Beyond Manning Up: An NYC Paramedic Speaks Out About Men’s Violence Against Women

By Guest Contributor Daniel José Older, cross-posted from View From The Crossroads Of Life & Death

When I first started in EMS, I was struck by how many domestic violence calls we got. Within weeks, it became a regular part of the night, just another bloody dispute amongst the asthma attacks, strokes, shootings etc.

I’d like to say there was a moment that shook me out of complacency – the woman whose father had beat her so badly she couldn’t open her eyes but she still wouldn’t go to the hospital or press charges, the decayed body of a nameless girl we found wrapped in trash bags in the backstreets of East New York – but revelations don’t usually come in single sudden bursts. It was a slow and painful movement towards recognizing that the everydayness of men’s violence against women, the sheer normalcy of it, is the most insidious, dehumanizing part. That something must change.

They say that understanding privilege is a process much like accepting death – you cycle through a haze of stages from Denial to Bargaining to Blame and finally Acceptance. But of course, nothing’s ever that linear. As the ugly truth about what men do played out in my ambulance night after night I got angry, I tried to separate myself from all that mess by holding tight to some concept of being a “good man,” I tried to invent some perspective that would make it all a little more okay, make it make sense, rationalize it. My social scientist side kicked in and tried to fit it into some theories that’d water down all that blood but I kept going in circles, bouncing between all the stages, overlapping a few at once and getting nowhere.

Acceptance came when I finally shut up and listened to what women around me were saying, what they’d always been saying, what my own life was telling me: that the physical, mental, spiritual violence that men commit against women is so wrapped in the fabric of society that it seeps into our subconscious, poisons our relationships to each other and ourselves. It’s a matter of life and death, not just because of the enormous amount of men that kill women every year but because of the lethal fallout of the patriarchal mindset, which asks us to make insanely unhealthy choices in the name of ‘manning up.’

Even though it’s the last stage, Acceptance is only the beginning of the struggle. I finally got to a point where I could put words to my process, make some more sense of privilege and responsibility than just being speechless or awkward, move forward. Fell into a collective of like-minded people of color working on intersecting oppressions – true, brave hearted people that I learned along side, laughed with and argued with and stayed up all night unfurling crazy plans with – and we started doing workshops in schools, churches and community organizations around Brooklyn.

We used the Gender Box exercise that they outline in Beyond Beats and Rhymes, which looks at the way we play out stereotypes even today and what forces keep us in those boxes. We broke down how male privilege plays out on institutional and interpersonal levels and how white power plays on images of manhood to turn us against ourselves. We taught in Riker’s Island and the District Attorney’s office, spoke with judges, doctors, business people, priests and gangmembers, but mostly we worked with young black and brown kids, and this is what i learned:

Despite what we’re told, people are hungry to talk about how privilege and power keeps us apart and holds us back. Young men know what’s going on, feel the strain of what they’re supposed to be, but our institutions won’t give them the language of how to talk about it, how to make sense of it, how to survive. What we’re left with is locker room banter and bad tv, an epidemic of crap media culture telling us how to be who we are.

This is what I believe: in our heart of hearts, men are not the monsters we’ve allowed media to make us. We are infinitely wiser, more compassionate and more complex than that. Fighting against gender violence really means ending patriarchy, which for men means finding that place beyond what we’re told we’re supposed to be, beyond “manning up,” and becoming what we really are.

 

  • Mlsenteio

    Thank you for writing this. I believe that we are changing, maybe in someplaces faster than others, and sexes and races will become equal in the next one hundred or so years.

  • http://twitter.com/momfood Serene

    Thank you for this.

  • StellaNova

    Although I find your comments to be inspiring and well spoken I disagree that the media is the main culprit. Looking back at history in all its grandiosity it is apparent that sexism is as old as humans and has nothing to do with media but with power. The physical and emotional differences that separates gender has serious implications and limits our ability to transcend into a more civilized realm of humanity.

