Over the last few months, at the V-Day web site, acclaimed writer Mark Matousek has been working with prominent men to create the V-Men Column, a series of stories and writings on violence against women and girls from the perspective of fathers, brother and sons. The following is an excerpted installment:
From the time I was a little boy I was taught to love and respect women. What choice did I have, being raised in an estrogen dominant atmosphere? When Mom left for work every day, I was left at home to endure whatever abuse my two older sisters thought necessary to inflict on me that day! They undoubtedly thought it was funny to fold me up in the pull out sofa, lock me in the basement for hours, terrorize me with fake-haunting sounds through the heating vents. Ah, the love of older sisters.
It wasn't always easy being a male minority -- but it did teach me appreciation for the real essence of what makes a woman. Even after there came the point that I was physically bigger than them, I continued to respect them; no amount of them pushing me around could incite me to raise a hand against them (and they weren't small females, both 5'9"). To me, they are a representation of my mother, the strong, independent, loving woman who created me, who sacrificed so much of herself in order for her kids to thrive. The slightest strike of my hand would disrespect that love, tarnish the gratitude I still feel for the exhausting workdays and sleepless nights my mother gave to help me become the man I am today. Every woman in my family -- from my mother, to grandmother, to sisters, to my wife are symbols to me of this same strength and dignity. Each of them has overcome great hardship to earn the grace that makes them such phenomenal women.
When I hear about violent acts against women, I'm left with powerful question: why? Did these men not have the kind of examples of female strength that I have been fortunate enough to live with? Are they unaware of the beauty that lies at the heart of a woman? A couple of months ago, my assistant brought to my attention one of the most grotesque situations I have come across in my life. A seven-year- old girl in my hometown of Detroit, named Alexis Goggins, was shot 6 times at point blank range while trying to protect her mother. After Alexis' mom had ended things with him, he kidnapped Alexis, her mother and her mother's friend from their home and drove them to a gas station. The friend tried to stall for time, attempted to call 911 from inside the station but was told that there were no patrol units in the area to assist them. She continued to stall, made her way back into the station, and when the attendant saw her tear stained cheeks, asked her what was wrong. He called 911 himself but that is when they heard the hail of gun fire. The boyfriend had become suspicious and began to shoot Alexis's mother right in front of the little girl. She flung her seven-year-old body across her mother's and screamed "don't hurt my mommy". That is when this mad man filled Alexis Goggins with bullets. Since then, she has endured numerous surgeries, had one of her eyes replaced, and spent months in the hospital. Today she is undergoing physical therapy and learning how to simply live again.
Where are we as a society, I wonder, when stories like this are in the paper? How can it be so easy for men to devalue woman? How have we become so desensitized to such violence is even possible? I play a sport that is based on physical might. My job as a defensive player is to stop the other team from scoring no matter how physical I have to get. I have had some pretty big hits in my career (I play with such wreckless abandon that I've earned the nickname "The Madbacker"). I'm known for putting everything I have into each hit. But even with that mentality, I still can't fathom what could drive a man to cross the line and hurt a woman. No matter how heated the situation gets, it's your job as a man to walk away. If you feel like you are being driven to the point, where the only way to get your point across is to get physical, WALK AWAY. If you feel like you are at the point where the only thing left you can think to do is to put your hands on her WALK AWAY. It's that simple.
This mantra became even more important to me with the blessing of my first daughter this past January. I worry that there is a little boy out there who isn't being raised to honor women. I have to worry that there is a little boy out there who will grow into a man who thinks no such taboo line exists, protecting the women around him. That's why I'm working even harder now to instill the values of cherishing women into my son BJ. He's got a little sister to look after now Ė the way my sisters watched out for me. Though my sisters were tough on me sometimes, they are the reason Ė along with the other beloved women in my life and young hero named Alexis -- that I have joined this fight to stop the violence. They are my inspiration for wanting to teach men, young and old, that our power lies not in our superior physical strength but in our ability to connect, empathize, and protect. That is the strength that makes us men.
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