The Silence of the Men

13 December 2017

blog

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Maybe it will be different this time. Maybe the outcry from women in 2017 will have marked a turning point in the honesty and maturation of the psyche of a culture exemplified by election of a self-proclaimed bombastic repeated sexual harasser to the office of President of the United States.

Maybe something will change now, unlike when the murder of children at Sandy Hook five years ago which held the national attention but ultimately resulted in no legislation to address the proliferation of gun violence, and killing of innocents.

Maybe it will be different this time. When the Ferguson community rose up in anger and frustration and said enough! More than a year ago, the cameras and focus gave a platform for highlighting the continued killing of black men, women and children while in police custody. In a country with 5% of the world’s population that houses at least 20% of the planet’s incarcerated prisoners, a young black man has a one-in-three chance of ending up in prison. Compared to 1 n 17 for white males.

Maybe now we can continue the discussions and move to change the status quo that witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and where Rep. John Lewis was nearly beat to death and other Freedom Riders attacked, and now the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III and individual states move to restrict the voting rights of ethnic populations.

Maybe now.

With regard to sexual harassment and without question women in Congress have stepped up and are now calling for strict accountability of alleged harassers and an investigation of the President, at a minimum.

But for indications of the seismic change that will fundamentally begin to transform how women are treated and regarded in our country I have been searching for discussions by men of how we can be part of the change, and how we own up to our part in the complicity of the status quo.

Perhaps in that process we will begin to develop an approach that can be used to address the other racial, justice, social and economic inequities that pervade our country.

In his initial defense of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, then candidate Donald Trump characterized his comments as private “locker-room banter,” what my mother might have decried as “boorish behavior.” Any boy growing up in the U.S. has been party to snide remarks, leering observations and conversations that objectify girls and women. It’s just become part of a growing up process celebrated and re enforced by movies and television. For most boys and men the maturation process and passage of time has helped to shape a more enlightened gender.

However, there are some men who it seems will always believe entitled to objectify women and girls, much as candidate Trump stated in the “Access Hollywood” tape. Our job now is to not allow them to define acceptable behavior for the rest of us.

To be clear. I do not believe I know any man who is not capable of such behavior, whether in (sick) jest, defensiveness, vindictiveness, or fear, regardless of any rationale. Nor do I believe I know any man who has not at one time or another actually exhibited such behavior—although in most cases such behavior occurred years ago while “growing up.”

I would also be the first to admit that I can still on occasion act the jerk. Hopefully, without directly affecting anyone and in such cases immediately making amends by acknowledging, taking responsibility for, and changing my behavior.

In those unfortunate and hopefully rare cases where a woman is affected by my words or behavior and lapse of judgement, I try to promptly make appropriate amends.

It is my belief that it is only in this manner that men can be part of a change to the status quo and healing process, and begin with women to create a safe environment for our daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, wives and families.

It has also been my experience that the loudest blowhards, those men who claim self-righteousness, in the end prove to be some of the worst offenders. Unfortunately, examples abound in the fields of politics, religion, athletics, and community life.

I am writing about this today for a couple of reasons.

First, because as a man I want to be on record as part of the healing process and to stand shoulder to shoulder with and publicly support the brave women now in the forefront of the issue.

But also because I believe as food and agriculture, social and economic justice, and civil rights advocates we have such a rough going in fighting for safety-net programs because the same mindset that believes women can be used and abused also supports a culture of rewarding 1% of the country with virtually unlimited wealth at the expense of communities that cannot afford even the high cost of healthcare.

In a conversation with other leaders from across the state I was struck by a woman who said that the cover of Time magazine represented her situation as well, but from a unique perspective. “The woman whose face you can’t see in the picture,” she said, “but you can see her arm and elbow, that’s me.” She explained that as a survivor of rape she was still unable to discuss the incident with her family, although it had taken place decades past when she was in her teens.

It is also for her and for all the women, and boys and girls, who have been abused and who continue to be used, that I write this column.

The airwaves, periodicals and news media are dominated by the aforementioned blowhards, many who proclaim moral authority “the answer” to what ails our society. We have to make special effort, and really pay attention and listen attentively to learn what the woman whose elbow and arm are on Time’s cover have to say.

We also have to pay as much attention to what most men are not saying, and perhaps ask and even coax them to begin the conversation about growing up in a culture that objectifies women. To be sure, it will be an uncomfortable conversation—but we have to begin to pull the Band-Aid off of a festering sore on the American male psyche before we can even begin to heal.

Some of you know that I have been working on a book on the subject, so I will have more to say on the subject in the future.

In the meantime, can I ask that each of us please pledge to continue the work that is required to create and safe and healthy environment. So that each of us can heal. So that we can be clear of the values for which we continue our advocacy work in the issue areas of food and agriculture, social and economic justice and civil rights.

So that no woman or girl has to live in fear of speaking out for her own safety and well-being.

Maybe then, we will be able to say that it is also not alright for black men, women and children to be killed while in police custody. Etc., etc., etc.

It is time for year-end giving, and no doubt you have been asked to contribute by many worthwhile organizations. Again, I ask that you take a moment to contribute what you can today to CFJC to keep this space open for us all.

CFJC is largely a volunteer effort at this point, but we nonetheless are committed to the values and ideals of all those who comprise the coalition on behalf of everyone, and it does require minimal funding to continue.

Please also let us know if there is anything we can do to support the work you are doing as an individual, organization or community.

Once again, thank you, and all the best this memorable holiday season and throughout the coming New Year.

armando-sig

 

 

 

Armando Nieto
Executive Director

 

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