President Obama Models Men’s Leadership in Halting Sexual Assault

By Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
Huffington Post
January 28, 2014

Activists and advocates who have been working for decades to change the attitudes and beliefs that sustain epidemic levels of sexual violence achieved a significant milestone last week. Finally, a president of the United States — The Most Powerful Man in the World — used the power of his office to shine a light on the critical role of men in preventing violence against women.

President Obama, in a White House event at which he announced the formation of a special White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, went further than he — or any other American president — has ever done in terms of getting to the heart of the cultural change necessary for prevention efforts to succeed. Going beyond the tired, cookie-cutter statements that politicians typically make about this issue, like “everyone needs to work together to support victims and end this scourge,” the president said:

“We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place. During our discussion earlier today, we talked about (how) I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women. And that starts before they get to college.”

The president continued by making it clear that adult men — especially fathers — have an indispensable role to play:

“So those of us who are fathers have an obligation to transmit that information. But we can do more to make sure that every young man out there — whether they’re in junior high or high school or college or beyond — understands what’s expected of them and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see somebody else acting inappropriately.”

The president’s direct, gender-specific language about men’s leadership on this issue is both refreshing and affirming, especially for those who understand that preventing sexual violence requires nothing less than a transformation in our cultural beliefs about manhood. Women working in the field of sexual assault prevention have been saying for years that challenging men’s sexist attitudes and beliefs — across the socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and religious spectrum — is central to combating gender violence.

In so doing, they have often been accused by small-minded and defensive men of being male-bashing “feminizes.” Now that the (male) commander-in-chief has framed rape prevention as a men’s issue, the pressure to prevent crimes of sexual violence might now move more squarely onto the shoulders of men and boys, where it rightly belongs.

The president’s comments are also energizing and inspiring for the growing number of men, on college campuses and in communities, who are partnering with women to develop sexual assault prevention initiatives that actively engage men. Of course both women and men are the victims of sexual violence; most programs today acknowledge and address the special needs of male victims. Nonetheless it is important to be clear in the design and implementation of prevention strategies that regardless of the sex of the victim, sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men.

On a personal note, it was gratifying to hear the president express his position in language that some of us in social justice-centered gender violence prevention work have been using for more than twenty years. When my colleagues and I created the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, one of our central goals was to spark a conversation among men (and later, women) about sexual and domestic violence, which for too long had been seen as “women’s issues” that somehow didn’t directly involve men.

We called the pedagogical method we developed to encourage men’s engagement the “bystander approach.” By inviting men to be empowered bystanders rather than indicting them as potential rapists, we hoped to expand the number of men who saw these issues as their own. Ultimately, we hoped to help catalyze a larger change in the cultural definition of manhood away from one associated with power and control, and sexual entitlement to women’s bodies.

We believed we could change social norms in male culture by focusing on what men and young men could do and say to their friends, teammates, fraternity brothers, etc. that would make sexist abuse unacceptable — not only because it was illegal and might get them in trouble — but because it was wrong and the peer group itself did not accept it.

We encouraged young men (and old) to examine their own sexism, and challenged them to speak up when they saw others acting abusively or perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, just as whites should interrupt the racism of other whites, or heterosexuals when they encounter heterosexism.

The MVP model was immediately adopted by college and professional sports teams, and spread quickly to general populations of male and female students in high schools and colleges. Later, influential institutions like the U.S. military signed on. The first MVP training in the military was held in the Marine Corps in 1997; those trainings continue and are expanding today — in one form or another — in every branch of the U.S. Armed Services.

In the early 1990s, MVP was the only so-called bystander program. But in recent years a number of other “bystander intervention” programs have arisen that, unfortunately, de-emphasize the social justice-oriented, MVP-style approach in favor of gender-neutral, more narrowly-focused skills training. To be sure, intervention skills are important; we teach them in MVP. But in gender violence prevention work with men, what is far more important is to give men the sense that speaking out about sexist abuse is an act of integrity and strength, and not evidence that you’ve “gone soft” or taken women’s side in the supposed “battle between the sexes.”

More than any specific intervention techniques, what men of all ages need is a kind of social permission to act on their best instincts and not remain silent in the face of both subtle and overt forms of abuse. President Obama seemed to know this — almost as if he’d been through an MVP training — when he said:

“We’re going to need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And they’re going to have to summon the bravery to stand up and say so, especially when the social pressure to keep quiet or to go along can be very intense.”

When powerful men like the president of the United States make clear, unequivocal statements like this, it makes it easier — for men especially — to derive the strength necessary to do likewise.

194 thoughts on “President Obama Models Men’s Leadership in Halting Sexual Assault”

  1. Pingback: otc cialis
  2. Pingback: Usa viagra sales
  3. Pingback:
  4. Pingback: cost of cialis
  5. Pingback: viagra suppliers
  6. Pingback: chloroquine drug
  7. Pingback: viagra for sale
  8. Pingback: viagra 100mg
  9. Pingback: ed drugs
  10. Pingback: canada pharmacy
  11. Pingback: walmart pharmacy
  12. Pingback: Get cialis
  13. Pingback: cialis visa
  14. Pingback: levitra canada
  15. Pingback: levitra cost
  16. Pingback: cheap vardenafil
  17. Pingback: online casino usa
  18. Pingback: online casinos
  19. Pingback: personal loan
  20. Pingback: viagra cost
  21. Pingback: 5 mg cialis
  22. Pingback: cialis 20
  23. Pingback: cialis 5 mg
  24. Pingback: generic cialis
  25. Pingback: viagra pill
  26. Pingback: chumba casino
  27. Pingback: casino real money
  28. Pingback: otc viagra
  29. Pingback: viagra cost
  30. Pingback: when to buy viagra
  31. Pingback: viagra online usa
  32. Pingback: cialis tadalafil
  33. Pingback: viagra alternative
  34. Pingback: viagra canada
  35. Pingback: viagra generic
  36. Pingback: viagra samples
  37. Pingback:
  38. Pingback:
  39. Pingback: viagra
  40. Pingback: buy generic cialis
  41. Pingback: cialiss
  42. Pingback: buy viagra
  43. Pingback: Cialis 80mg price
  44. Pingback: viagra online
  45. Pingback: cheap cialis
  46. Pingback: viagra cheap
  47. Pingback: Cialis 20mg online
  48. Pingback: viagra prices
  49. Pingback: generic viagra
  50. Pingback: sildenafil 100 mg
  51. Pingback: order cardizem
  52. Pingback: red viagra
  53. Pingback: cialis online
  54. Pingback: generic cialis
  55. Pingback: celexa 10mg otc
  56. Pingback: cipro uk
  57. Pingback: casino slot
  58. Pingback: buy viagra generic
  59. Pingback: tadalafil 20 mg
  60. Pingback: casino real money
  61. Pingback: casino real money
  62. Pingback: casino gambling
  63. Pingback: doubleu casino
  64. Pingback: casino
  65. Pingback: how to get viagra
  66. Pingback: cialis for sale
  67. Pingback: cialis miami
  68. Pingback: gap insurance
  69. Pingback: buy cialis usa
  70. Pingback: go car insurance
  71. Pingback: payday loans utah
  72. Pingback: cialis order
  73. Pingback: cash advance
  74. Pingback: ebay viagra
  75. Pingback: paper writer
  76. Pingback: buy papers online
  77. Pingback: assignment helper

Comments are closed.