April 25, 2011

Boys, Bulldogs, and Never Surrender!

Guest Blogger, Tim Wernette, is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona. He speaks most often to high school audiences in the hopes of changing the destructive aspects of gender stereotypes overlaid on young boys and girls these days. Here he tells how he was deeply moved at one High School assembly.

Earl, I want to share a powerful experience I recently had at Kingman High School in north-western Arizona. I think it will be relevant to the readers of your Man-Making Blog.

I had been invited to participate in a morning school assembly program for 500 students. The program addressed a variety of violence issues. My presentation on sexual harassment prevention was first. It was followed by a police officer and a District Attorney discussing legal aspects of domestic violence/sexual assault, and the cycle of violence (honeymoon, tension, violence, honeymoon...) in relationships. After that presentation a young woman in her 30's spoke about surviving a violent relationship and her sister being killed by her abusive husband (who then committed suicide). Finally, a young woman who survived an abusive relationship sang songs about her experience of abuse. It was an amazing program and I was quite moved by all the stories.

At the end of the program all of the presenters came back on stage and answered questions from the students. As the event was coming to a close, I requested some time to end with a few comments. I told the students I wanted to share something very personal with them, and waited until they were quiet.

I told them I sat in the back of the auditorium and cried when I listened to the woman talk about losing her sister to domestic violence. I told them how incredibly sad/broken-hearted and angry I am that there is so much violence in our society. I said I feel it’s tragic that as a country, we imprison more people than any other country. I explained I was angry our country spends more money on our military and wars than the next 8-10 similarly sized countries combined. I said it embarrasses me to live in one of the most violent, gun-toting countries in the world, and that we are surrounded by so much violence of all kinds we almost take it for granted.

"No Fear" and "Never Surrender."

I challenged them to think about the gender stereotyping that encourages young men to be aggressive, controlling, and violent, while encouraging young women to be sexy, passive and to accept abusive relationships. I shared with them my reaction to the back of a student's t-shirt I had seen that morning in the school with the school’s mascot the bulldog and the words, "Bulldog's Laws,” "No Fear" and "Never Surrender." I asked the students to think about what that teaches boys and young men about being a man.

I told them that I had never met Amy's brother-in-law (who killed her sister and committed suicide), but in a way, I knew him well. Like so many boys and men who have been taught to be tough and never express feelings or appear vulnerable, beneath his anger and violence was a scared little boy who feared losing his wife (she had filed for divorce), and was scared about how to live without her, yet had no way to communicate what he felt. I told them that all of us, boys and girls, women and men, are victims of these gender stereotypes. I invited them to examine the impact of these stereotypes on their lives and perhaps reconsider what kind of woman and man they wanted to become.

In that assembly, I hope I was able to give permission to boys and girls to express the full range of who they are as people. The challenge of  combating the powerful influences of gender stereotypes has to be everyone's work. We’ve lost enough young people to violence in all forms.

You can respond to Tim by email at timwernette@msn.com.

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  1. Warren Ivey6:54 AM

    .other country.' after reading on I now wonder what made you lead in that direction? I am SURE you are aware that the majority of people imprisoned are Black males-many from Urban or 'country-urban' areas? Were you also planting seeds of racial equity education? These males too have fallen victim to a double-whammy sterotype of 'violent BLACK MALE or male-of-color in more progressive parts'. Since I presume you are aware of this phenomena, can we open a discussion (I've sent my comment to Tim by email) about this gender issue? Thanks, Warren

  2. Brian7:15 AM

    Hi Tim,

    Well done on sharing your experience at Kingman High School.

    I don’t know how the stats go for USA, but here in Australia we could add one more meaty fact to the situation: 1 in 3 victims of domestic violence is a male, and in most cases it is a female perpetrator. (See http://www.oneinthree.com.au/)

    You express the view, “The challenge of combating the powerful influences of gender stereotypes has to be everyone's work. We’ve lost enough young people to violence in all forms.” One of the key things that has to be done, in my opinion, is to enlighten the community that it’s not just men who commit violence against women. Women violate men, women act against women, and men against men. Violence is illegal and bad regardless of whoever does it, and male victims are no less deserving of our sympathy and support than female victims. Ditto boys and girls.

    Men are now speaking up here and sharing their stories, which I find equally moving.


    Brian Mier
    Melbourne, Australia


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