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  • Lyonside

    Not sure what level you teach – I’m a secondary science teacher (aspiring, anyway – still jobhunting). One of the ways I try is to make my classrooms safe space – too many educators ignore side comments and remarks from student to student, either to not interrupt the flow of instruction, or to not reward disruptive commentary. Sometimes, it seems that the teacher has no idea how to address it or fears repercussions, so it’s easier to ignore. Now, you can’t stop your lesson EVERY SINGLE TIME there’s an interruption, for sure, or nothing would get done. But I differentiate between side comments w/ no real target and side comments that insult or degrade an individual or a group at large, whether they’re represented in my class or not.

    That means sometimes derailing your own lesson to address the reasons a slang term is unacceptable, or giving the history of a phrase or concept, or asking others in the class how they feel when “XYZ” phrase is used. But in the long run, I think it’s worth it.

  • Tanya

    Wow, Thank you so much. I always feel like the only one speaking out about this, and everybody looks at me like they have no clue what I am talking about. It is so wonderful and makes me so happy to feel that others see the epidemic and maybe the solution if everyone would sit up, recognize and take some responsibility, this is not a womens issue, it is a global issue that we will all suffer with if it does not get acknowledged more often.

  • http://twitter.com/djolder Daniel José Older

    Great questions, all of them. I believe all of the above is the best answer. Individualized oppression is rooted in systemic oppression. Men have upheld American patriarchy for so long because it gives us power – that very specific and twisted form of power that relies on the suppression of other people’s power. So the system sets up a cycle of silence, miseducation and commodified sexism to maintain itself. It plays out in almost every sphere of society, it’s insidious as hell and so it gets us all to some extent.
    And the way we fight it it to have those honest conversations with each other, like this one, to be real, even with, or especially with, younger generations, about our struggles, our uncertainties and also about the things we do know to be true, the things we’ve learned from all we’ve been through. Young people value honest dialog; it’s refreshing after so much textbook Q&A bs, and I think if any educator takes a look at some of the good resources out there, including the Byron Hurt link above, and brings it to the classroom with openness and some analysis, a whole lot can get done. I’ve seen it happen.

  • Grace

    It’s not just in the West. Just sayin’…

  • http://twitter.com/djolder Daniel José Older

    Right- that’s exactly what I was getting at. Numbers will never tell that story because no one reports that stuff, but it alters fundamental things about how women and men view ourselves, exist, our feelings of safety and power…
    Even if there was data on things like that, oppression can’t be quantified.
    Thanks for sharing, Lyonside.

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  • Sphinxfalcon

    hear, hear, sir! :D

  • Suburban Sweetheart

    Thank you for this.

  • Sondjata

    Questions: On average, how many calls do you get as a paramedic per day? Out of those calls, on average, per day are DV? Same question for the officer. my position here is that being in a profession in which one’s day is spent dealing with “the worst” may skew the view of how often these things happen. certainly if I work in a DV shelter then I see DV victims all day everyday and I would be VERY sensitive to it. On the other hand that does not mean that “out there” is a massive amount “as in a huge relative population” of crime (including DV). That is not to diminish the cruelty that is DV or any other crime, but rather to place it in a context of the larger society in which most people are not victims of any sort.

    • http://twitter.com/djolder Daniel José Older

      Complicated question.
      The shelter situation is vastly different than my job, because shelter workers are only around DV victims, while EMS brings us close to all kinds of crimes and medical situations. I don’t think numbers really tell the story so much as to say that it happens every single day. In the context of the larger society, most women have been victimized by one form of abuse or another, be it physical, sexual or emotional. This is true if you look around and it’s backed up by statistics. The truth is, we probably don’t get called for the vast majority of domestic abuse cases, either because the victims don’t want to get in more trouble by calling for help or they disregard their own injuries for the sake of protecting the abuser.
      Also, there’s a larger level of abuse that domestic violence is really a function of- that is, on a societal scale of oppression, the reality and scale of men’s violence against women serves to oppress women everywhere, even ones that aren’t actually beaten up.

      • Sondjata

        Thank you for the swift reply. Still doesn’t answer the question posed.

