Teaching respect for women – The power is in Dad’s hands

June 9, 2014

A students places a candle at a vigil for the victims of the recent killing rampage near Los Angeles, California. Photo source: David McNew, Getty Images.

Another month, another mass killing—this time at the University of California. Another forensic dissection of the killer’s past in search of explanations. Another queue of media pundits pointing fingers—too many guns, too little mental health care. It’s become almost predictable.

This time, however, the attacks sparked a social media storm, reigniting discussion about harassment and violence against women in our society. With Father’s Day approaching, dads are realizing the power they have to make a difference.

Following the attack, videos and letters from killer Elliot Rodger went public, blaming women for all his problems. He swears vengeance upon those who rejected his romantic advances. A Twitter storm ensued.

By the thousands, women took to Twitter with the hashtag #YesAllWomen to show that Rodger is just an extreme example of the violence and harassment they face every day. In post after post, women describe verbal abuse in bars, and share tips for deferring unwanted advances without provoking a violent response. Until #YesAllWomen, we underestimated the power of a single sentence, 140 characters or less.

As many male Tweeters distanced themselves from Rodger’s misogyny, they struggled with the question: “What can I do?” But one Massachusetts father nailed it. Albert Dubreuil tweeted: “Started reading the #YesAllWomen tweets [because] I’ve got a daughter, but now I see I should be reading them [because] I’ve got two sons.” Dubreuil realized that—as fathers, uncles, big brothers or grandfathers—what we can do is become role models for the boys in our lives. Teach them to respect women as equals.

It’s easy to dismiss tragedies like the California murders as isolated events, perpetrated by unusually disturbed individuals. Many have. It’s easy—until you hear the voices lining up to defend the killer and read the personal accounts of women who experience harassment and violence every day. It’s then we realize the killers are just the head of the boil—an extreme expression of attitudes that are all too prevalent.

In the aftermath of the California shooting, a not-insignificant number of men took to social media to express their sympathy for the killer. Tweets like: “I really feel bad for him. Rejection is agony” or “I don’t blame guns. I blame blondes for this one,” or even “See girls this is what you get for treating nice guys like ****.” Believe it or not, they get worse, and usually involve more profanity. Fan sites have sprung up in homage to Rodger.  And 25 years after a gunman—claiming he was “fighting feminism”—killed 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, you can still find web sites arguing his actions were justified.

At the root is a prehistoric attitude that men are the “alpha males” (to quote Rodger’s YouTube diatribe). We dominate, and women are lesser beings that exist to give us what we want. And if men don’t get what we want, we are justified in responding with rage and aggression towards women. That’s the attitude you’re hearing every time a man gets angry because a woman said “no.” And to judge by the thousands of tweets posted to #YesAllWomen, women still hear it every day.

Even in the #YesAllWomen thread, scattered amidst the fear and pain, were tweets by men insulting, harassing, and bullying. There’s even a disgusting new tag mocking the thread—#YesAllWomenJokes.

Even some of the good-intentioned responses were misguided. Another trending hashtag that emerged after California was #NotAllMen—in which males assured women that all men aren’t misogynistic brutes. But women already know that. Loudly insisting “Hey, I’m not like that” hijacks the discussion from women by making “good guys” the victims.

So how does a “good guy” contribute and make a difference against misogyny?

Dubreuil figured it out. Creating a society where all men respect women starts in the home. Boys look up to the adult males in their lives. Our own dad was a powerful role model. In every word and deed he showed us that women are our equals. There was no “women’s work” in our house—dad cooked and cleaned, and expected us to do our share of the chores.

The web site RespectWomen.ca—launched by the Violence Prevention Initiative of the Government of Newfoundland—has advice for teaching your children to respect women. Be a role model. Don’t embarrass, insult or demean the women in your life. Be positive—compliment and support them. If you see your son behaving aggressively with girls, or making inappropriate remarks about women, take him aside and explain why it’s not acceptable behaviour.

There are no simple solutions for the horrors that befell the victims in California or Montreal, or all the lesser acts of harassment and violence inflicted on women everywhere every day. But we can’t fight the violence until all men respect women as equals.  And this Father’s Day, changing men’s attitudes starts with dad.

 


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