May 25, 2012 | Violence Against Women
A Call to Men to Combat Violence Against Women
A CALL TO MEN works to end violence against women by helping men realize how they unintentionally perpetuate violence and how they can develop a healthy manhood.
Ted Bunch dodged a bullet. Coming from a family of civil rights activists, he was brought up with “a social justice analysis and a feminist perspective.”
That put him squarely outside “the Man Box,” the name he has for a construction of masculinity that teaches boys and men to seek control, show no emotion, and view women as objects. With A CALL TO MEN, the organization he founded with activist Tony Porter, he helps men recognize the Man Box’s toxic ingredients and help them escape its confines to develop what he calls “healthy manhood.”
“Whether it’s marketing or what our children are being taught in school, respecting women is not something that men are taught to do,” he said. “It’s part of the upbringing of every man in the United States, in one way or another.”
Mr. Bunch and Mr. Porter use workshops, seminars and educational tools such as DVDs to shift gender norms, and show men the ways that they participate in and support – often unconsciously – a culture that perpetrates violence against women.
“The overwhelming majority of men are not violent, but we are silent about the violence that other men perpetrate,” said Mr. Bunch. “That’s as much of a problem as violence itself. Actually, the violence relies on our silence for it to exist.”
The two co-founders held their first workshop in 2003, in a spare conference room at the Nyack Hospital in upstate New York, where Mr. Porter ran outpatient services. At the time, Mr. Bunch was working with a large New York City-based non-profit that assisted survivors of domestic violence; both men had strong ties to the feminist community.
“The work of A CALL TO MEN was born out of the battered women’s movement,” Mr. Bunch said. “We were spending time with very patient women feminist leaders in the battered women’s movement -- and I say patient because our analysis is not anywhere near where it is now. But they clearly knew that we were well-meaning men who had the same goal as them, which was for men not to be violent.”
Through their network of other advocates working against domestic and sexual violence, word spread about their trainings. They began to lecture at schools, universities and workplaces. In 2005, they established A CALL TO MEN (ACTMen), and in 2008 left their respective jobs to work on it full-time. In addition to workshops, ACTMen works with professional athletes to speak out against domestic violence, and in 2010 published “NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters,” a collection of personal accounts that explore the relationship between father and daughter. They also offer leadership development, age-specific training, and coaching for parents.
In workshops, Mr. Bunch often shares his own experience as a parent as an example. His daughter, a college senior, lives off-campus with two female classmates. To give the impression that there’s a man in the house, she leaves a pair of her father’s old shoes outside of the door.
“So I ask men, ‘Why would she need to do that?’ And I say to them, “There are women in your life who do things on a daily basis just like that, to reduce their risk of men’s violence,” he said. “We ask, ‘What kind of world do you want for your daughter? What would that world look like? How would men behave in that world?’”
According to Mr. Bunch, it’s often “the average guy, the well-meaning man,” who benefits most from his work. In the course of a workshop, he’ll ask men to reconsider the language they use and how it reinforces harmful gender norms.
“It comes out on the baseball field, when one of the good guys -- not one of the guys that’s going to perpetrate the violence -- is saying, “You throw like a girl,” or on the soccer field, and they say, ‘You kick like a girl.’ Girls kick and throw just fine!” he said. “It’s the fabric of our socialization, so what we try to do is bring the message home to them about why they should care, because that’s the only thing that’s going to get them moving.”
He described a subtle epiphany he inspired in a corporate executive in his mid-50s, who told Mr. Bunch that he’d never realized that by calling his golfing buddies female names when they played poorly, he was perpetuating the problem.
“As good of a guy as he was, and as much respect that he had and showed for women, he was still part of the problem,” said Mr. Bunch. “And that was very satisfying, because every one of us, as a male in this society, has been socialized in this way.”
Mr. Bunch is swift to point out that the payoffs of his work accrue to both women and men.
“The liberation of men is directly connected to the liberation of women.”
Anna Louie Sussman is a writer and editor for the Women in the World Foundation website, and a frequent contributor to major U.S. magazines and newspapers.