two common elements of Venker’s argument that I would like to highlight in particular, the first is male entitlement and the second is the nature of gender. If left unchallenged, these arguments lead us back to an unhealthy gender binary that not only fundamentally reinforces exclusionary (or hegemonic) gender norms but also makes it impossible for both men AND women to inhabit gender spaces on their own terms. As a result, I will argue that if we accept these exclusionary spaces we will only perpetuate gendered and interpersonal violence.

1) Male Entitlement

Venker argues that feminism taught women to hate men, to push men off their “pedestal,” and as a result, men have no where to go. Though Venker does not discuss in depth in her article what the “male pedestal” is, one can surmise based on recent trends what that pedestal is.

Physicality is one such pedestal. The rise of Title IX has given rise to claims that men are losing their rightful place in college athletics. This is particularly present in varsity wrestling, lacrosse, boxing and football. All of these sports are traditionally thought of as “men’s sports” for reliance upon violence and physical strength.

Bread winning is another pedestal which men were traditionally perceived to hold. Think of the nuclear family of the 1950s and the TV show “Leave it to Beaver” where the Dad is at work all day and the Mom is home cooking and cleaning all day. Women are increasingly joining the workforce in higher numbers than ever before, especially in areas where they have been traditionally under represented including the law, medical practices, and the science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Pay discrepancy has also decreased in the past several year. Although according to the Economist, women are still making, on average, about 80% of what men are making for comparable work. We see the practical affects of this argument play out daily in the political debates of this past presidential election cycle in the United States. It seemed like on one hand there was a war on women and the other there was a war on moms.

Leadership, or control in a broad sense, is a third major pillar traditionally associated with men and masculinity. In a study by the Harvard Business Review, women (in the abstact) are ranked by business leaders as having stronger skills in 9 out of 11 core competancies of leadership however, women only make up 16 percent of executive positions in fortune 500 companies. Women in the workplace make up a little less than half, but approximately 60% of women above the age of 16 are in the workplace compared to almost 70% of men above the age of 16.

Though the numbers are bad, there is still a significant problem with PERCEPTION of what men are entitled to. As Venker argues, men feel like they have “no where to go.” This a feeling echoed by other men in other studies, included by noted author and scholar Michael Kimmel in his book “Guy Land.” You see arguments of entitlement in so-called “reverse discrimination” cases regarding affirmative action and in tv shows and online articles (such as in about someone taking “my” job.

2) Men’s Nature

The other area of focus on I wanted to look at is why this sense of entitlement exists. Part of it is the historical trends of jobs, gender roles, and societal expectations. The numbers may still show discrepancy, but even as short as forty years ago, legalized discrimination was still the law of the land in many localities in the United States and Abroad.

Venker admits as much when she says that “there was no revolution [demanding] men change.”

Venker also argues that is “in the DNA of men” to “provide for and protect” their families. Unfortunately, this argument is shallow at best. Yes, men did develop a proclivity for producing testosterone and women estrogen, they do not guarantee behavior. It would also be a harmful argument to make that just because men produce testosterone, they must engage in violent or dominant behavior.

The last time I checked, companies did not test for testosterone when it came to selecting qualified candidates nor was estrogen a requirement for stay at home care takers.

Moreover, the use of genetics (or the nature argument) fundamentally discriminates against people who adopt masculine or feminine behaviors that are not affiliated with their sex. It creates a reason to commit violence for no other purpose than to restore a supposedly natural order. Under the nature argument, gender violence (either physical, verbal, or emotional) becomes a natural response in restoring the gender boxes to their proper pedestal, thus re-affirming a hierarchical and hostile environment.


One of the most problematic statements of Venker’s argument is that it is women’s fault for upsetting the status quo. “Men,” Venker argues, “do not have to change.” Yet men have already changed. That’s why Venker’s article is so harmful to everyone.

First and foremost, there is no singular monolithic hegemony. Some people are strong, some are rich, some exist in positions of power and others hold leadership titles. Very few people, even people who identify as male, exist at the top of all of those pyramids. If a man is not all of those things. As a result, there is a tendency to engage in unhealthy or violent behavior to defend one’s place in the hegemonic masculine spectrum. Men in particular, argues Michael Kimmel, will go to great lengths to prove their masculinity to other guys even if that means putting down other guys, women, members of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual community as well as the transgender community.

The second problem is that by casting anyone who is opposed to the hierarchy as “man hating” you create the necessity to have other, lesser pillars, and you ultimately engage in the very hate you condemn. You hate that men can step out of the box and be the person they want to be. You hate the men who do not see themselves as being on the same pedastal. Socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, and religion all becomes way to discriminate against others because not all men are created equal. You also hate the people who want to change.

The third problem is that this model of gender binary does not give anyone the permission to be different from their supposed nature. There is a reason why men suffer higher rates of depression, alcohol / drug abuse, violence as perpetrators and as victims, lower grades, and heart disease than women. If you cannot be yourself, then the literature shows you are more likely to engage in violence either towards yourself or others.

It is no surprise that a vast majority of perpetrators of men, but it is also a well known fact that not all men are perpetrators of violence.

If men really cannot change, nor do they need to change, then there would be no need for men to comport to unrealistic gender norms not on their own terms.

Being masculine or feminine is not inherently bad, but by reinforcing these gender norms, we take away individuals rights to be the respectful healthy people they want to be.

