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No Safe Place
No Safe Place: Violence Against Women
Interview: Michael Kimmel, Ph.D.

Sociologist, State University of New York, Stony Brook

Transcript of Interview

Q: You've said the traditional model of masculinity isn't work for men. Why is that?

The traditional model of masculinity has been around for an awfully long time, basically posit that men have to be...well the basix rules of manhood, if I were to put them this way are, no sussy stuff, that's the first rule. you can never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity. The second rule is to be a big wheel. You know, we measure masculinity by the size of your paycheck, wealth, power, status, things like that. The third rule is to be sturdy oak. You show that you're a man by never showing your emotions. And the fourth rule is Give 'Em Hell. Always go forward, exude an aura of daring and aggression in everything that you do. And this model of masculinity has been around for an awfully long time. But consistently it's been eroded by a lot of other things. The idea for example, that not everyone can be a big wheel in the work place, in fact there are fewer and fewer big wheels in the work place. The sturdy oak rule tells us that we have to keep our emotions in check, which inhibits us when it comes to things like relationships with women. relationships with our children, relationships with men as our friends. The idea that you always have to be aggressive and daring and going for it, this becomes a problem also for men because sometimes they feel like they can't always, it's kind of a relentless pressure on men. So I think that this model has been challenged in a variety of ways. the major challenge of course to it has been the women's movement.

Q: Ironically, at the same time we see a rise in the number of men who support feminism, the incidence of violence against women is rising. Why?

Well there are two parts of the reason you have this irony, which is that at the same time that there are more and more men who are supporting feminism and supporting equality between men and women, you also have what seems to be a rise in violence against women. Let me take each of these separately. The first part is the irony between these two is pretty easy in some ways to explain. A lot of men have realized that the traditional model didn't work. And so thye've been looking around our society sort of scanning the horizon. Who else has been critiquing this traditional model of masculinty? Of course, it's the women's movement. They have been saying, we want men to be more open. We want them to be better fathers. We want them to be there with their children. We want them to stop being aggressive and violent all the time. We want them to let us into the work place as equal -partners. So when men see that they go, "Oh, well sign me up. That sounds like what I want, too." So there are more and more men who are supporting feminism, who believe that the women in their lives should have equal opportunities and equal rights. We're sitting in a studio right now where there's a woman who's interviewing me, a woman sound person, a woman producer. I mean this was unthinkable 30 years ago in the work place. So it's completely different. And I think that mroe and more men are supporting that.

At the same time, there are men who are still clinging tenaciously as they can to that traditional model of masculinity. As a result, when they see it eroding or being compromised, they scan the horizon and say, "Who's doing this to us? Let's get 'em!" And that part might be the part about the increase in violence against women. And you also have to remember that this increase in violence against women is partly real and partly statistical. That is, more and more women because of the women's movement are reporting it. Part of the whole definition of what constitutes let's just say rape or sexual harrassment for example. Well, I'm in my early 40's. And when I was growing up in the 1960s, what I called dating etiquette is now called date rape. You know, which is keep going for it, go for it always for it, keep trying. Well that's no called date rape. So on one hand you have an increased reporting, an increased statistical number so it looks like it's increasing. On the other hand, there is some evidence that there really is an increase in men acting out violently.

Q: So, the statistics, for whatever reason, do show an increase.

What I'm saying is that the statistical increase in violence against women is both an artifact of increased rates of reporting which means that women are less likely to put up with it and more likely to see it as a crime. Second, an increase in definitions that are changing, a larger umbrella that constitutes, for example, rape or sexual harassment. And the third thing is that there is some evidence that there is also a real increase, so of course we have to take the statistics seriously. But more than than, we have to take them seriously morally. I mean, who cares whether the number has gone up a little bit, somewhat, a lot, or nothing. The truth is there's a lot of violence against women out there and all of it is unconscionable, all of it is wrong, and most of us, most men and more women would agree that none of it should happen.

Q: What do you see as the sources of male violence against women?

Some of the sources of male violence as we've now come to understand come not from the initiation of aggression, not from the claiming of power, but rather men tend to be violent against women when they feel that their power is eroding, when it's slipping. In the patterns of male violence against women that we observe, spouse abuse, for example, rape, battery, things like that. The pattern of these responses tends to occur when men feel that their control over women is breaking down. So men, we see from the outside, we might see men initiating aggression against women, we might see men acting against women, but the men themselves don't experience it that way. They experience is as a revenge or retaliation. Like women have power over me because they're beautiful and sexual and I want them and they elicit that and I feel one down, I feel powerless. So the aggressionthen is to restore the balance rather than ... so the's a very odd thing because what seems to be about men initiating aggresssion is actually about men seeming to trey to relevel the playing field.

