How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart
By Paul Kivel
Why are men violent and what can we do about it? As we face the daily and deadly effects of men's violence, the need to find an answer to this question becomes increasingly urgent. The question leads us to others, equally urgent. What kinds of violence are we talking about? Which men? Can we do anything about men's violence?
This book is about men's lives and how the fabric of our lives is interwoven with violence. The very threads of our lives seem dyed the color "violence"; its pervasive influence could not be more pronounced, or harder to unravel. Some parts of the coloring are clearly visible, as in "He beat up his wife," or "He raped her," or "They fought it out in the bar."
Other parts are less pronounced, as in "He's been drinking like that for years," or "My father never talked with anyone, even my mother," or "He refused to see a doctor for the longest time. By the time he did it was too late."
Some shades of the violence are so subtle that we barely know they exist. These shades come out in the way we walk, the way we talk to our children, and the way we relate to our bodies, to women, to other men, to our souls, and to the earth itself.
I have tried to capture the whole pattern of the fabric itself. When we look at the whole fabric, we see how to create new weavings free of physical and sexual assault, free of the intimations of violence - the anger, stress, pain, and frustration that shorten our lives, destroy intimacy, alienate us from our bodies, deaden our feelings, our responsiveness, and our ability to act creatively.
In order to radically rethink the role of violence in our lives, I felt I had to start with my own life as a man. From there, I took a reflective look at the lives of men I've talked with over the last twenty years. I have examined our sexuality and our spirituality. I have noticed our relations with women and our relations with other men. I have reflected on our roles as sons, growing up with fathers, being fathers and raising sons. I have looked at the ways racial, economic, ethnic, religious, and other differences have influenced us. I have had to describe how even these differences are situated in a larger social context of the power relationships we live and work within each day.
When I began this work in 1979, there was a rape crisis movement, an antipornography movement, and a battered women's movement. The male activists supporting these movements fluctuated between believing that each kind of violence was a separate pathological category involving distinct kinds of men (rapists, batterers, incest offenders), and believing that all men contributed to the problem. For example, on the issue of rape we said that although not all men were rapists, all men were complicit with rape culture because we did not challenge the sexual harassment, the jokes, or the pornography that devalued women and set them up to he victims of rape.
In theory we were supportive. In our lives, however, we were ambivalent. Sometimes we said we were completely different from the sleazy strangers in overcoats who lurked in the dark alleys. This is the type of man who rapes, we thought. At other times we blurred all distinctions and lumped men together as bad and oppressive. In either case, we distanced ourselves from men so we could feel less guilty about ourselves and more self-righteous and angry about them.
In 1979 I thought I knew all about men and violence. But as I worked with incest offenders and batterers, as well as hundreds of men in workshops, it became harder for me to tell the men apart. The batterers and sexual offenders were not very different from the "ordinary" men we encountered in public workshops. Not only that, the ordinary men in our workshops turned out to be much more violent than I would have ever assumed. In other words, the offenders were extraordinarily ordinary by any standard I could devise, and the ordinary men were extraordinarily violent.
As I worked with them, I grew to like almost all of these men. I also found it harder to separate myself from them. We seemed to have the same training, the same pressures, the same hopes, expectations, and disappointments. I remained horrified by what some of these men did to other people; I could not deny the destructiveness of their actions. But neither could I deny the humanness of the men and my connections to them.
The complexities of our personal histories, male socialization, cultural backgrounds, and present relationship to violence ended the possibility of finding any simple answer to why men are violent. But I did begin to sec ways of understanding male violence that promised to help create a safer world.
The forum I worked in was a men's collective, the Oakland Men's Project. Our slogan was "Men's Work: To Stop Male Violence." That work has never been easy. The Project began with a commitment to challenge violence against women, but we were constantly forced to adapt our workshops to the needs of different populations, age groups, or organizations. We continually had to confront our own prejudices, our own histories, and our relationship to each other.
As we understood more deeply what male violence is about, we moved toward a bigger challenge. We not only aspired toward lives free from violence, we also wanted to create lives that were healthy, intimate with others, and models for our children. We aspired to help build stronger communities and to nurture the natural environment.
This book is larger than my life. It reflects the work, the thinking, the experience, the sharing, and the vision of the wonderful men I have worked with at the Oakland Men's Project since 1979. It also reflects the larger struggle of many men throughout the country to redefine our roles and lives, reject violence, and create new possibilities for ourselves and our children. It reflects, finally, the attempt of all of us who have been violent to weave a new cloth of maleness. This cloth is strong, bright, and many-colored. It is woven from different colors and patterns, but the colors are not blurred. It complements the patterns that the women, children, and other men in our lives are working to weave.
This book addresses many aspects of violence. It certainly addresses men who are doing the work of trying to be less angry and violent. More broadly, this book is based on the assumption that we all have a role to play in stopping men's violence. Women are not responsible for male violence, but there are many things that women, as teachers, co-workers, managers, government officials, friends, lovers, and mothers, can do that make a difference.
This book looks at different ways to challenge male violence. I have assumed that because violence is so built into our lives, we are constantly faced with the opportunity to confront it, subvert it, heal from it, and take whatever steps possible to stop it.
Our challenge is to reweave our lives as men. Many women have decided already that the violence has to stop, and they are weaving strong, new fabrics with beautiful patterns that will not be weakened by violence. It is up to us, as men, to reweave the fabric of our lives into something strong, vibrant, and nurturing, unflawed by the presence of violence. I offer this book as one thread in that process.