Do men need to hear domestic violence message from other men?

New York has rethought its campaign to end domestic violence, passing the microphone from women to men, according to NYC24.

The poster showed a woman wearing a hospital gown and a bruise on her back. The bruise had a statistic written over it: one in 12 high school students was beaten by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The only other words on the poster said: “If you or someone you know is being abused, call 311. In emergencies, call 911.”

Today, the image is a bratty-looking kid* in an oversized orange hoodie that says, “Awaiting Instructions.” The poster reads: “Eat your vegetables. Finish your homework. Respect women.”

If this campaign works, that’s brilliant. If it changes one person’s attitudes, and prevents one instance of domestic violence, that’s a success in my book (although, to be frank, you’d hope for more than one).

I am also really glad that men are getting involved. It will take a massive shift in the way that men think in order to change the tide on male violence against women, because, as the description of this epidemic makes clear, it is overwhelmingly men being violent, and therefore it is men’s behaviour that will have to change.

Stories like this give me hope:

Daniel Jose Olderhas taken up this cause. After working as a Brooklyn paramedic for a year, Older joined Reflect Connect Move because he said he had to deal with violence against women every night.

“I had to stop and think, ‘why is it that so many of brothers do that? What’s going on with us as men?’”

Yes, it’s bad that Olderhas saw the results of domestic violence every night as a paramedic. But that should not surprise anyone familiar with the statistics on domestic and sexual violence. But it is good that his reaction is to go out there and try and do something about it.

Here’s where the story gets more complex:

“After about 25 years we started to recognize that we could build shelters on every corner of a community and still not reduce violence,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which will be turning 30 this summer. “As smart and eloquent as I am, men didn’t want to listen. But if a man came to them and said this is not appropriate behavior, then it was probably going to have a bigger impact.”

Yes, anything to get the job done. But… seriously? If men can only listen and respect the words of a man, the problem is not anywhere near solved. It is kind of heartbreaking to read that the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the US seems to have given up on using women’s voices to communicate, because sexism and lack of respect for women is so entrenched that no-one pays attention.

“What’s ironic is that men get paid more to say the same things,” Older said. “The problem is when we expect and receive higher acclaim for it than our sisters who have been doing the same work for years.”

(Hat tip to vlogger Irina Slutsky)

*Although the journalist uses the gender-neutral word ‘kid’, and the photo is ambiguous, the campaign info is clearly directed at boys.

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