#YesAllWomen quickly became a movement beyond the hashtag that elicited enormous and widespread response validating the omnipresent dangers of street harassment, sexual assault, and victim blaming that the vast majority of women face daily. The response from #NotAllMen challenging that reality was a chorus of earnest voices chiming in about their innocence, claiming unawareness and doubt about the pervasiveness of gender-based harassment and violence that women face. Needless to say, this was unappreciated for how it re-centered the conversation around a guy needing to validate his innocence while invalidating the lived experiences of women, and also because that kind of conversation does nothing to change or ameliorate hostile environments women live in. My feeling is along the lines of: 'You're not that type of guy? That's great. What do you do to show that to people? What's that? Not speak up when someone is being catcalled on the street? Not step in when some lecher is creeping in on a girl on the metro? Not tell your friend who won't stop bothering me at the bar that he should lay off? Got it.'
Here's the gig: I'm sure there are some women out there who think all men are harassers, and my guess is that would be because they face harassment from the males in their lives. However, I and probably every woman I know knows that not all men are like that. But they probably also know that not all men will let other guys know that by calling out and challenging abusive behavior and harassment. In fact, very few men will. In my many years of walking the streets, taking the metro, socializing and just generally existing in the world, never, NEVER, has a guy stepped up and interrupted a guy making inappropriate or abusive comments or behaviors to me. But a whole lot of guys have averted their eyes, buried their faces in their paper, turned away, or just generally tried to ignore it. And I get it, I do. Stepping in to challenge someone being aggressive risks having that attention turned towards you and that can be unpleasant and scary. But sitting there and thinking 'I'm not like that guy' is doing nothing to show the target of the harassment and the other people around you that you aren't like that guy. In fact, what it looks more like is like you are ok with that behavior. So if the only way you are showing women you are not like those other guys is to interrupt their testimonies to absolve yourself and not by enacting this benevolence in ways that actually help women and show other men you are not like that, then that sucks and you should really be quiet. Oops, got a little fresh there. But I'm serious. Enacting #NotAllMen does nothing to change the pervasive acceptance of harassment that women face, and instead channels energy and attention into making sure you don't look or feel bad. Which is a poor way to listen to the plight of others, and comes off as whiny and petulant. So! What's a modern man to do if he wants people to know that he is a man who respects women and doesn't stand for their abuse and harassment? You act it. You go public. You speak up and out.
In this series we are going to highlight men who speak up and act to fight violence against women, be they athletes, actors, politicians, or men in our communities. We do this not in the vein of some of the praise for male feminists and allies, because really treating other people like human beings should be a given. We do this to highlight these men as examples because it's rare for men to speak out like this, and we should acknowledge the ones that do and feature them as models and mentors for others. Particularly young boys who look to examples in their worlds to figure out how to treat other people. And what better example of dominant masculinity than football players? Let's start there.
After the Ray Rice scandal, lots of people and players were challenging the trending conversations that were coupling football players and violence, big dominant men and abuse towards women and the like, saying that scandal and bad behavior lead to more headlines than the alternative, of which they argue there is plenty in NFL players. And they're right. Guys like William Gay with the Steelers and Jason Witten with the Dallas Cowboys are two such examples that we'd like to highlight.
Both of these guys grew up feeling the harsh effects of domestic violence early on. Witten talks about his mother having the courage to leave his abusive father and move her kids back to her parents' place in Tennessee, where Witten's grandfather was able to be a positive male role model for his grandson. Today the Cowboys tight end looks back at his journey and sees where he is now and understands that he is in a great position to help other families affected by domestic violence. His SCORE foundation has launched several initiatives to help women and children affected by domestic violence. His SCOREkeepers program puts trained male mentors into shelters to be positive male role models for kids in an effort to help break the cycle of violence that so many kids experience and learn, and his Coaching Boys Into Men program launched in 2010 to train coaches to educate their players about dating violence.
Similarly, William Gay grew up to be a survivor of domestic abuse. At age 7, his stepfather fatally shot his mother before taking his own life, leaving Gay and his siblings without parents and with a lot of pain and questions. He talks about his evolution as an angry kid to quiet football player to a man who speaks up when domestic violence is the topic. In a piece he wrote to open about his experience and work with domestic violence, he touches upon the silence that often enshrouds domestic violence and allows it to go unchecked.
“Last year, I was with a couple teammates and the issue of domestic violence came up. Someone said, “What if you found out your teammate or your friend was beating up his wife or girlfriend? Would you intervene?” The answers were mixed. Some said yes, but others said no—that it should be none of our business, stay out of other people’s personal lives. That’s the problem. Answers like that are why domestic violence is still an issue. I told everyone, “Look, I don’t care who you are, if I find out you are hurting a woman, I’m going to say something to you and I’m going to do something about it.” In our society, grown men are taught to mind their own business and that it’s not OK to get involved. We need to figure out a way to fix that trend.
He goes on to say that the league should be stepping up to help players like Ray Rice with programs and support for healthy relationships before anyone gets hurt, let alone killed. In a wise and compassionate turn he diverges from the stance that many of his league cohort have and instead says he would like to reach out to Rice because what abusers need is education and training, a more effective way to fight domestic violence than to be condemned and cast out and forgotten about.
Men off the field have chimed in as well, with CBS anchor James Brown and ESPN's Keith Olbermann delivering searing criticism of not only Rice but the silence and inaction by others that enables abusers. Indeed part of why their speeches were so stirring is the relative rarity of hearing men make such calls to action from other men, demanding change on a cultural level so that women are not disregarded so easily, thereby making their value and wellness easy to discount.
Not all men have the courage and compassion to speak up against discrimination and violence against women, but these ones do. These guys show their strength by standing up and speaking out as powerful and compelling role models, and they have some great things to say about how real men treat others.