As a result of the hard work of our Gender Violence and Social Change team, the Women’s Center sponsored events all through October in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. From a viewing and discussion of 50 Shades of Grey to displaying survivors’ stories on the lawn through the Clothesline Project, our interns worked hard to facilitate conversations on Grounds about gender-based violence.
Ulester Douglas, Executive Director of Men Stopping Violence, came to Grounds to take part in this important dialogue and share his own insight into violence prevention.
Ulester packed several sessions into his day on Grounds, meeting with several classes and organizations before his keynote speech, “Engaging Men in Preventing Male Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women: Opportunities and Challenges!”
Throughout the day, there was one thing Ulester emphasized time and again, with every class, organization, and group he met: In order to be successful in preventing gender based violence, you must look beyond the individual committing these acts of violence and at the communities and institutions surrounding them.
He was met with many questions about Men Stopping Violence’s 24-week intervention program that engages with men from the criminal justice system who have committed gender-based violence. Many asked how it worked, how receptive the men were, and how successful it was. To which Ulester pointed out their insistence on looking at the problem on the individual level.
He drew a diagram for students, illustrating the different levels you must look at when addressing the problem of violence including the individual level, primary community, micro level, macro level, and global community. Although the work of Men Stopping Violence’s intervention program is an important part of the organization, their true work and focus lies within the level of the primary community. In describing himself Ulester said, “It’s not just a job. It’s a passion and commitment to social change. At the heart I am a community organizer with a clinical background.”
Students discussed masculinity, rigid gender roles, and gender policing in order to confront the way men are socialized to think of themselves in relation to women. Ulester noted, “The most potent thing to make a man feel horrible is to compare him to a woman or woman’s body part.” Ulester drew connections between heterosexism, sexism, and violence against women in order to make it clear that you cannot end violence against women until you confront it structurally.
Focusing on the individual skews your perspective not only on the crime itself, but who is committing it. Most of the men who participate in Men Stopping Violence’s 24-week program come through the criminal justice system, but Ulester told students that that doesn’t tell the whole story. The over-representation of men of color within those systems enforces the misconception about who is committing these crimes. Bringing an intersectional lens to the issue of gender-based violence is critical to organizing and preventing this violence from continuing. During his keynote speech, Ulester discussed the necessity of appealing to self-interest when trying to engage men in the fight to end gender-based violence.
He said, “When the system is built for you, it takes a lot of incentive to reflect on yourself, your privilege, and how it affects those the system marginalizes.”
It’s not as though men do not care about this issue or that they are not concerned by it, but there is a lack of motivation to get involved. Thus, Ulester explained, you must appeal to their self-interest. He shared stories of asking groups of men to consider their sisters, mothers, daughters, being assaulted and what they would do in response, to which most said, “I would kill him. [The perpetrator].” He emphasized the effectiveness such an approach has in disallowing men from distancing themselves from the issue.
His keynote speech covered much of what we had heard him discuss throughout the day, but he gave the audience three answers to the question on everyone’s mind: Why do men commit acts of violence?
First, because they can: When polling a group of men in the intervention program, only 1 out of 45 said they expected consequences for their actions. Ulester commented, “We don’t ask, ‘Why doesn’t he stop?’ we ask, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’”
Second, because it works: There is a false and hollow sense of power and satisfaction that comes from committing these acts of violence.
Third, because it’s a learned behavior: Ulester noted that many people want to make the men who commit these acts of violence diagnosable, but as he noted earlier, it’s the dominant narrative and construct of masculinity men internalize that influences their violent actions.
Ulester’s keynote was remarkably comprehensive, showing the audience not only the cultural forces surrounding these acts of violence and the men who commit them, but how we must reframe the way we look at this issue in order to truly begin to prevent acts of violence from occurring. He concluded his address with the famous Audre Lorde quote, “You cannot use the masters tools to dismantle the masters house.” It was a true pleasure to have Ulester Douglas share his experiences and insight with us.