Melissa Harris-Perry | February 23, 2013
>>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry. there's not much good to be said about congress' inability to get it together and reauthorize the violence against women act except the spotlight on the opposition to the bill has amplified the reasons why there is such a pressing need for it in the first place. reasons like one in three women who will be assaulted, beaten or raped in her lifetime. reasons like the nine second interval that separates a woman who was just assaulted from another woman who is about to be. reasons like the 1.3 million women who are victims of intimate partner violence every year. these are some of the facts we can't help but see while all of our eyes are on the bill. still, right in the middle of the big statistics is a big old elephant that we just avoid all together. notice the language we use to discuss violence against women , women who are assaulted, women who are survivors, women who get raped. moving the needle in a meaningful way on the issue of violence against women requires that we face head-on the invisible subject in all of those examples. men. more specifically, understanding of american masculinity that seems to go hand in hand with violence. yes, men are victimized by violence, too, and yes, women are sometimes the perpetrators of violence against other women or against men. but the vast majority of men, of course, do not commit violence. and yet the vast majority of violence is committed by men. not only against women , but also against other men and also against themselves, because men are overwhelmingly more likely than women to commit suicide . so when women are assaulted, we respond to that violence with laws to support them. or advice for women on how not to get attacked but our response when men are aggressors is much simpler. well, boys will be boys . maybe it's time to redefine what it means to be a boy, or more importantly, what it means to be a man. joining me now is rich benjamin, social commentator and author of "searching for whitetopia." also, peter goodman, executive business editor of the " washington post ." jamele hill and roman won a super bowl title with the tampa bay buccaneers , a sports reporter and analyst. lovely to have you at the table. i want to start by -- this is not an all men are violent segment. it is, though, what happens if instead of telling the story through women who are the victims, we tell the story through men who are the perpetrators. would that shift our discourse so that we start looking at men as the basis of solution to the violence against women ?
>> i think we probably have to redefine how we look at masculinity . you spoke about the violence. as an athlete when something bad happens, there they go, they can't shut it off, they get off the field and continue to perpetrate the violence but it happens to everybody, whether you've lost your job, whether you've been affected negatively in any part of society. we just have to redefine how we look at masculinity , i think. i can probably beat everyone here in arm wrestling contest.
>> yes. you would beat me in an arm wrestling contest. i'll give you that.
>> your ability to care, be compassionate, listen, put yourself in someone else 's position, that's what defines masculinity as well.
>> you bring up a good point. one of the problems i think that especially in sport is that they make being a man anti-woman. by that i mean you say stuff like oh, you throw like a girl. just this week, darrelle revis , his first insult to richard sherman was you're running your mouth like a little girl . so when you have language like that that's coded deeply in sports, where masculinity is defined a lot, then it sort of imbeds it in their mind that in order for me to be who i need to be, i need to be anti-this.
>> so sports is one space of it but it's not exclusively there. because otherwise it becomes just a problem of athletes. we were looking at the bushmaster ad. this is a bushmaster ad that says consider your man card reissued. it's an advertisement for a gun, right?
>> i was just about to go there. it's a horrible irony that the house republicans are also refusing to pass gun laws , even as they refuse to pass this element of the violence against women act , and when guns are involved, women are seven times more likely to die in assaults against them. it's not just about who's perpetrating the violence in terms of men. guns are also an issue like you pointed out.
>> well, guns, though, become this expression and extension of what constitutes manhood. so they end up being connected in a way that we say a man is a person who can, for example, wield a gun to protect his family, and yet we know that the gun in the home is more likely to be used against someone in the family than against an intruder.
>> i do think will are hopeful signs in the culture. to get back to roman's point, traditionally when we talk about masculinity , we're talking about strength, projecting strength, protecting yourself and other people, supporting other people. these are malleable concepts. i look around my neighborhood where suddenly every guy seems to be walking around with a baby in a carriage. maybe like ten years ago, there would have been a sense of maybe i'm a little embarrassed. now, i'm proud, i'm not going to have her carrying this baby. i'm carrying this baby.
>> you've seen commercials about that where it's being celebrated, a guy with a baby carriage .
