Vermont Advocate: Men Must Help Change The Culture Of Domestic Violence

Apr 22, 2014

About 40 years ago a group of women in Brattleboro got together to create a safe haven for other women in their community who were suffering from abuse.

The Women’s Crisis Center changed its name a few years ago to the Women’s Freedom Center. VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Shari May, community outreach advocate for the Women’s Freedom Center.

The late 1960s and early 1970s marked a time of great change around civil rights issues, including women’s rights.

A group of women in Brattleboro originally planned to open a rape crisis center to focus on the problem of sexual assaults.

“What they realized pretty early on was that most of the calls that were coming in were actually about women who were being beaten by their male partners and there was no template for this kind of advocacy. They taught themselves how to create a shelter, bringing women into their own homes for safety initially until they could find funds for that.”

The issue has not gone away over the decades, but May says there has been an increase in the number of services available to women, including more shelters.

“But sadly, that doesn’t really address society’s problem in ending the abuse,” May said, sharing a number of statistics.

“Just because it’s happening behind closed doors doesn’t mean it’s not a community and a political issue,” May said. “Around the world in every culture, we all still live in a patriarchy and that is the root cause. We’re still working against some of the same age old thinking.”

More men need to be involved in the issue, May said. It’s a huge part of the outreach work done by the Women’s Freedom Center.

“The bottom line is that the traditional male code that can be so harmful to women and girls is also harmful to men and boys, and this isn’t ultimately about men versus women, it’s about the toxic conditioning that happens to everyone and restricts gender roles for everyone, so that’s something that we all can contribute to the larger conversation in our culture about the teaching of violent masculinity and gender stereotypes. We all certainly benefit from having that conversation,” May said. She stressed that these conversation need to happen among men and women, and among men themselves. “A lot of the respect or disrespect that men and boys are taught about women comes from other men.”

Next month the Women’s Freedom Center is holding an event to talk about violent masculinity. They’ll be showing the update to the documentary Tough Guise.

“We really want to take a look at where these lessons are coming from that perpetuate some of the myths and that still let perpetrators off the hook and help to silence victims of these crimes, shame or blame them. It’s all connected,” May said.

The Women’s Freedom Center will be showing “Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture,” on May 1st at the Root in Brattleboro, with a discussion to follow.