  • http://twitter.com/djolder Daniel José Older

    @AmorCubana – that’s exactly it: the media/social services industry/culture at large is quick to make the violence about the women who suffer from it, which in effect shields the male perpetrators from having to deal with the responsibility. I so often see the passive voice used in these articles, A Woman Was Beat/Murdered, Etc, and the offender becomes invisible. Along with that invisibility is the refusal, like you said, to deal with the fact that men also suffer tremendous casualties from the gender box, that we let it destroy our lives in so many ways and perpetuate our own self-destruction by trying to keep it all a secret.

    By the way everyone, here’s the URL to my blog if you’re interested: http://www.raval911.blogspot.com
    and thank you all for the comments.

  • Omniavanitas

    Angry Broomstick are you on facebook? Friend me, I’m omniavanitas with the picture of Hitler with the Teletubbies (at the moment). The reason I write is cuz I produce a rad fem compilation zine out of NYC and I’d love to have this article in the next issue. Can Jose please contact me about this or someone (the people from this site?) at omniavanitas@gmx.com? Thanks!

  • Lyonside

    AngryBroomstick: I hear you completely. Sexism and misogyny needs to stop being a “women’s issue” and be everyone’s issue. I recently noted to a friend that homophobia has its roots in sexism, that it all comes back to men “acting like women” (as if, even if true, that’s the worst thing possible for a man to be), and women “acting like men don’t matter/aren’t needed” (which again, even if true, is so threatenening that it must be trivialized or sexualized for the male gaze, or literally beaten into conformity.

    My friend is a partnered gay man in his 20s, a linguist and a librarian… and it had never really occurred to him that homophobia was sexism in drag.

  • http://amnottheonlyone.blogspot.com Maureen O’Danu

    This is some amazingly powerful stuff you’ve written. I really like it when people get it, and you get it. I know a bit about overcoming privilege, but I’d never heard it compared to the grief process before. I like that.

    • Danieljose1

      Thank you Maureen that means a lot to me :)

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  • B-girl Apostle

    Wow. Thank you so much for this.

  • Big Man

    Yes.
    I have had the same epiphany on my job as a crime reporter, whch involves seeing violence against women and young girls on a regular basis. It’s why even when I don’t agree with things that are said by women activists, I often bite my tongue because the problem is so huge, and so beneath the radar, that it would only be spiteful to quibble over insignificant details. Something needs to do happen. Men need to love women as equals. All women. As a Christian, this is what I believe God would want.

    • Anonymous

      Loving women as equals means listening to what they say about their own life experiences. You just said that you bite your tongue when you “don’t agree with things that are said by women activists.” I find that really troubling. In other words, you prioritize your own perspective on sexism over the experiences of the people forced live with the brutal consequences of a misogynist system.

      The best way for men to fight sexism is to learn more about women’s experiences with sexist violence. Read memoirs about women survivors (there are hundreds of these books out there—I’m thinking of the memoirs of Queen Latifah, Loretta Lynn, and Tina Turner just off the top of my head), learn as much as you can about the dynamics of rape and domestic violence, and learn how sexist abuse intersects with racism, poverty, and other oppressions.

      Better yet, I suggest that men learn all they can about how manhood and masculinity is constructed in this society. A good place to start is Byron Hurt’s documentary about men of color and hip-hop, Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Hurt also wrote an essay last week about how he came into consciousness about gender oppression, which is linked on Racialicious’s front page.

      By the way, excellent essay Daniel. It’s heartening to see allies like you in the struggle.

      • Natty

         ”You just said that you bite your tongue when you “don’t agree with things that are said by women activists.” I find that really troubling”

        I didn’t read BigMans comments the same as Parkwood. I read it as he has decided to put his opinions to one side due to the importance of the issue. We need to see more humility like this from men. Still parkwood is right about prioritising women’s personal experiences and it would be healthy for BigMan to explore his difference of opinion further.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    Sexism is the most widely acceptable form of bigotry in our society. Sexism knows no racial, cultural, ethnic boundaries. Look everywhere, victim blaming, domestic violence, misogyny are so deeply ingrained in almost all societies. The NYT even had the nerve to blame a 11 years old girl for being gang-raped by 18 guys (monsters, all of them). Our society hates women and girls.

    • http://www.gonzotimes.com/ PunkJohnnyCash

      Sadly, I think there is far too much truth to that statement.