To end violence against women, ‘start with men’

On October 9, anti-violence educator Tony Porter delivered his keynote speech, “A Call to Action: Creating Safe and Healthy Communities,” to a large audience of PSU students, faculty and alum in the Smith Memorial Union ballroom.

Drawing on themes related to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the keynote called attention to the attitudes and behaviors that lead to and perpetuate violence against women, devoting special attention to the young men in the audience.

Porter received three introductions from members of the PSU community — Jessica Amo, Director of the Women’s Resource Center; Chas Lopez, PSU’s Executive Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator; and student Deyalo Bennette — then lectured on stage before taking to the ballroom floor. “We don’t really do podiums,” said Porter. “We really need space to be with the men and have conversations.”

With slideshows and questions that probed normative attitudes toward violence, Porter focused the conversation on student athletes in particular, noting that many of them will likely become coaches and play a defining role in the lives of young men.

“When you’ve got 40 young athletes crouched around you,” Porter said, pausing for a moment, “what a wonderful moment that is to talk about something other than football.”

Throughout the night, Porter moved among the crowd, frequently engaging audience members with questions and opinions as he explored and attempted to explode male stereotypes as outlined in his concept of the “Man Box.”

“These are the ingredients we use to define what it means to be a man,” said Porter, noting admirable qualities such as respect, trust and strength before explaining the Man Box’s downsides such as men inhibiting their feelings, limiting their language and hiding their weaknesses.

“This thinking presents a dichotomy–men are strong, and women are weak,” Porter noted, later adding that it leads men to work hard to stay outside the “experience” of women–a collective behavior that divides both genders and keeps men from creating the space to have conversations about these issues.

As Porter sought to have dialogues that created “fertile ground” for bridging the gender divide, his interactions with the crowd seemed to produce unity, if not joy. At one point during a discussion of male stereotypes in movies, Porter called a group of male audience members to the front of the ballroom to ask why they liked romantic films. One student, noting his general enjoyment of romantic films, admitted to being “a simp” to his girlfriend, a response that drew a curious look from Porter.

“Now I’m old school,” Porter said, “and you’re gonna have to educate me. What’s a ‘simp’?” The student’s proud response (“It means I’m whipped”) sent Porter staggering backwards, grinning with his hand on his head while the audience roared with laughter.

Porter, however, quick to seize on teachable moments throughout the keynote, posed a follow-up question to the audience. “Instead of saying ‘I’m whipped’, how about we just say ‘I’m in love’?”

Another poignant conversation drove home one of Porter’s central points. After asking a male student, Alex, about his feelings for his fiancée, Porter asked Alex to explain his love to three young boys up at the front of the ballroom. Asked what they thought, one of the boys responded that it sounded like a perfect relationship, and that hearing men talk like that “provides a positive influence for future relationships.”

Porter seized the moment to drive home a central point of the night. “It’s one thing to speak about the next generation,” Porter said, “but there’s something to be said about the urgency of now.” Thinking about the future, Porter wondered about the day when Alex might see his potential daughter off to college, then examined some misogynistic components of today’s culture before questioning if she would be confronted with a similar culture of violence toward women.

“Will we have gotten worse?” Porter asked, “Or will we be in the same place?”

Echoing a sentiment often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, Porter presented a moving call to action in response to questions posed during the keynote speech: “Envision the world you’d like to see for your daughters,” he said, “and how you’d like men to be acting in that world.”