Skip to main content

To stem violence against women, men must step up

By Donald McPherson, Special to CNN
updated 11:07 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
Don McPherson says men must get involved to push back at the language, behaviors and conditions that contribute to a culture in which domestic violence is too common.
Don McPherson says men must get involved to push back at the language, behaviors and conditions that contribute to a culture in which domestic violence is too common.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Don McPherson: Not enough men speak out against domestic violence against women
  • He says violence toward women affects men, too. Yet culture ignores, propagates it
  • He says campaign "One million men. One million promises," to draw attention to it
  • McPherson: Men can help in many small ways. Set example in treatment of women

Editor's note: Don McPherson is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a feminist and social justice educator. Follow him on Twitter, @donmcpherson.

(CNN) -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Why? In large part because of Witten's tireless commitment to ending domestic violence. As a former professional football player and longtime domestic violence prevention advocate, I understand how gratifying it is to receive this honor from the NFL. For the men engaged in this critical issue, it can be a lonely road.

But now Witten has company in Dallas. Moved to action by a series of recent slayings, Mayor Mike Rawlings announced the launch of a citywide awareness campaign to show that domestic violence — and the culture that ignores or perpetuates it — has no home in his city. He's hoping at least 10,000 men show up to rally with that message on Dallas' City Hall Plaza later this month.

A drive to end domestic violence, led by men. It's an idea whose time has come, again and again; some men have been pushing it for decades. But now many are hearing the call.

Related: Beyond vomiting, how to prevent rape

Donald McPherson
Donald McPherson

As Rawlings said in a recent press conference: "In the past this has been viewed as a women's issue, but it ain't. It's our problem." The problem is not confined to a shocking spate of killings in Dallas, or to one major U.S. city. The New York Police Department reportedly receives 700 domestic violence calls every day. Domestic violence costs the United States more than $9 billion a year. More than 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime. Globally, at least one in three women and girls are beaten or sexually abused in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of men.

What can men do?

Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a "women's issue" allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women's issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Beyond that, women are humans, with the same rights to safety and freedom as men. It is therefore our moral responsibility to not remain silent or passively on the sidelines, but to be actively engaged in confronting this problem in every corner of homes, communities and societies.

Many men have already taken action. Men marched with women protesting December's notorious gang rape and murder in Delhi. Men worked with women to stop sexual abuse of women in Egypt's Tahrir Square. Men joined women in pushing for a serious response to allegations of gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio (and the social media vileness that followed). Here in New York, men have produced excellent videos calling on other men to stop street harassment.

I've been working since 1994 to bring men in as leaders and partners in stopping violence against women. Today, I believe we stand on the brink of a global tipping point. From Dallas to Delhi, the world is paying attention. Now is the time to stand up. That's why I'm joining Breakthrough, the global human rights group, in its "One million men. One million promises campaign." Starting March 8, over one year we will secure promises from men around the world to take concrete action toward stopping violence against women.

Advocate debunks domestic violence myths
The secrets of domestic violence
Spotlight on 16-year-old girl's plight

What can you do?

You don't have to be a mayor or an NFL player to have a major impact. You don't have to be like the New York City firefighters who recently tackled the guy attacking his wife with a meat cleaver in broad daylight. Small — even non-"heroic" — actions add up. Challenge norms. Change culture. Make violence against women unacceptable.

You can start with the discrimination and inequality that create the conditions in which violence happens. You can call out a friend who makes a comment that disrespects women. You can treat women well in front of boys and men who look up to you.

We all, men and women, can reject the script that gets played out in media every day that tells our boys to be unemotional and violent while objectifying girls at increasingly younger ages. The profound presence of media in our lives has only led to young people being exposed earlier and more often to salacious and sexual content. This media bombardment desensitizes our boys and girls to the reality of violence that is anything but the subtext of a life. Our silence only validates that script. We can speak out against it.

You can make sure your workplace's sexual harassment prevention polices are up to date. If you hear things getting violent next door, you can ring the bell or call the doorman or the cops. You can show that giving a damn about equality makes you a better man.

You can do this. We can do this. Together, men and women can build a safer world for all.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don McPherson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT