By: Colin Gallant, MPH
Harbor Health Services, Inc.
On Thursday, March 5th, men from across the Commonwealth will be called upon to take the following pledge:
“From This Day Forward, I promise to be a part of the solution in ending violence against women.”
Over 5 million men worldwide have taken this pledge and donned white ribbons as a part of “White Ribbon Day”. Wearing these ribbons and taking this pledge are a way of showing support and increasing awareness of ending violence against women. However, many men have trouble imagining how the simple act of wearing a ribbon can impact this issue. Besides not abusing women, what actions can a man take to reduce violence against women in his community? The truth is the surprisingly simple task of wearing a ribbon can make a huge difference.
- White Ribbons send a message
Putting the white ribbon pin on your lapel sends two very important messages. First, it sends a message to other men that you think violence against women is unacceptable. In the US, 1 in 6 women will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, according to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARC). The vast majority of these rapes (98% according to One in Four USA) will be perpetrated by men. A common theory for why rape or other forms of sexual violence are so prevalent is that men don’t have a very strong negative attitude towards men who perpetrate.
Surely men possess strong negative attitudes towards more standard forms of rape. However, what about in a situation where a man buys a woman alcohol for the purpose of lowering her inhibitions in order to have sex with her? In the sexual violence prevention community, we would call this at the very least a predatory behavior, perhaps even an example of date rape. Among certain communities of men, this is a reflection of “game”, a sexual “conquest”. While many men no doubt feel that this behavior is wrong, far too often are we silent when our friends tell us these stories.
The same can be said about how we respond to sexist jokes. Men laugh along with jokes or sit in silence waiting for their awkward feeling to pass. Violence against women is something that is deeply integrated into how men express masculinity, but that will never change unless good men speak up. Tell these men “that joke isn’t funny!” or “It doesn’t make you a man when you get a woman drunk to get her into bed”.
Wearing a white ribbon also says something. It’s a way of expressing to other men that you don’t condone violence against women. And when enough people say this, these men will start to realize the truth; men who perpetrate and condone violence against women are in the minority.
- They’re conversation starters
“Dad, why are you wearing a white ribbon?”
If you can have any conversation this March make it be this one. It doesn’t have to be with a son; maybe a younger brother, a nephew, or a student whom you teach.
Talking to boys about violence against women is a great way to shape incoming men. Conversations with young men don’t have to be super formal either. You don’t have to have a dinner table discussion about it. This topic should just be integrated into other conversations as the boy grows up. When he starts dating, ask him if he knows how to respect his partner. Ask if he knows that it isn’t ok to hit your partner or control their behavior. Also, if you witness violence in the media, in your community, or even in your family, make sure to talk you boys about it. Even directly addressing the violence yourself can make you a role model for him in the future.
- It’s a pledge to be better
White Ribbon Day, above all else, is a day where we as men pledge to be better. We can chose to devote more time or more professional resources to the issue of violence against women. We can choose to talk to our sons or other young men in our community. We can even choose to volunteer or donate to local domestic violence shelters.
We can also pledge to stop our own violence. Stop telling sexist jokes! Making jokes about women and rape makes light of rape and degrades women. When we make light of rape, we become desensitized to it. When we degrade women, we make it easier for ourselves to justify the harm they experience.
If you batter women, pledge to get help. There are many programs in Boston and across the state of Massachusetts that help men end their abuse. Taking the pledge to be a part of the solution is just the first step.