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4 Things I Have Learnt From Women During My Work Against Rape And Gender Based Violence

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By Ben Atherton-Zeman:

When I was 18, my girlfriend told me that she had been raped. Other women told me about being physically and verbally abused. Almost every woman I knew told me about being harassed on the street, harassed at work, paid less and listened to less than their male counterparts. It made me mad, but a friend said, “Don’t tell ME you’re mad — do something!


Now I’m 48-years-old, and headed to India tomorrow. These past 30 years, I have had the honour of working at domestic violence programs and rape crisis centres, as a prevention educator. I have written a play, “Voices of Men” and performed the play in 45 states in the US and ten other countries. The play uses humour to educate audiences about sexual and domestic violence, with the ultimate goal of eliminating such violence and engaging men to help do so.

I have continued to listen to and learn from women — mostly women in the United States. I have also learned from other American men who have themselves learned from women. This is what I’ve learned:

Gender-based violence is never the victim’s fault. We need to stop asking “what was she wearing” and “why was she walking there.” We need to start asking “why did he abuse her” and “what can we do as a community to create safety for her, and hold him accountable.”

Gender-based violence is a men’s issue. Some of us are victims, some of us know victims — many men are perpetrators. If we remain silent about this issue, perpetrators speak for us.

Women deserve to be respected and listened to. Rather than “taking over,” aspiring male allies need to support women’s leadership. We need to speak up when it’s appropriate, but sometimes remain in the background.

Gender-based violence cannot exist without a culture that favours men over women, whites over people of colour, heterosexuals over gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The daily indignities dished out by those in power form the foundation upon which violence rests. Creating a culture where all are respected will eliminate these daily micro-aggressions, and also eliminate the violence.

This is some of what I’ve learned from women in the United States. I look forward to learning from women in India, and from all who work to stop gender-based violence there. If my coming to India to perform “Voices of Men” and facilitate workshops can help even one person, then my trip will have been worth it!

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  1. Neha Jha

    Thank you for what you did. We really need more men like you.

  2. Monistaf

    Gender based violence is never the victim’s fault. True, for victims of BOTH genders.

    Gender based violence is a “Men’s” issue.
    Why? Are you saying that there are NO female perpetrators of violence against their male partners? Please see the stats before you make such blanket statements. Look at page 8 of this report “Bureau of Justice and Statistics on intimate partner violence” that shows that close to 40% of homicide victims of gender based violence are MALE.
    Males are typically less likely to report domestic violence than females. How many shelters accommodate male victims? Erin Pizzey is a care activist who is internationally famous for starting one of the first shelters for female victims. She realized that domestic violence goes both ways and when she tried to open a shelter for male victims of domestic violence, it posed a threat to the “Female only” victim status, so she was forced out of the country. All you are doing with articles like these is propagating the myth that domestic violence is only a “mens issue”.

    Women deserve to be respected and listened to. This is a “human” rights issue. There is not a single law on the books in India that is discriminatory towards women. They have equal rights, and in some respects have more than equal rights. There are plenty of women leaders, both in politics and business. They are free to compete and win, as many of them already have. Why should there be a special effort to make sure there are more. Equality under the law, is not a guarantee for equality of outcome.

    Gender based violence cannot exist without a culture that favors men over women. When you come to India, keep an open mind to learn how culture and traditional values are preserved within a family or in society in general. You will be surprised to learn that there are plenty of women who are equally responsible for preserving traditional gender roles in the so called “Patriarchy”. Unless you can acknowledge and accept that women are a part of this problem, you will never really find the solution. It is always easy to blame men for all the problems faced by women, but I am hoping you will have a chance to look deeper into issues of traditional gender roles being propagated and fiercely defended by the “Women” of the patriarchy.

  3. Andrea

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, Ben. I look forward to hearing about what you learn in your travels.

  4. Ben Atherton-Zeman

    Thanks, Neha! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for women like you.

    Monistaf, thanks for opening up the discussion! I agree – no victim of violence, no matter what gender, should be blamed for the violence perpetrated against them. The shelters and rape crisis centers where I worked served all victims – women and men, gay and straight, young and old, rich and poor.

    You’re right about domestic murder being more “equal” in recent years – however, many feminist social scientists attribute this to fewer women being killed, due to the availability of services for victims of domestic violence. Many of the men killed by intimates are battered women killing their batterers in a desperate attempt to save their children’s lives. Plus (as I’m sure you know), look at the numbers for rape, strangulation, murder/suicide and “separation violence” and the numbers are overwhelmingly male perpetrators, female victims.

    This is not to say that men are not raped, and men are not abused. I’d much prefer committing to stopping violence for ALL people, rather than arguing numbers. My focus on engaging men to stop men’s violence against women comes from my experience working with victims who are overwhelmingly girls and women – the perpetrators, overwhelmingly male. During those years, we helped many men as well – I think you’ll find most victim services providers do the same.

    I’m happy to speak about male victims of violence, as long as it’s not used as a tactic to silence the women who have been working to stop men’s violence. I don’t think you are doing this, but many in the so-called “Men’s Rights” movement do.

    1. Babar

      Men do not report domestic violence against women because it is supposedly unmanly to be a domestic violence victim. On the other hand, women not only report domestic violence but also fabricate lies, and they win cases because the courts favour women. According to the Canadian statistics on gender equality, in 92% of cases women receive custody of children, women are acquitted of spousal murder at a rate 9 times that of men, and men sentenced 2.8 times longer than women for spousal murder.

    2. Monistaf

      Ben –

      Thanks for responding. I am sure you are aware that the overwhelming majority of shelters that cater to domestic violence only admit women, even though, like I said close to 40% of victims are men. I am glad the centers you worked at, did help everyone, but that is more of an exception than the norm. The story line of “battered women killing their batterers” is a sorry excuse to explain domestic violence against men. Violence is not the answer, regardless of the circumstances or gender of the victim or the perpetrator. This is the same line we have heard before. When men do it, it is violence against women, when the roles are reversed, it is self defense!! That is hypocritical, don’t you think? How difficult is it to just accept facts without looking through the prism of gender identity? Since the discussion is about violence, the overwhelming majority of victims of violent crimes are men, about 90% according to the National bureau of crime records report for the year 2012. Does anyone care? Is anyone protesting to stop violence against men? But, yes, we all need to focus on everything it takes to make the country safe for women. I hate violence against women as much as violence against men. All I am saying is let us get over this obsession with violence against women and work together to make it safe for everyone, regardless of their gender. The problem with campaigns, protests, media frenzy and sparse law enforcement resources focused on only violence against women, is that, it comes at the cost of ignoring the vast majority of crimes out there.

  5. Babar

    Here we go again. All of women’s problems are because men. Why don’t we show the other side of the picture? False cases of rape, dowry, and domestic violence take the lead, which never seem to be a subject of discussion among people. What’s worse is that there is no punishment for women who falsely accuse innocent men of crimes they have not committed. The draconian Indian laws have led to an increase in the suicide rate among men, where a woman simply has to accuse a man of abusing her, physically or sexually, with little evidence, if any, and land him behind bars. A man in India commits suicide every six minutes.

    Also, it is a fact that men are also victims of rape and face domestic violence at the hands of women. A woman’s portrayal as the ‘abla nari’ has not helped, for women’s cruelty can be seen in the violence they perpetrate on their domestic help and daughters-in-law, and of course, their husbands.

    Men were the ones who were victims of slavery and racism, and those being killed in war. Even today, men protect the borders of our country so that we can sleep in peace, and I believe that ‘we’ includes women. When the Titanic was sinking, it was men who said ” women and children first,” knowing they will be dead and could have chosen to leave. Men work in the army, men work as construction workers, men work as coal miners, and throughout history men have worked dangerous jobs to feed and support women, often losing their limbs and their lives. On buses, airports, and other public places, when one seat is available, it is the woman who is seated by her husband/boyfriend/brother. It is men who are asked to be ‘gentlemen’ and leave their seats for women.

    Horrifying incidents taken place with men daily, which no one talks about. Let me take the Nigerian case, for example. On Feb 25, 2014, 59 Nigerian school boys were killed by Boko Haram; some were shot, others had their throats slit, while the remaining were burnt alive, but there was so little international coverage it was almost as though the incident did not take place. Three months later, when Nigerian girls were kidnapped, the Obama administration, media, and feminists suddenly woke up, and there was an uproar and campaigns and what not. Violence against boys is the same as violence against girls, but those 59 innocent boys were not a subject of discussion because they were boys. Now imagine if the same has happened to 59 Nigerian girls – would we have been so silent? This is the same story with countless incidents in India and abroad.

  6. Babar

    Rather than “taking over,” aspiring male allies need to support women’s leadership.

    Seats are reserved everywhere for women, from the bus to companies in the corporate world to the political arena, and then you cry gender bias. The arts and humanities faculty is filled with women, and then they talk about lack of job opportunities competing with men who have toiled for years for their Ph.D. Women who are good looking are often hired over men who are better qualified. A lot of women choose to be homemakers and want an easy life, which is why they won’t take risks with their career, whereas men will risk their limbs if necessary, not to mention their life, to get to the top of the ladder in the corporate world. Men work very hard, and to feed their families, many men are dead. Men don’t take over. They just work harder.

  7. Winn

    Thank you Ben. I found this to be insightful. It’s critical that we work together to create a world where women are not oppressed and violated due to their gender.

    I wish you the very best!

  8. Antonia Meadors

    Thank you, Ben Atherton-Zeman, for your work to engage, educate and enlighten men regarding their role in societies in which women are victimized merely for the fact that they were born female. Previous commentors are examples of those who seem to have a stake in maintaining common gender bias by refusing to admit that it even exists. They could possibly benefit from your performance of “Voices Of Men” and I encourage (challenge?) them to take advantage of your tour in India. If any of these men ever had the opportunity to walk in a woman’s shoes, they may decide to rethink their position. It is not only a “men’s issue”, it is Society’s Issue, and we need more men like you to stand up for us all.

  9. Alissa

    Great article, Ben! I look forward to your updates about working in India.

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