Now of course, I mean we also have to say they're wrong. It is the intitiation of an aggression but men very often see it as a revenge or retaliation. I mean just listen for minute to the way in which we describe women's beauty and women's sexuality. We describe it as a violence against us. She is a knock-out, a bomb-shell, dressed-to-kill, a femme fatale, stunning, ravishing. I mean all of these are words of violence against us. You know, it's like Wow! She knocked me out. So the violence, then, or the aggression or the sexual violence is often a way to retaliate. I'll get even with them. They elicit this, they make me feel like they, I want them, and then they don't come thorugh. I'll get even with them. I'll show them. And so there's a kind of revenge element to it. So from the outside, it looks like the initiation of aggression, but from the inside, it looks like revenge or retaliation. I think it's important to get men to begin to see that what feels like revenge or retaliation is in reality initiation.

Q: What do we do to help men change these patterns? How do we show that violence against women won't be tolerated?

Well I think that men need to take individual responsibility for the problem, but I think that there are several prongs to this. I mean think of it in terms of like carrots and sticks. I htink the sick is we need very strong laws with uncompromising enforcement and all the way through the legal system so that we make it clear as a culture that we won't stand for this. As a culture we can say the way we try to say around murder, for example, or auto theft for example, that this is beyond the pale. You cannot do this. We will come down so hard on you, you won't want to do this. Okay. So we take away all the incentives, all the possibilities, we make it very clear, this is not okay in this culture. The second thing though is that's not enough, that's the stick. What's the carrot? That men begin to take individual responsibility for their own behabiors that they begin to think about their own behaviors, not only from their own perspective, the perspective of someone maybe getting even but the perspective of the ones who it's done against. So that they begin to see both sides of it, that it's seen as an initiation or aggression. That would be one part.

I think it's important for us to take that responsibility. I also think it's important for men to begin to realize and I think here's the real payoff. If we as men make it very clear to the women in our lives that we don't support men's violence against women, that we are actively opposed to it, that we are willing to confront other men who we see doing aggressive things, then our relationships with women will actually improve. Because while we're trying to work really on campuses, for example, to make sure that everybody understand that no means no. For women around sexuality, no means no is only half of it. Women also know now that they can say yes, that they can want and like sex. But they can only do that in a context in which they are certain no means no. So, if men make it clear to women that I understand what that means, I support that. You set these limits, I will respect them. I won't try to transgress these boundaries, then in fact, women will be able to get to the voice inside of them that says, what do I want? What do I want to say yes to? And in fact, men will actually have quantitatively better relationships with women. So it seems to me that that's the carrot. What's waiting on the other side of this is if men actively stand up, confront other men around these sorts of things, actively take this kind of individual responsibility, not only will women be safer, but men will have qualitatively better relationships with women and with other men.

Q: Do we need to change the way we raise men?

Well, I think here is a tremendous opportunity. Raising our young boys to be mature, sensitive, responsible men is not nearly as difficult as you might think. Because there are a couple of opportunities here that are really happening out there in the culture as a whole.

The quesiton about how to raise boys to be different kind of men, non-violent men, I mean it's actually probably easier than you think. I actually have this fantasy, now no one has ever accused me of being a hardened cynic on this question, but I think we could do it in one generation if we really set our minds to it. And that is if we as the parents decide that we are going to let our children know and we are going to model new kinds of behavior. If both mothers and fathers, for example, work outside the home, then little boys and little girls will grow up to think that working outside the home is something that grownups do. Not something that men do and women may or may not do, but something that adults do and when when I get to be an adult, I'm gonna do, too.

And if nurturing and loving and caring is something that both mothers and fathers do around the house. If they see their mother and their father doing this, now remember there's nothing...the one thing you can always count on is every little boy thinks that his father is a real man. so they will grow up to think that nurturing and loving and caring is something that grownups do. And when those little boys get to be grownups, they'll be nurturing and loving and caring, too, because that's what real men do. So it's actually a real opportunity through fathering that men can be raising a new generation of boys. And I think it's very important that we let that, that we encourage this because otherwise the alternative is really quite nasty. I don't know if you remember this event a few years ago, the spur posse in Southern California. There was a group of teenage boys that were sort of date raping and sexually abusing a lot of junior high school girls. And these guys were keeping score of how many girls they had sex with. These are like 14, 15-year-old boys. And they were keeping score through the numbers of the San Antonio spurs. So that's why they called themselves spur posse and they would just say that the number of basketabll players that they were thinking about that day or the number whose conquest they had reached. And the mothers when they were told about this, were horrified. My boy has been doing that? That's so horrible, I want to make sure he stops it. You know, the fathers' response was, "That's my boy." Sixty-five girls, that's great. Now I think what we have to do is we have to tap into the fact that men want to be good fathers. They want to have better relationships with their children than their fathers did with them. So I think this is a tremendous opportunity if fathers can model new kinds of behaviors they will raise a new generation of sons.

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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women is made possible in part by a grant from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation. The documentary is a production of public television station KUED in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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