Today’s guest post is an address Byron Hurt shared with college students at Amherst College. He later shared it on facebook and I thought it was so poignant and powerful. He generously allowed me to reshare it here.
This morning, I was standing in the bathroom waiting for my four year-old daughter to finish using it so that I could shave and get dressed. When she was done, she walked over to the sink to put soap onto her tiny hands, and stood in front of me and the bathroom sink. Unbeknownst to her, as she playfully splashed water all over her fingertips, I stared down at the top of her head, and glanced at the mirror to see her face. I thought to myself, "I care so much about this little girl. She’s growing so beautifully, and is smart, and happy."
In moments like this morning, I sometimes find myself, presumably as all parents do, wondering who she is going to become or what she is going to be like when she grows up. I wonder what chain of events will take place in her life that will shape or form her identity and personality. As her father, I naturally want to protect her from experiencing any traumatic pain that will negatively impact her life.
I hate to admit aloud what I sometimes worry about because I know full well the power of thoughts and words. But I often look at my child at this tender age and wonder if she will one day become a victim and survivor of physical or sexual violence. I hope not. I pray my daughter does not have to experience what so many girls and women do.
But I know the numbers. According to the Department of Justice, girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. According to feminist.com, over 22 million women will be raped in their lifetime. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 9 out of 10 rape victims are women. In addition, battering remains the number one cause of injury to women in the United States. Another troubling statistic is that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. Amherst, we have a problem that must be addressed. The issues of physical, emotional, and sexual violence are far reaching and not exclusive to girls and women in the United States. Misogyny is global and indiscriminate.
Now more than ever, I am concerned about physical and sexual violence. As someone who has spoken out against gender-based violence publicly for the past 20 years, I am even more invested in ending it. I have a brilliant, precocious, energetic, curious, and loving little girl. I feel a greater sense of urgency to address these issues today than I did before she was born. I want men's violence against women to end, and I want more men to publicly take a stand up against other men's abusive behavior. I also want to change the misogynistic mentality that our male dominated culture fosters and cultivates in far too many boys and men.
Last week, as I scrolled down my Facebook timeline, I saw an unsettling viral video posted on a friend’s page. In what looks to be a room in an apartment, the video showed a man sitting next to a young woman who looks to be in her late teens or early twenties. When you click play, the man suddenly points to his left, up toward the ceiling. As she turns to see where he was pointing, he quickly pulls out a shotgun, and shoots her in the head. Blood splatters on the wall, her body falls out of the frame, and the video ends. In the video, there is no explanation – no rhyme or reason for this murder. It appears as if the gruesome murder is completely random. I'm not sure if the video was real, or created simply for the purpose of going viral. I can only believe that this is a doctored video, and that the man and woman in the video were actors performing an ill-advised hoax. Regardless, it was a gratuitous act of a man’s violence toward a woman for entertainment purposes and public consumption.
Still, I can’t get that twisted video out of my mind.
What struck me about the video was that people could post such a video on their Facebook pages and think that it was okay. What also struck me was how normalized men's violence against women in our culture has become. But what struck me the most – based on my knowledge of these issues – was knowing that the woman "murdered" in that video could one day be my own daughter if such low regard for girls and women persists.
As a father, I am concerned. I’m concerned that boys and men have historically seen and continue to see girls and women as less valuable than men. And that is simply not cool. I am aware that no matter how much my wife and I love and care for our daughter – no matter how much we nurture her, or develop her moral compass, her political, economic, and social sensibilities, no matter how much we work to provide her with the best education possible, no matter how strongly we develop her confidence and self esteem, the possibility exists that she may be vulnerable and negatively impacted by a boy or a man somewhere out there in the world who doesn't care about her the same way we do, and will see her life as meaningless. He may hit, assault, emotionally abuse, rape, or in an extreme fit of rage, exert his ultimate power and control over her, and kill her, just because she is a woman. No family is immune to gender violence. Not even the daughter of a feminist and anti-sexist activist.
