Why Are Anti-sexist Men Confronting Violence Against Women?

The Ending Men's Violence Network of NOMAS is devoted to ending the whole range of men’s violence, against women, against children, and against one another. We believe that the world is bleeding from many forms of male violence, and that it must be stopped.

We are sometimes asked, but more often people simply wonder without asking... What motivates us? Why do we as men actually care about the suffering of women, or children? In the eyes of some, men who care about stopping male violence are so incomprehensible, they must not be ‘real men’. But what they seem to be really wondering is: What it is that actually motivates us? Or, "What’s in it, for us?"

Behind this cynical question, we hear one of the great assumptions of our time: That self-interest and only self-interest is capable of guiding a person’s actions. This idea isn’t new; It was seldom stated more clearly than in the words of Machaevelli: "No one ever does anything except for selfish reasons." But recently we have seen this opinion raised to a virtual law, to an unquestioned article of faith: that no one really acts on any basis other than self-interest.

What then should people make of men who believe that women deserve the same right to be equally valued, and to personal safety, that we would want for ourselves? One critic wrote: "The male feminist mentality is one of self-accusation, self-hate, and a guilty repetition of feminist assertions... This is a "guilt and shame oriented approach.

Guilt? To say that we are all motivated solely by guilt is “dime-store psychoanalysis,” and frankly, wrong. (We might note that the writer of those words had recently divorced his feminist wife.) Perhaps some people cannot think of any reason except guilt why men would support equality for women. But we can suggest several. Feminist men are typically motivated by...

- a genuine belief in justice;

- plain, old-fashioned idealism;

- a desire to make the world a better place;

- admiration for the courage and integrity of women we have known and cared about;

- and, frequently, by genuine indignation and anger at what sexism and male violence have done to our own sisters, mothers, wives, daughters, and friends.

If men who take this stand also perhaps feel some personal guilt, because of past or present sexist behavior, it is not a debilitating, obsessive concern. Nor is it... inappropriate. (People who feel no guilt when they've harmed other people are known as psychopaths.)

It was instructive to see the differing reactions of women and of many men a few years ago the provocative movie Thelma and Louise. In this fictional tale, which to millions of women viewers was all too real, we watched two women move across the American landscape, across a terrain full of male violence, abuse, and sexual exploitation. The abuse and sexism that we saw on the screen was not fictional however, as an honest look at the best and most recent evidence of social science reveals.

Rape and other crimes of sex-related violence are now known to be a much more frequent experience of women than was once thought. The best scientific research, by Dr. Diana Russell and Dr. Mary Koss, shows that about one FOURTH of all the women in the U.S. can expect to be raped in their lifetime, and that the rate is increasing. By the best evidence 10% - 15% of all women who live with men experience "severe and on-going" Domestic Violence abuse. Roughly 40% of all employed women report that they have been sexually harassed at some time on the job. Women are more likely to be murdered by their husbands than by any other person.

How should men feel about these facts? In a (mytho-poetical) men's magazine, a man wrote:

"...How do you feel when yet another account of "Male Violence" comes down the pike? ASHAMED, I expect, in a secret place inside yourself. I wince... I believe that a steady diet of this kind of insult wears men down. I have met a lot of men who seem to be trying to disown that they are men."

What a sad and self-punishing logic, to go from the fact that many men abuse women, which is factual and true, to the wild leap that all men should feel "ASHAMED;" Or: that honest reporting of this important fact is somehow an "insult" to men. (Can a reasonable person truly feel "insulted" by anything that is said about "men;" i.e. all the billions of us, born across the face of the earth with the same reproductive plumbing?)

And surely the most important thing about male violence against women is not how we "feel" about it. What's far more important we think is to make sure that we're not personally part of it, to confront it when we encounter it in other men, and to change social and legal policies so as to finally stop it. Our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our friends, are suffering these assaults.

Why does this seem hard to understand? Have we never before, in all of human history and experience, seen people who were motivated not solely by self-interest, but by a desire to do what was right? We have in fact seen great moral struggles before. Thousands of white Americans were swept up in the 1960's in that great moral struggle which first, and most enduringly, defined the limitations of American justice: The Civil Rights Movement. In the marches, the songs, and the legal initiatives of that movement, which enlisted millions of white Americans as well as black, we did not see a contest about selfish self-interest. We saw the great moral issue of our time, human equality, and a movement that became the seed-bed of so many of the progressive movements that flourish today.

There are different versions of “men’s movements.” Historically, only the national men’s movement that we are proud to be part of - NOMAS - has taken male violence against women as a central issue. . We are not concerned about defending "men's image," or how male violence makes men "feel" when we hear of it. We want the violence to stop. We do not feel brotherhood or "male solidarity" with men who batter and abuse.

Some say that men should not focus on the various bad things that men often do, because we need to feel good about ourselves, to take "pride in being men." Pride in itself is not a bad thing, but it matters greatly what we feel pride about. As Rabbi Hillel said, very long ago: "If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?

Men in NOMAS do not take pride in simply being men, (like half of the human race), but in being men who are trying to make a difference. That's what is in it, for us.