>> louis c.k. , hardly a model, comedian for masculinity in the traditional sense, nonetheless in a kind of macho way has talked about you're not a real man if you're not parenting. he's saying that -- he's questioning your manhood if you're not there supporting, if you're not changing diapers and waking up in the middle of the night and feeding. so this stuff can be changed.
>> it's interesting. i wonder if there's a class piece there. it seems to me we've defined manhood for working class men, sometimes differently than we have for middle class men. middle class men, what makes you manly is your earning capacity. it's the fact that you can be there and could have -- a lot of kids is a status symbol in a recession. it means you can afford things that other people can't afford. but often for poor men, we have suggested since you can't make a lot of money, what you're going to have to do is man up and manning up, if you can't write the big check, manning up becomes the aggression, right?
>> certainly at the lower end of the economic spectrum , the economic consequences have hit men much harder. we know it in terms of construction jobs lost, manufacturing jobs lost. there's a lot of stress out there, lot of anxiety and a lot of undermining of traditional manhood in terms of your ability to support a family.
>> i'm going to add, it's not only one's ideals of manliness and manhood, it's what's imposed upon you in society. i happened to be in wyoming three months ago and i was talking a lot with a closeted oil rig worker, so his ideals of masculinity that you're talking about in terms of class, it's not just what we think of masculinity and your carriage toting fathers, it's the ideals imposed on different people and it matters differently in how it expresses itself.
>> also, i wonder, if there is something that was affecting women that was 70%, 80% of women were getting cancer, we would say okay, boy, we need to address what these women 's lives are like. when we look at mass murderers, when we look at violence perpetrated in the home, the vast majority of perpetrators are men but we tend to talk about it as women , women who are victims, women who need to make different kind of choices. is this a kind of disease impacting men that we've got to be able to unpack that thing that is manhood in order to be able to address?
>> in order for you to flip the script and look at men, that means the men that are sort of behind and in powerful positions have to take a look at themselves. i will use the nfl as an example. we all know they do a lot with breast cancer awareness. we just saw a recent tragedy with javon belcher, the kansas city chief who committed the murder-suicide. there have been scores of domestic violence advocates that have been imploring the nfl to get involved and do a domestic violence awareness month but they won't do that, because granted, this is my theory, is that that would force them to look at their players, look at themselves and really address some root issues. and i think that's why it's been changed to be much like racism, where all of a sudden, the people who are impacted by racism, african-americans, latinos, it's our responsibility to solve the problem. it's like but we didn't create it.
>> but i will say, we are complicit in it, right? these definitions of manhood are not just what men -- we like this, right? it's a circumstance where the response of women not only to heterosexual relationships but in friendships, in television, what counts as a real man is still this relatively narrow definition.
>> there is always going to be this backlash from traditionalists that says are we feminising athletes too much. as long as we look from both sides, at least we're progressing. it's not where it used to be.
>> i wonder if there's something new about how we raise sons that impacts this. now that we are -- i know you are raising a son. is there now a new narrative that we tell to our boys about the possibilities of what manhood might look like?
>> well, i think when your sons see you showing up after school or going to school events and doing things, going back to that traditionalist view that used to be what the moms did and we're not at the stage where come home, read the paper, watch the news, go to bed and the wife does everything. both parents are equally involved in that process. so children now are growing up and seeing their parents, seeing dad and mom do everything, seeing them both have really the same role, and it goes back to things financially, how things are being affected financially. what's more valuable, your time. if we can't go on vacation once a month and do the things we used to do before 2007 as a man, i can still lead by showing the value of my time to my children.
>> you brought up a great point earlier. i think it's important, too, that men shows boys compassion and empathy, that they show that those traits that are associated with being women , that it's okay as a man to do that. i feel sorry for men because nowhere in this society does it tell you that it's okay to express emotion, to cry. we hear that all the time in the sporting circles about any man that cries, you need to suck it up or you need to just accept this behavior. men, unfortunately, bear the brunt of that. it teaches them to be emotionally closed.
>> when we come back, we'll talk about the fact that right now in indianapolis, they are actually taking the measure of a man. i also want to talk about james bond more when we get