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 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT