"Violence is a choice. And it is choice that men make. We can choose to stop it." - Patrick Stewart, spokesperson for Ring The Bell, a campaign calling on men to be partners in the fight against violence against women.
I know that everyone has rearranged life this week because the UN Commission on the Status of Women, focusing on preventing and eliminating violence against women, is going on. And on Friday, you and everyone you know will no doubt drop everything to celebrate International Women's Day.
By the way, did you know that yesterday was White Ribbon Day? Do you know what White Ribbon Day is? Because, I'm thinking that it shouldn't take gendercide and gang rapes of children and women to motivate good men to act against pervasive injustice that all women and girls are subjected to in one degree or another. And, even that doesn't do it in some places that remain surreally, perversely "divided" on the subject. Women are not perpetrating widespread violence against one another or against men -- in homes or in war. And yet, whenever I go to meetings, seminars or schools to discuss this topic, I enter rooms full of women.
This is immensely frustrating. This is why I think today should be called International Where are the Men? Day. I know many men believe in equality, some are activists and allies for change. Every day I appreciate the work they do. But there are simply not enough of them.
I know I'm beating a steady drum, but it bears repeating since one in three women are still subjected to pervasive violence every day: the greatest human rights injustice on this planet is daily, perpetual, profound and systemic violence against girls and women. No country, including "developed" "democracies" "at peace," is immune from this fact. A visitor to this planet would ask, in stunned disbelief, how it was possible that we'd so forgotten we are born equally human.
Actor Patrick Stewart, who grew up in a home riven by domestic violence and writes and speaks often on the topic, is headlining a new global initiative, Ring the Bell: One million men. One million promises, being launched tomorrow by the pioneering social innovation movement Breakthrough. Their viral Bell Bajao movement (Bell Bajao means "ring the bell") engages men in preventing and eliminating violence against women. Stewart movingly explains why men's participation is so crucial:
Stop, especially those in media and government, saying and thinking the words "women's issue." There is nothing that isn't a "women's issue," which is to say that in this case, as in every other, everyone is affected.
Share culture, real power and full rights. This is a hard one. First, it requires acknowledging sexism and misogyny exist and, second, that boys and men benefit in intersecting ways from patriarchal structures. I know that 99% of men are not running around feeling privileged, powerful, and entitled, in terms of how most of us think of those words. But, here is a simple test: how many boys do you know who would willingly and gleefully trade genders or want to grow up to be like a woman? How many ways, in how many languages, is it acceptable to insult a person by calling them some variation of "girl" or "woman"? Gender-based inequality and violence are about power and men, by virtue of birthright, have power, including the power to stop violence and change systems.
Bystander intervention is something every boy and man can engage in. When men, especially those with visibility, status and respect speak up, people listen. When they don skirts to protest rape and wear heels to "walk in a mile in her shoes," it's significant. When they take a role in using violence prevention apps like Circle of Six or they ridicule "Man Cards" issued by gun companies, it changes cultures. We need people to stop asking for rape jokes and stop thinking revenge porn is okay or about free speech. We need men to create affirming fraternities, based on respecting us instead of shaming, humiliating, and hurting us. We need to build public spaces and cultures that aren't designed to intimidate us and make life difficult, but are open to us as equals. We choose our legacies.
4) Sign up:
Breakthrough's Bell Bajao is an excellent example of a successful global initiative introducing programs in the U.S. Bell Bajao, which means "Ring the Bell," is a innovative social change effort that teaches boys and men to intervene when they encounter violence. Launched in 2008, the initiative's award-winning series of PSAs have been viewed by over 130 million people. Tomorrow, Breakthrough is launching Ring the Bell: One million men. One million promises, a campaign calling on people and institutions to make specific promises to bring about change. (@breakthrough is tweeting using the hashtag #ringthebell and they are live-streaming events.)
In the U.S., Bell Bajao is working with several organization's: Men's Story Project, Peace is Loud, Witness, Voices of Men, One America. Among their allies is Men Can Stop Rape, one of the first organizations to take on redefining masculinity and using strength for good. They have a great resource list of anti-violence men's organizations in the U.S. There are no shortages in the world: Men Stopping Violence, White Ribbon (AU), White Ribbon (CA), NoMore, Your Voice Counts, The Pixel Project, The Violence Stops Here, V-Day Men and Say NO Unite are just a few.
If you are a man and you doubt what I am saying, take 30 minutes to really question the girls and women you know about their lives. Scratch the surface of "We are equal enough..." and you will find that if we're truthful, even the "luckiest" of women are tired of being told "don't get" raped or beaten up, to avoid unsafe streets, of being shamed for female bodies, traded, sold, and marginalized through casual sexism, bullying, and brute force — all of which are given the weight of tacit and overt social sanction. We don't want shiny, new whistles. We don't need guns. We don't need mace. We don't want to be instructed on how to vomit or urinate on men. Women don't want to have to avoid certain clothes or hairstyles or jobs. They want to be told they're more than sex toys.
Women can never be perfect. We want to be children, be fed, go to sleep, get on buses, go to school, park our cars, get to work, exercise outside, have sex without punishment, give birth, not give birth, sit astride mopeds, wear skirts on bikes, go to parties, enjoy a drink, and just exist without significantly heightened threat or likelihood of casual, targeted molestation or brutal evisceration. Saying that we need new codes of masculinity that include teaching boys to respect girls as equals and that men should understand why they have to control themselves should not be a "shocking claim."
Those of us immersed in this work believe that we may be at a legitimate strategic inflection point in the fight against violence against women. There is no "neutral" in this fight. I'm not saying men need to step in to "take charge" and "protect helpless women." Women, like Mallika Dutt, founder and CEO of Breakthrough, are agents of change. But, we need men to be our allies. And, we know that it works when they are our allies.
The measure of our success will be when girls are born, fed, educated, cared for, and valued in the same measure as boys, as well as when children, like Stewart, are not subjected to everyday violence in their homes. Boys and men, who have vastly disproportionate power, will decide whether or not we can leverage this global tipping point peacefully for greater good and real change.
An earlier version of this article appeared at the Huffington Post.