Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Real men

Violence experts warn
that many boys are getting
the wrong message

The Teen Alert program provides helps with intervention and prevention of teen dating and relationship violence.

Dating is supposed to be a fun, not painful, experience. Yet, one in five teenage girls will experience some sort of abuse in their relationships, according to statistics from the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline. Types of abuse range from psychological or emotional, threats, possessiveness, jealousy, intimidation and isolation to actual physical violence.

Even if a teen is not experiencing violence, chances are that they know someone who is a victim or a perpetrator. But unless someone is physically hurt, the victim and those around her don't usually recognize the more subtle forms of violence, such as a boy who won't let his girlfriend go out with her friends or go out without him.

Part of the problem is that we live in a society that "grooms girls to be victims, by being nice and not making waves," said Grace Caligtan, teen program coordinator at DVCLH. "They are trained to take care of boys."

Societal norms set the stage for confusing relationships. "One of the partners has been taught to care-give to her partner who may not have the skills to care or show emotion," she said, because boys grow up with the message that "it's not OK to have emotions and definitely not all right to cry."

DVCLH Executive Director Nanci Kreidman said: "We are sending the message to kids that women are objects to be controlled or dominated. The cultural norm is that it's OK that one person has power over the other.

"Teenagers want approval. The pressure to fit in is so great that they may start compromising their own well-being in order to fit in.

"Many girls want a boyfriend -- and will have one at any cost. Society's message is that you are no one without someone."

Boys learn early that in order to be a man, one must be powerful, strong and in control, so it's no wonder that many men have difficulty expressing emotions or discussing feelings.

"Boys are being stunted emotionally and being discouraged about sharing their emotions. By the time boys are 8 years old or in third grade, they have 50 percent less feeling words than girls do. When they reach dating age, they have all this training on how not to share their feelings."

Although ending the violence is often seen as a "girls" issue, experts are now saying that we need to reach men if the statistics are to change. Toward this end, DVCLH will be hosting a forum for mothers and sons on Saturday, themed "The Real Deal: Mothers and Sons Talk About Love, Relationships and Dating." Kreidman said: "As a community, we need to keep this issue out in the open. We talk about drug prevention and smoking prevention. The same attention is not paid to violence prevention."

Parents need to teach their daughters how to be safe, while boys need to be taught how to confront aggression, feel comfortable displaying emotions and perhaps see through macho stereotypes, Caligtan said. And, they can do it without the fear of losing manhood.

"The vast majority of abusers are males. More than 90 percent of victims are females," Caligtan said. Parents can help steer boys from the perpetrator role by teaching them to respect women at a young age. "We need to teach them how to talk about their emotions," said Caligtan. "Don't negate a child's frustration. Let them use words to express themselves."

CALIGTAN OFTEN visits middle and high schools to raise awareness of the risk of dating violence through demonstrations, lectures and short skits in hope that teens will recognize the warning signs of violence and potentially deadly results. Recently, actor Daryl Bonilla joined the staff.

"It provides a male voice," he said. "If only females speak out on the issues, it is often perceived as male-bashing. (If) I'm talking about these things, there's nothing wrong with it."

In defense of the boys, he said: "Sometimes they don't realize what they are doing is wrong. Many of them don't have positive male role models."

Another factor in boys' violence is a fear of homophobia, said Caligtan. "Whether they are gay or not, boys fear being called gay. The fear is so great that it convinces them to look the other way. Homophobia not only makes it unsafe for gay teens in schools, it also makes it unsafe for girls."

Jackson Katz, the founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention and an expert in relationship abuse, claimed that everyone in society plays a role in the violence.

"Bystanders are just as guilty as perpetrators," he said. "If you say, 'It's none of my business,' then you are a part of the problem. Silence is a form of consent. If you choose to say or do nothing, it sends a strong message."

Katz's organization provides anti-violence materials and prevention-training for colleges, high schools, law enforcement and military service agencies, community organizations and corporations worldwide. Much of their work involves re-education.

"Men succeed through dominance, aggression, winning and competition. Violence is not genetically predisposed -- it comes from heavy gender training," said Katz.

"We need to reinvigorate people's outrage at how much violence goes on in our society. Pop culture is another culprit that adds to the dilemma -- with Eminem's lyrics and shows such as professional wrestling where women are exploited," said Katz. "Men need to admit to having weaknesses or problems and hold each other to a higher standard. The 'boys will be boys' thinking can allow violent masculinity to go unchallenged."

Joe Bloom, assistant director for the Catholic Charities family and comprehensive program, agreed. He assists with the "Men's March Against Violence," which started in Honolulu nine years ago. Bloom also runs a batterers group. The march provides a safe setting where men can take a stand against violence. The next march will be held in October.

"Men need to acknowledge that they are a big part of the problem. Women have been marching for rights for decades. Men have been more silent," he said.

"If men can't acknowledge that something I wrong, it can't be fixed."

Kreidman, executive director of DVCLH, added, "Violent behavior is learned, and men have the power to teach boys that violence toward women is wrong."


The Boy Code

William Pollack, author of "Real Boys," suggests that following the "boy code" causes boys to divorce themselve from their emotions. Here are examples of the code:

>> The sturdy oak: Stoic, no weakness, crying or complaining.
>> Give 'em hell: Stance of some athletic coaches and roles played by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or Bruce Lee, stemming from the "boys will be boys" myth.
>> The big wheel: Status, dominance, power -- avoiding shame at all cost.
>> No sissy stuff: The gender straitjacket that prohibits feminine feelings, dependence, warmth and empathy.

Tips for breaking the code:

>> Give your son undivided attention every day.
>> Encourage the expression of a full range of emotions.
>> Avoid teasing or taunting your son.
>> Avoid using shaming language.
>> Look behind anger, aggression and rambunctiousness.
>> Express love and empathy openly and generously.
>> Let boys know that they don't need to be "sturdy oaks."
>> Create a model of masculinity that is broad and inclusive.


Moms and sons
to tackle 'L' word

The Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline will be presenting its annual "Heart to Heart" forum -- usually geared toward mothers and daughters -- for mothers and their sons this year on Saturday. The topic for discussion will be "The Real Deal: Mothers and Sons Talk About Love, Relationships and Dating."

The event will take place at the Pali Golf Course Clubhouse from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The forum is designed to help boys make informed and responsible decisions about their dating lives. The cost for attending is $45 per mother-and-son pair. Proceeds will benefit the Teen Alert Program, which assists with intervention and prevention of teen dating and relationship violence.

Among the participants will be one mother whose 19-year-old son was arrested and convicted for abusing his girlfriend, causing a broken collarbone. The family was left to deal with a series of emotions from denial to shame.

"Don't think you are immune because you have things of privilege in your life," said the mother, who does not want to be identified. "My son went to a private school; he went to church; and he was not from a divorced, broken or abusive home.

"It's easy to stereotype and say, 'It's not me.'"

She said the family saw signs that he had an anger management problem, "but we overlooked it."

For more information or reservations, call Amy at 534-0040.

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