Text of Steven Botkin's
Japan Seminar Presentation
Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. It is an honor for us to talk with you about our work at the Men's Resource Center and to support you in making important social change in Japan.
Before I begin I would like to light this candle which I brought from the United States to commemorate all of the women and children and men who have been victimized by violence, and to honor those women and men who are learning to speak out and challenge all forms of violence and abuse.
Today I am going to talk about how a men's resource center has been an important and successful organization in the United States both for offender education and for challenging the underlying causes of domestic violence. In other countries around the world people and governments are also recognizing the social value of having a men's resource center, and the value of special support and education programs for men. I hope we can help you think about how this could be valuable for contemporary Japanese culture and in your own community.
Because we cannot go visit our men's resource center right now in person, I would like to bring the Men's Resource Center to you with a few pictures.
So, for a few minutes we will travel to the area of northeastern United States called New England, which is approximately the same latitude as northern Honshu.
Our men's resource center began in 1982 in a small town in the State of Massachusetts. I was 29 years old and a student in graduate school when I began meeting in my home with small groups of men to talk about men's violence against women and social expectations of men.
Now, 21 years later, we have more than 20 paid staff and 25 volunteers and an annual budget of over a half-million dollars which I believe is about 62 million yen. We are supported financially by funds from town, state and federal government, grants from foundations, contributions from private individuals and fees from our programs. Our main office is located in a building we bought five years ago. Every week we run 20 different groups at seven different locations throughout our region. Every year we serve over 1000 men and women, and boys and girls in these groups, as well as in workshops and presentations. We work closely with women from the local women's centers. We sponsor sports festivals and cultural events for youth, community education campaigns using advertising on buses, marches for public awareness, and information tables at local events.
We work with men of all ages. And all races. Developing leadership. And pride.
Our Men Overcoming Violence program is widely respected.
We print and distribute 10,000 copies of our magazine, Voice Male, and our website is visited by people from all over the world.
We also host visitors from other countries who come to our Men's Resource Center and to learn about the work we are doing.
Russell and I are very happy to be here with you today in Japan to talk with you about our Men's Resource Center.
When we first began 21 years ago all of this was very unusual in the United States. Men traditionally did not meet together to talk about personal things. Most men did not think there was any problem with the social roles of men and women. And most men did not understand that many women were being threatened, abused and victimized by men. Does this sound familiar to you in Japan?
But women had begun to speak out. And some men were starting to listen. I knew it was important for those men who were listening and thinking about this problem to have a place to talk with each other. So this is how we began - simply by having meetings with other men in our homes, and seminars, workshops and conferences at universities and in community buildings.
As we listened to women and talked with each other we learned that domestic violence was caused by a much larger social problem that affected both women and men. We realized that in order to end domestic violence it was necessary to understand and change the social conditions that allow and encourage it.
We also realized that to end domestic violence it was necessary for men to be involved. And we heard from many men that they wanted to help end domestic violence. Men wanted to make families safe their mothers, sisters, and daughters. Men did not want to be dating or marrying women who had been victimized by fathers or boyfriends. And men were recognizing that the social conditions that cause violence against women were also causing harm to men.
So as a result of what we learned, we created our Men's Resource Center with a two-part strategy. One strategy is to work directly with men who have been violent or abusive in their families. The other strategy is to support men to work to change the bigger problem that is at the root of domestic violence, which we call "sexism." Both of these strategies have been equally important to the success of our Men's Resource Center.
First, I will talk about how we are approaching the bigger problem of sexism, and then I will talk about our approach to offender education. Russell will describe to you in more detail our Men Overcoming Violence program.
CAUSES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In the United States we have learned that most domestic violence is not caused by men who are social deviants or have mental illness. Most men who are violent or abusive in their families conform to traditional social expectations and roles. We now understand that it is these social expectations about how men and women are supposed to behave that create the conditions for domestic violence.
Men are expected to be invulnerable, tough, dominant, and in control. Women are expected to be vulnerable, weak, subservient and deferential.
Men and women are trained from the moment of birth to follow these expectations and fit into these roles. These expectations are passed on by our parents and reinforced by every aspect of our culture. We learn that we will be punished if we do not conform, and rewarded if we do conform. I am sure that most of you here today can think of examples of how you have been taught to follow these expectations for being a man or being a woman.
There are two problems with this system. The first problem is that it forces men and women to deny and repress essential parts of our humanity. Women are denied their independence, their strength and their leadership. Men are denied their compassion, their emotions, and their vulnerability. This denial of ourselves leads to inner disharmony, physical, emotional and psychological illness, and interpersonal conflict.
The other problem with these rigid gender roles is that men are trained to dominate women, and to expect women to serve them. As a result of this training we have come to believe that this domination is normal and natural. Men who conform to this domination are rewarded with respect, social and economic success, and a feeling of power. A man who does not maintain this dominating attitude and behavior is looked down upon.
Domestic violence is just one of the ways men conform to the expectations and training of manhood by showing that they are tough, dominant and in control.
The programs at our Men's Resource Center are based on this understanding of how these rigid expectations of men lead to men's domination of women and domestic violence.
Our programs have four goals:
- to help men and boys question rigid social expectations and learn more healthy ways to be a man
- to expose the costs and damages to men of using domination and violence to achieve power and success
- to support women speaking out and organizing for women's safety
- to practice respect, compassion and equality in relationships
We have two different kinds of programs to accomplish these goals.
- The first kind of program is men's groups.
- The second kind of program is community education and cultural change.