Even masculine men pay a cost when they do not have the freedom to be ok with themselves.

Suzanne Venker, you may call these statements man-hating, I actually think it is more like love and respect. For men. For Women. For All.

Dating Violence and the Red Flag Iowa Campaign

Hello friends,

Today (November 5), marks the first full day of the University of Iowa’s roll out of the national Red Flag Campaign in order to raise awareness of dating violence on college campuses.

According to the Department of Justice, nearly 30% of all college couples will experience some form physical abuse from a significant other during their lifetime. Similar surveys suggest that college women in particular are nearly three times as likely than the national average to experience either physical, emotional, or verbal abuse during a relationship. These incidences occur WAY too often and often go unreported as well for a variety of reasons. When we talked with students on campus, many said that they thought the incidences were isolated, an act of mistaken anger, or just “not that bad.” Most of the students we talked to about dating violence admitted to never telling anyone about these incidences. Most students thought no one cared or that “what happened behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors.”
All of the stories we heard from students on campus were heartbreaking. They confirmed anecdotally what the research has long shown – dating violence, and violence in general, is rarely talked about either because of fear of social repercussions, worry about personal responsibility, and / or confusion about what constitutes abuse.

These stories also show a surprising commonality in that they often preclude the ultimate positive outcome of safe, healthy, and positive relationships. The damage, these students discussed with us, were constantly on their mind in other relationships even where abusive behavior was not present.

The Red Flag Campaign seeks to encourage conversations on campus and in the community about the red warning flags of dating violence as acts that are not just physical. These red flags can include physical violence (often the last escalation of dating violence), sexual assault, stalking, isolation, extreme jealousy, and / or victim blaming. Often times these types of violence occur in overlapping incidences, however, even a one time incident can be a precursor to further violence. If you think you may have seen a red flag of dating violence, we encourage you to speak out.
If you are not sure you have seen a red flag or would like to find out about more resources for victims of dating violence on the University of Iowa campus, visit the campaign website at:

You can also find more detailed information regarding dating violence at the national Red Flag Campaign website.

Some people doquestion the efficacy of awareness raising campaigns, especially those built around posters, facebook, and twitter.

You should be right to challenge empty words and inaction. The Men’s Anti-Violence Council is built on the principle that doing nothing is not an option anymore if we want to see a violence free future, but we would also argue that this campaign is a strong first step.

The students who we talked to in the process of planning the two campaign events, even those who did not want to share their stories publicly or under their real names, did thank us for opening the door for what can be a very difficult and sometimes awkward conversation. The Men’s Anti-Violence Council is based bystander model built on the premise that individuals can notice an event, interpret the event as problematic, and then feel responsible for helping intervene in the inappropriate situation. Without being able to meet these basic criteria, few people are likely to engage in actual interventions of ANY kind.

While the Men’s Anti-Violence Council is not naive or foolish enough to think that one campaign will change a culture of violence and violence acceptance, we hope that this campaign can empower even a few students to come forward and feel safe to tell their stories and that students who have not personally been exposed to violence may be more cognizant of their role in supporting their friends and promoting healthy relationships.

In those two regards, we are glad that we are already seeing anecdotal progress and hope that we can see further, more comprehensive results by the end of the month. Ironically, this may mean that more people report, but these increases will mean that we can get more students in touch with the resources and knowledge they need to not only get the support they need but to help intervene in the future! We must simultaneously help educate students about the problems that exist, provide intervention skills, and also keep talking about what a violence free future. As we discuss not just dating violence but a host of other important topics, we open our community to a world where we are told not just what NOT to be and do as a community of liability to what we CAN be and do as part of a community of care.

For these reasons and many more, the Red Flag Campaign is an important component of the Men’s Anti-Violence Council’s mission in promoting a violence free world through education and activism.

We are proud to join a large number of campus and community partners including the Women’s Resource and Action Center, the Division of Student Life (including the Center For Student Involvement, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the cultural centers), University Housing and Dining, the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Monsoon, and others on the Red Flag Campaign which will go from November 1 through 31. Collectively, we hope to raise the visibility of the red flags that have been on campus for three days now as well as the acts of violence (physical, emotional, and verbal) that they represent. Together, we hope we can engage a large number of students to have conversations and seek out further information about dating violence and what they can do to prevent it.

We also stand with our campus partners in the Red Flag Campaign because we believe that all individuals – regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity – deserve to be in relationships that have a strong focus on two way honest communication, trust, balance, respect, and safety.

If you would like to stand with us to promote safe, respectful, and healthy relationships at the University of Iowa, like the Red Flag Iowa facebook fan page. You can also join the conversation on twitter to talk about what healthy or unhealthy relationships look like through the hashtag #RedFlagIowa. Through the website and the facebook page we will be sharing resources, stories, and images about not only what makes harmful relationships, but what relationships have the potential to be!

We also will be posting videos throughout the month of stories from students and staff on the Men’s Anti-Violence Council YouTube channel. We invite you to record your own stories as well and email them to
Thank you for reading. Thank you for being a part of the conversation. Thank you for being willing to challenge the status quo, to dare to dream about what a violence free future might look like, and for speaking out against inappropriate behavior as well as what appropriate behaviors are and how they benefit all of us.

When you see the red flags of dating violence (or any type of violence), step forward and speak out.


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