Reprint from the Journal of International Affairs, 67, 1 (Fall/Winter Issue 2013) Reprint Authorization #11156990
Reprint from the Journal of International Affairs, 67, 1 (Fall/Winter Issue 2013) Reprint Authorization #11156990
For Ted Bunch, gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls are rooted in a history of male domination that has deeply influenced the definition of manhood in our culture. Bunch is a co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, a violence prevention organization that provides training and education for men, boys and communities. Bunch has lectured in countries such as Israel, South Africa, Ghana and Brazil, among others, and was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a Committee Member to UNiTE, an international network of male leaders working to end violence against women. In an interview with the Journal, Bunch discussed the concept of manhood and how social norms and culture have impacted the current notion of masculinity.
JIA: Your organization, A CALL TO MEN seeks to promote a 'more healthy, loving, and respectful definition of manhood.' How does this definition manifest in real life?
Bunch: Our mission is to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful, and all women and girls are valued and safe. The definition is based on the deconstruction of the traditional image of manhood, keeping the wonderful things about being a man and letting go of the ideas and beliefs that are harmful to women, children, and men. It is not only about the individual men who perpetuate the violence it is also about the collective socialization of men. All men in our society are taught on some level that women have less value than men, that women are the property of men, and that women are objects for men. We pass this collective socialization down to our boys.
We are primarily a prevention organization, focusing on preventing violence against women specifically. We were born out of the Battered Women's Movement, and we celebrated ten years in 2012. Tony Porter, the other co-founder and partner of the organization, and I started working together almost twenty years ago on the issue. We both worked with men who were domestic violence offenders. As we worked with them, it became clear that these men who are abusive―physically, verbally, and emotionally―know how to be respectful and non-abusive. They show this capability all the time with their bosses on the job, and with police who come to their houses to arrest them for violence. Actually, men who perpetrate violence against women demonstrate great control and even conflict-resolution skills when there is a negative consequence if they do not do so. Therefore, men's violence against women is rooted in the collective socialization of men, and the foundation of our collective socialization is born out of sexism and male domination. Men's violence against women is very controllable, and it is actually a learned behavior that can be unlearned. The belief that women have less value than men is widespread. You can see it right now with youth football. If you go to a practice where a seven-year-old kid is playing football, the coach will often say something like, "you got to throw harder than that, son, you throw like a girl." Girls throw just fine, but we start teaching our boys very early that a boy should not want to be a girl or do anything like a girl. That is also where gender-based violence such as bullying comes in. Most of the kids who are bullied are those who are furthest away from the traditional image of manhood. we have been taught that these images and characteristics include: being tough, not crying, being physically strong, dominating, and showing no fear―all of those types of things. So one issue is to believe women have less value than me.
The other issue is that we are taught that women are the property of men, and you can see that every day. If a man anywhere in America was hitting a woman, and you walked up to him and said "Stop it," the first thing he would say is "Mind your own business." This is because men have been taught that women are the property of men. The third issue is that men are taught that women are objects. We teach our boys very early to objectify women, and to believe that they are here to serve us and to bring us pleasure. That is why you see men, even teenage boys, saying things to girls on the street. Our boys learn a type of manhood that is based on these wrong beliefs from adult men and learn our cultural and social norms, which have entitlements and privileges given to men by men, and reinforced by men. This is not indictment on men or manhood at all. Actually, it is an invitation for men to become part of the solution. Most men are great guys, but we have been taught or socialized to mind our business and to be silent, especially as it relates to how other men impact women. While the overwhelming majority of violence against women is from men, the overwhelming majority of men are not violent. But, we are silent about the abuse other men perpetrate, and that is as much of a problem as the violence itself.
JIA: Does this definition transcend the diversity of cultures int he world? Or will a healthy definition of masculinity look different everywhere you go?
Bunch: The definition would look the same in the sense that it would have at its core that men are loving and express their full range of emotions, and that women are valued, respected, and honored. That is at the core of the definition of manhood [and] A CALL TO MEN. We are talking about valuing who a woman is, respecting her, not objectifying her, not treating her as property, and seeing her as equal to men. We are talking about a definition that lifts women up, where men do not put other men down by calling them names that are related to women or a woman's body parts, and in which such names would no longer be considered insults. Homophobia and heterosexism are big pieces of this traditional image of manhood, and major components that make up the "man box". Homophobia is the glue or duct tape that keeps the man box together. When we look at other cultures―and I have been all over the world―the situations are similar.
I remember speaking to a group of men in south Africa about the issues of value, property, and objectification. I said to them, "OK, so you are teaching your son how to play soccer, and the coach says, 'You gotta kick harder than that, son, you kick like a'..." and I left the sentence open for them to finish, and all of them said, "girl!" So, where we find patriarchy, we find sexism. Where we find sexism, we find women who are not valued, and we find violence against women. Just as, if we were to intervene in any culture, we really have to find out what sexism looks like within this culture, and those are the points of entry that we need to address. The question is, how can we value women and girls more in our culture? That may require men to give something up. But, we usually do not realize what we gain as we give up this perceived entitlement and power. The power is really not ours; it is just what our society has structured for men, based on privileges given to men, passed down to men, and reinforced by men. As we give that up, we gain our humanity, a better sense of who we are, and the respect from family members and loved ones, particularly women. They respect us because of our humanity, not because of fear.
JIA: Your goal is also to shift social norms that define manhood and have created an environment that supports, tolerates, and often encourages men's violence against women. Can you give us an example of such social norms?