In our men's groups we use small group meetings to create a safe environment where men can learn to talk with each other about the personal damage to ourselves and the pain to our loved ones caused by the expectations of traditional masculinity. In these groups men support each other to take responsibility for our behavior and learn how to express our compassion and our vulnerability. We help each other learn how to support women and girls, and to create equality and respect in our relationships.
Some of our men's groups have a specific focus, such as our offender education groups, fathering groups, young men's groups, groups for men who have been abused as children, and groups for gay men. Others groups are open to any man who wants to learn how to express their true feelings and needs, and to listen to and support each other. Men come to the groups to talk about problems with work, relationships, anxiety, depression, loneliness and family issues. Our leadership training program teaches teams of volunteers to lead many of these groups. These volunteers are trained to direct men who may have a problem with violence or abuse to our Men Overcoming Violence program.
In our groups for boys and young men we create a safe environment where they can evaluate the traditional expectations of manhood. We help them to understand that men are not born violent or abusive, but are actually naturally loving, caring and sensitive human beings. We help them talk about how social pressure, intimidation and violence are used to keep us from being honest about our true feelings and needs. In these groups boys and young men have the opportunity to meet older men who can be role models for ways to be men that are powerful and proud and successful without using domination or violence.
We also have groups for men who are in prison. Some of these groups help men learn to recognize and take responsibility for their dominating or abusive behavior. Other groups help men to learn how to be more involved and caring fathers for their children.
In addition to our group programs, other programs at our men's resource center focus on community education and cultural change. We present workshops to schools, universities and community organizations, and help to train other men to organize men's programs and resource centers in their communities. There are now men's resource centers in many different parts of the United States. Through our magazine, which we call Voice Male, our website, and an email newsletter we are communicating our ideas about challenging men's violence and changing the expectations of manhood with many different men and women throughout the United States and the world.
We believe that all of these programs are important to change the social conditions that allow and encourage domestic violence.
MRC APPROACH TO OFFENDER EDUCATION
So, now I will talk briefly about our approach to working directly with offenders of domestic violence. And then Russell will describe more of the details about our Men Overcoming Violence program.
Our work at the Men's Resource Center to end domestic violence is part of a coordinated system of community agencies. This includes services for victim safety, legal sanctions, police and court enforcement, offender education, and community education and cultural change.
When we began our Men's Resource Center we heard many different attitudes from men about men's violence against women. Some men denied that there was a problem, or said it was normal for men to dominate women. Some men thought if there weren't any physical injuries there wasn't a problem. Some men blamed women for domestic violence - for being too sensitive, or too emotional, or too demanding. Some men blamed stress at work, or alcohol, or family pressures. Some men said that they weren't violent, so it was not their problem.
We understood that all of these attitudes contributed to a society that was not willing to make the changes necessary to end domestic violence.
We designed our offender education program based on the assumption that domination, violence or abuse is something we have all experienced, directly or indirectly. The first goal, therefore, is to help men to recognize violence in ourselves, our families and our communities. The second goal is to take responsibility for any of the ways we have committed violence, abuse or domination of others, without using blame to excuse our behavior. The third goal is to understand all of the negative consequences for violent, dominating and abusive behavior, legal consequences, relationship consequences, and consequences to self-respect. And the last goal is to learn and practice new strategies for feeling safe and powerful that substitute respect and equality for violence and domination.
In our offender education program we are not doing couples counseling, because we believe that violent and abusive behavior needs to end before couples counseling can be effective. We also believe that if the offender is not able to change his behavior, it is appropriate for the woman to consider leaving the relationship for the safety of herself and her children.
MESSAGES TO JAPANESE MEN AND WOMEN FROM THE MRC
In closing, I would like to leave you with some messages from the people at the Men's Resource Center in the United States.
First are messages to the men of Japan.
- Listen to women, support women speaking out and organizing for safety and empowerment
- Find opportunities to talk with other men. Bring up the issues. Look for other men who care. Support each other. Invite other men to join you in a meeting. Build a network of men committed to personal and social change.
- Speak out publicly. Write letters to newspapers. Distribute information about domestic violence. Talk in schools and community groups. Sign the ending men's violence pledge.
- Learn to understand and express your feelings, especially tenderness, sadness and fear. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Ask for help.
- You have an important role to play in a process of social change that is in the best interests of both women and men.
- We want to be your allies and your colleagues in this process.
Next are messages to the women of Japan.
- You deserve safety, equality and respect.
- Your voices are leading the way.
- Men can and will learn to support your independence and your leadership
- These changes are in the best interests of men
- We want to be your allies and your colleagues in this process.
And finally are messages to all of you.
- Learn to recognize domination, abuse and violence in all of its forms. Remember that the little disrespects build up. It is woven deeply into the fabric of our societies.
- Build alliances and collaborations with each other. Find ways to listen to each others' hurts and fears without blame or shame.
- Use the deep cultural and spiritual values of equality and respect to remind the society about true power and success.
- Listen to the children. Don't make them give up their wholeness in order to fit into narrow expectations of women and men. Encourage them to be strong and tender, independent and vulnerable. Help them to see that domination, abuse and violence is not necessary to be powerful and successful.
We believe there are many similarities between what is happening in Japan and what is happening in the United States. We are living in an important time in the history of our national and world cultures. Many people are questioning stereotypes, challenging prejudices and freeing themselves from dominating social institutions. As men find ways to be partners with women in true respect and equality we become part of a worldwide movement of peace, cooperation and freedom.