It’s Time to Change the Channel

I had the honor of being a Male Ally contributor for Stop Street Harassment  this month. This is the Piece that was published.

It’s time to create a new definition of “manhood”: one which values non-violence, respect, and equity over domination and control.

Photo credit: http://cupwsisters.blogspot.com

“Street Harassment is a serious problem. It makes us feel ashamed and afraid unnecessarily. I hate it.”

“Going for a run should not mean going on display.”

“I’ve gone from “queen” to “b*tch” in 6 seconds on the streets of Oakland.” –Voices of women on street harassment.

By devaluing women verbally, street harassment can contribute to situations that make it ok (in the perpetrator’s mind) to escalate into a physical confrontation, specifically if the advances are rejected

Lately I’ve been doing some training to learn how to help male perpetrators of domestic violence learn non-abusive choices and behaviors for managing domestic conflicts and disputes.

I’ve found that just as domestic violence is about power and control, so is street harassment. And sitting at the root of these ills is male privilege.

With male privilege comes feelings of entitlement: entitlement to sex, entitlement to being in control, having their needs as a priority, and also the expectation that when a man, or men sexually harasses a woman in public that woman should be happy she’s getting some attention.

When their advances are rejected, some men call women all kind of different names in an attempt to get some power back. This name-calling also serves to send a message to women which says that their worth is defined by how satisfied a man is with them.

Living in a culture that has very specific rules and expectations regarding what is feminine and masculine, and one that reinforces in overt and subtle ways the subordination of women contributes to the problem, and many images in the media give the message that its ok to treat women like objects, reinforcing the idea of male entitlement & superiority, and subjugation of women.

Check out this preview for an interesting documentary that examines those images called “Miss Representation.”

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Moving to action

“Allies are needed to fight against every type of oppression. We must use our privileges to level the playing field.  Just as people of color should not be solely responsible for ending racism, just as people in the LGBTQ community should not be solely responsible for ending homophobia, women should not be solely responsible for ending sexism in its many forms.”

Excerpted from (N.A.H.) Blog Post: “It’s Not a Compliment, its Harassment

It’s time to “change the channel” in our minds and actions. Today, many men are still taught in covert and overt ways that being masculine means suppressing emotions and having power over others.

In my training to work to help male perpetrators of domestic violence learn non-abusive choices and actions in managing conflicts in their relationships, we focus on honesty and accountability. That means being honest about the abuse, and holding ourselves accountable for the choices we make.

We also talk about changing the perception that men are entitled to have power “over”, to one in which fosters equality and shared responsibility as they work “with” their partners. Changing that perception involves questioning our status quo.

Down with the “boys will be boys” mentality. Let’s step outside of the box. Who says catcalling a woman in the street and then calling her a b*cth if she ignores you or stands up for herself is what makes you a man? Who says emotional or physical abuse is the “manly” way to assert oneself in conflict?

It’s time to create a new definition of “manhood”: one which values non-violence, respect, and equity over domination and control.

Men have a lot to gain, but more importantly a lot to give by working against street harassment and other forms of sexism and working toward gender equality.

We can play critical roles in challenging it not only in our personal lives, but in institutions as well. We can teach our young men that it’s NOT ok to harass or hit women. We can also offer counter-narratives that teach them to value the women in their lives for who they are.

We can also be honest and hold ourselves accountable by challenging the “conventional wisdom” and working against giving ourselves an out by assuming “that’s just the way it is and always will be” when it comes facing street harassment and other forms of sexism.

Men can also remain honest and accountable by acknowledging their own privilege. Although we have the privilege to not have to worry about being catcalled on the street, I think a part of being a good ally is staying in the conversation, and doing whatever we can in our lives to use our influence to advocate for justice and equality for women.

Let us move forward from saying “that’s just the way it is” to asking ourselves “What can I do to help?”

Encourage me as I encourage you in this difficult but worthy work towards peace.

Grace & Peace,

Relando Thompkins, MSW—Servant Leader, Teacher, Learner, Social Change Agent and Writer for the Blog: Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian (N.A.H.)

Read the original Post on stopstreetharassment.org

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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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2 Responses

  1. LS says:

    I really appreciate you and your work to stop sexual harassment.

    Another element that goes along with male entitlement and privilege is how harassing men force themselves on women. I doubt there is a woman who does not know exactly what I mean. The most brutal way men force themselves on women is to rape, however there are many other ways in which men force themselves on women daily. It’s almost as if they do not want to give us the option of saying no to them, due to their deep insecurities. In an egalitarian relationship, each person always has the option of saying “No.” Insecure men try to take this option away from women.

    Men who want to have power over women, and feel they are entitled to have that power over us, force themselves on us in a myriad of ways. They force themselves on us with their penetrating, invasive, threatening stares. They force themselves on us when they purposely stand or sit too close to us while waiting for public transportation. Then, once we are on public transportation, they proceed to ask inappropriate, personal questions repeatedly like, “Where do you live? Are you from around here?” even while a woman is clearly trying to ignore him.

    They force themselves on us by following us around grocery stores or waiting for us at grocery store exits. They force themselves on us by making rude and inappropriate comments about our bodies as we walk by. They force themselves on us by pulling up beside us in a car, making rude comments, while we are walking and jogging on the sidewalk for exercise. They force themselves on us when they continue to bother us and invade our space after we have told them to leave us alone. Everything I have listed here has happened to me over the years, which tells me, many men have absolutely no respect for women’s personal boundaries. It’s the reason I carry mace with me at all times. It’s the reason I’ve been studying self-defense for years. I’m sick of men forcing themselves on me, and I’m ready to fight back if I have to. Too many men behave like predators and it’s time they faced the consequences for making the lives of many women miserable.

    I hope you tell the men you work with that they don’t have the right to force themselves on women. If we don’t want to have anything to do with them, that is our right as human beings. They also need to know the consequences of continuing to force themselves on women who do not want to interact with them. Police records, jail time, loss of job, loss of access to their children, bad reputations, and women who want to avoid them at all costs are just some of the consequences. Tell them not to complain if a woman crosses the road to avoid having to walk past them or a group of men. This is the world harassing men have created. At this point in my life, the only man I trust is my husband. All other men have to earn my trust. This is the fall-out that men have to deal with because of the hostile environment so many have created for women.

    What can you do to help? Be aware that what I have written is not just my experience, but the experience of millions of women around the world. Encourage men to listen to what women have to say about their behavior without becoming defensive and dismissive of our experience. Contemplate how it would feel for you to have your life disrupted in these ways not just once in a while, but as a regular occurrence. I’m sure you would understand it causes too much unnecessary stress.

  1. January 25, 2015

    […] It’s Time to Change the Channel Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian (Relando Thompkins, MSW) […]

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