I am part of a growing number of multi-racial, thoughtful, compassionate, and committed men who challenge traditional notions of patriarchy and sexism, and who speak out strongly and clearly against a culture of masculinity that makes sexual degradation and violence possible. I am proud and honored to ally with and be in support of women from all racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, who have been on the front lines challenging and confronting sexism in all of its forms. I do not expect, nor do I want rewards or special treatment because of the work I do. I do not want to be seen as exceptional or different from other men who remain silent in the face of violence against women. I simply want social justice for women, just as I want social justice for people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, the poor, and other marginalized groups of people.
I’ve trained tens of thousands of boys and men in gender violence prevention and education workshops – boys and men from all racial, cultural, and class backgrounds. My colleagues and I have institutionalized bystander intervention and prevention curricula within the sports, military, police, and fraternity cultures, prison and juvenile justice systems, academia, and even within my own family structure. I’ve made documentary films that deconstruct hypermasculinity in Hip-Hop music and in popular culture. I’ve written about and challenged male privilege. I’ve appeared on television shows, and have been featured in newspapers and magazines in an attempt to help create awareness, and to spur action. And in spite of all of my efforts, I sometimes feel like I’ve only thrown a small pebble into a vast ocean. The task at hand is enormous. The system of patriarchy and sexism is daunting and deeply woven into our culture. Changing this system can sometimes feel insurmountable.
Sometimes I grow weary of speaking out on this issue. Sometimes I feel like my work and the work of so many of my colleagues and allies doesn’t matter. For every young man I am successful at reaching, there are millions more that I am simply incapable of reaching because I do not have the influence, power, and resources to do so. I realize that, each day, the prevailing system of patriarchy and hegemonic violent masculinity is far more successful at reinforcing limited notions of masculinity than I am at helping to redefine it. Sometimes I feel like I am spinning my wheels and making very little progress. And sometimes, I have to admit, I feel like giving up.
But when I wake up in the morning on a snowy day like today, and I see my daughter’s beautiful smile and face, bright and fresh, her spirit filled with a loving heart, I know that I cannot give up. I know that I have to continue my efforts and dig my heels into the canvas and fight against an opponent who is bigger, faster, stronger, meaner, more menacing, and more resourced than my comrades and I are. As parents, we sacrifice much for the benefit of our children. We work tirelessly so that we can provide them with what they need to succeed and have a prosperous life. As challenging as working to end sexism and violence against women can be, I could easily throw in the towel and give up. But giving up is not an option when I know that creating a safer world for my daughter is the ultimate sacrifice and one of the greatest gifts that I could possibly give to her. I want my daughter to know that her father stood up for her rights and actively worked to make the world a safer place for her by addressing the sexist, abusive behavior of men.
Giving up is not an option because every woman who is raped or sexually assaulted is someone’s child – a human being who is loved, and cared about, and is deserving of respect and dignity. Giving up is not an option when women around the world, from Africa, to India, to Canada, to Europe, to Central and South America, and Asia are suffering from some of the most basic human rights violations, simply because they were born a woman, and not a man.
So, as tempting and convenient as it is for me to do so, I won’t give up. I won’t give up – even if I am called a million pejorative names by men who think less of me for speaking up for the rights of women. I won’t give up, even when constantly swimming upstream gets tiring. I won’t give up, or give in, even when men question my allegience or my masculine credibility. I won't give up when men are resistant, defensive, deflect, or seek to silence me for addressing an issue that they don't want to discuss. I won't give up because I love the women in my life with all of my heart: my mother, sister, wife, daughter, aunts, female friends, female colleagues, and female allies.
And so I ask everyone to join me in speaking out against all forms of physical and sexual violence. Ask yourself today, "What can I do to join the growing chorus of female and male voices who are working daily to clear the path for girls and women? How can I make the world safer for someone else's daughter?"
Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer, activist, and lecturer. His documentary films Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Soul Food Junkies are currently streaming online, free, this month at www.video.pbs.org. Find him on Twitter @byronhurt.