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Domestic violence: Grim statistics highlight call to revoke ‘permission’ for abuse
By Jason Lesley
Tony Porter didn’t blame a few bad men for America’s domestic violence epidemic. He blamed them all.
The author and consultant spoke this week at Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal Church for members of Georgetown Men Endorsing Nonviolence (G-Men), an initiative by the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office.
“There’s a thin line, in my estimation, between them and us,” said Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. “I don’t believe they could be who they are without our permission, looking at how far we outnumber them. We are not OK with violence. How does this happen in our presence?”
G-Men was organized with the help of Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb to support what was first called the Safe Families Initiative and later the Family Justice Center of Georgetown County. The center assisted more than 650 women and children last year. Board member Dick Clute said the center has the “most dedicated, experienced and hard-working staff anyone could ever ask for.” It is led by Vicki Borous, who was responsible for the state coalition against domestic violence, and Bev Kennedy, a former Massachusetts police officer with a law degree.
It was coincidental that Porter’s presentation was scheduled on a day when South Carolina was ranked second in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men: a rate of 2.06 per 100,000, according to a new Violence Policy Center report. This is the 17th year in a row South Carolina has ranked in the top 10 states for the rate of women murdered by men. Only Alaska had a higher rate last year.
Porter is a consultant on domestic violence for the National Football League and told the crowed of more than 100 at Monday’s luncheon to view the newly released video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking out his fiancee — they have since married — with one punch in a casino’s elevator. Rice, originally suspended for two games, was fired by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
“Men’s violence against women is at epidemic proportions,” Porter said. “It’s one of the leading causes of injury to women in our nation.” He stretched his arms wide apart to represent all men and almost pulled his left against his right to represent the small number who abuse women. “How is that this many men do what they do to women in the presence of all us good men?” he asked. “I don’t mean that we were there when it happened. I mean that we are aware that it’s happening.”
Porter defined what society says it means to be a man by using a vehicle from his book, “The Man Box.” He said men must be strong. “Men see women as being weak,” he said. “We play it out all the time. We go about our business as men trying to never, never appear weak.”
He said men distance themselves from the experience of women with one exception: sexual conquest. “Our definition is wrapped in muscles,” he said. “I know way more strong women than strong men when I get more comprehensive about what strength means.” The audience filled in the blanks as he went around the room: willpower, character, faith, commitment, virtue, intelligence, courage, honesty, loyalty. “When we allow this definition to expand beyond muscles,” Porter said, “we can see that we have work to do.”
Porter addressed senior members of the Waccamaw High School football team who were accompanied by coach Tyronne Davis. “The foundation about what you know about being a man,” he told the players, “you learned from my generation. “Feeling weak? I taught you to stay strong, not talk about being weak. Keep it to yourself. If you start talking about being weak in front of your peers you will be ridiculed, laughed at, teased. As men we don’t have permission to talk about feelings.”
As a parent, Porter said he fell into the patterns he learned from his father. If his daughter cried, he pulled her up on his knee and comforted her. If his son cried, he told him to hold his head up and come back when he could talk like a man. “The boy was 5 years old,” Porter said.
“We are teaching boys to have limited emotional intelligence, unknowingly, not purposely, but that’s what we are teaching them. We define manhood by separating ourselves from what it means to be a woman.”
Porter said the easiest way for a coach to motivate a young boy is to tell him he’s playing like a girl. He asked a 12-year-old boy how he would feel if his coach told him that in front of the team. “It would destroy me,” the boy said.
“What are we as men teaching him about girls?” Porter asked. A girl is weaker, inferior, not as physically strong and less of a person, audience members chimed in. The glue holding “The Man Box” together, Porter said, is homophobia. “The fear of being perceived as gay keeps us in line,” he said. “Men are taught to have a lack of interest in the experience of women outside sexual conquest and to use women as sexual objects. These guys are banking on that to keep us in place.”