November is Family Violence Prevention Month across the province of Alberta. On November 4th, I will stand in City Hall, with one hundred men, to take the following pledge: “I pledge to never use violence in my relationships and to work with other men and boys to join women in taking action to end family violence. I’ll also wear a White Ribbon in support of my pledge.”
In case you think I have come to chastise men, read on. I am a man. And for most of my working life, I have joined with other men and women to end family violence.
The following quote, from a woman, has helped to make clear in my mind why I need to be involved in this work.
“If you've come here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you've come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I believe that working to prevent family violence brings benefits to women, children and men. When we take steps to exclude violence from our own relationships we create space for more satisfying relationships with our wives or partners, closer relationships to our children, and better relationships with ourselves.
I’ve spoken to hundreds of men and women affected by family violence. Men have often confided in me that they were shocked and hurt that their wives or partners would choose to take their children and flee from them rather than live in danger. These men went on to tell me how they bear a heavy cost in health, financial and even legal consequences for their use of violence. The women were often beside themselves with fear and anxiety as they faced the possibility of homelessness and poverty.
Even our children suffer from short and long-term emotional, behavioural and developmental problems. In addition to the terrible physical and emotional pain caused by family violence, our health and social care agencies, like those supported by the United Way, bear a huge cost to heal these wounds.
Men are not born violent. They become violent in response to beliefs and norms and cultural expectations about what it is to be a man. The majority of men are nonviolent. However, most interpersonal violence is committed by men.
As it is a learned response, men possess the potential to stop this violence. Not only can men choose not to use violence, they can challenge the attitudes and assumptions that support violence, and they can encourage other men to do the same.
An important implication of these observations is that most men are bystanders to domestic violence. And those of us on the sidelines represent an enormous untapped potential for addressing the problem. The key to change is for men to join women in taking action to end family violence.
What can we do as men and boys? We can learn to oppose family violence while talking among our peers. We can invite men and boys to spread a violence prevention message in their families, workplaces and communities. We can learn to acknowledge and challenge the presence of male privilege and how it exists at the expense of our partners and children. We can gently challenge others when they share a comment that insults women. We can work toward an equal relationship with our partners: learn to balance the decision-making and care-giving at home.
I invite you to join us at the City of Edmonton Family Violence Prevention Proclamation from Noon- 1 PM, on November 4th in the City Room at City Hall. Come hear speaker Dr. Michael Kaufman, co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women speak. I also invite men to take the pledge wherever you are.
For more information on how you can work toward ending violence in relationships, visit www.whiteribbon.ca or call the Alberta Human Services Family Violence Info Line 310‑1818.
Michael Hoyt is an Edmonton-based social worker who has worked in a variety of family violence prevention and intervention settings, including: Forensic and Assessment and Counselling Services, Edmonton Family Violence Centre, and Aboriginal Consulting Services. He currently works for the City of Edmonton Community Services in developing the capacity of communities to provide supportive services to men and boys. He was a recipient of the 2011 Diversity and Inclusion Award from the City of Edmonton for his work.