Bunch: Violence and discrimination toward women exists in our daily lives. Let us just look at the statistics, for instance. When we look at domestic violence, somewhere between one out of three and one out of four women―the statistics vary―are the victim of men's violence, which we call domestic violence. There are more women affected by domestic violence very day than there are those affected by breast cancer or heart disease. Rape and sexual assault demonstrate similar patterns. Most women who are raped or sexually assaulted are between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four, and about one out of four women or girls has been sexually assaulted. Three women are killed by their male intimate partners through domestic violence every day. These are staggering statistics, but we have not put in a lot of effort to solve the problem. There are laws and legislation on the issue, but there has not been an outcry about it, mainly because men remain silent. Since women do not have the power, resources, or voice that men do in our culture or our country, we men need to raise our voices so that men can also affirm the experiences of women. If men listened to women and respected their voices and experiences, we would not even be having this conversation.
JIA: In thinking about regions of the world where occurrences of rape are high, such as in South Africa, India, Guatemala, etc., to what degree is a particular expression of masculinity at fault, and to what degree is the problem structural (courts, law enforcement, etc.)?
Bunch: What is structural in all those places, as well as in the United States, is sexism. Sexism is really the foundation of the problem, and violence and abuse are the manifestation of sexism. How that plays out in different cultures and in their expression of masculinity varies, but it is no doubt operating and present. As a result, some men express their sexism through violence and abuse. Others may express it in ways that are non-physical but that are still discriminatory, unfair, and gender-based. These beliefs are then passed on by men to each other and to their boys. The beliefs argue that men are supposed to be in charge, to dominate, to have control and power, and to know what to do. In addition to that, people are supposed to listen to men, especially women. Therefore I think what is universal is sexism. And sexism exists because patriarchy exists.
JIA: So you would agree that rule of law and enforcement also plays a role. It sounds like the way that women are viewed in society is fundamental to that.
Bunch: Yes. Law enforcement plays a huge role, but we cannot legislate the belief systems through laws. Law enforcement can provide accountability for domestic violence offenders, as anyone committing a crime needs to be held accountable. However, if you look at women who are violent towards men, the sentencing is generally much greater than for men who are violent towards women. If you look at those lethal crime cases in which men have murdered their wives or girlfriends, the sentencing on average is less than when a woman murders her husband or boyfriend. This shows that institutional sexism is present and obviously a problem.
JIA: Sexual assault is an important problem in the United States military. Your organization trained soldiers at the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United State Naval Academy at Annapolis. What are the causes of this high level of rape in the military?
Bunch: The military has a very male-dominated culture, and in most male-dominated cultures, women are abused. In the military, you see a higher proportion of abuse. During the wartime, there is more stress and fear than during peace. When men are fearful, stressed, or angry, they often take that out on women. The military is just a reflection of our society, and the problem is magnified due to its male-dominated culture. In any male-dominated culture, women really suffer greater consequences, and the military is a good example of that. The problem is compounded by the issue of rank. In a corporate setting in civilian life, if your superior is involved in sexual harassment, the victim has equal employment opportunity laws for support, and a process for grievance redressal that is governed by employment law. You may not have the same recourse in a military setting. If it is a higher-ranking officer, you are reporting to them in a different way than if it is just a job. The training we provide to the military is mostly around response teams for sexual assault or domestic violence. However, their job is to be the victim's advocate. The military, like the larger society, needs to address the issue of sexism in order to create a safe environment for women.
JIA: People have also pointed out that many rape victims in the military are men. Do you think masculinity should still be the focus in solving that problem?
Bunch: Yes, that is very true. I am glad that you brought that up. because there is a much higher rate of rape of men in the military than anywhere else, except for prison. Rape in the military, just like in prison, is about domination, power, control or humiliation. It is about dominating, or humiliating the victim. We really have to look at masculinity and ask why it has to be at the expense of someone else. Manhood, domination, power, and control are often at the expense of someone else. That is one of the tenets of contemporary masculinity―that as men we are supposed to be in control and have power over others. This, like bullying, can be tied to gender-based violence, because men who are raped in the military are usually the guys who are physically weaker. These cases all get down to power, control, and masculinity. Men are not generally taught to negotiate through words or express feelings. We are taught to negotiate through physical force and aggression. That is the current form of masculinity.
JIA: What new insights or unique contributions do you think your approach―namely a man working with men and boys to improve the lives of women―has brought to feminism?
I think our perspective is unique in the sense that we are raising, lifting up, and amplifying love and a fullness of masculinity and manhood by encouraging men to express emotions―such as sadness, fear, or asking for help, emotions that are considered negative. We believe that we are not supposed to be vulnerable, to show any weakness, or to need help. I am a humanist; feminism is part of that. I think our message summarizes what women have been talking about for a very long time. Therefore, our message is very much influenced by the experiences of women, and we provide hope and care for men as well. To me, feminism is really about caring for one other, loving one other, and not seeking to dominate. I do not think that is just feminism. It is really about humanity. It has not been safe for men to embrace their fullness, because when they do, other men are taught to laugh at them, dismiss them or put them down. Many people are even taught that kindness is weakness. Certainly feminism has laid the groundwork, and we are standing on the shoulders of women who have been in the forefront for years doing this work. But our message is about manhood.
JIA: What are some key lessons that you have learned since you started this project?
Bunch: My experience is that when men know better, they do better. Promoting a healthy, loving, and respectful manhood is the cure for domestic violence and sexual assault. Men are also thirsty for a better way, and the liberation of men is directly tied to the liberation of women.
JIA: Would you like to add anything?
Bunch: I would just like to say that as we work with men, our message is clear: women do not need to be saved or rescued. Women are fully capable people. Instead, men need to not be violent, and safety takes care of itself.