When I met with Katz, I didn't realize that the project was a domestic violence prevention program. Had I known that, I wouldn't have gone in for the job interview.
So when Katz explained that they were looking to hire a man to help institutionalize curricula about preventing gender violence at high schools and colleges around the country, I almost walked out the door. But during my interview, Katz asked me an interesting question. "Byron, how does African-American men's violence against African-American women uplift the African-American community?"
No one had ever asked me that question before. As an African-American man who was deeply concerned about race issues, I had never given much thought about how emotional abuse, battering, sexual assault, street harassment and rape could affect an entire community, just as racism does.
The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: "Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?"
Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, "Nothing." Then Katz asked the women, "What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?" Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:
"I don't make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one.
"I don't put my drink down at parties," said another.
"I use the buddy system when I go to parties."
"I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction."
"I use my keys as a potential weapon."
The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men's side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life -- including my mother, sister and girlfriend -- and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.
Of course I should add that men are sexually assaulted, most often by other men. Perhaps it doesn't happen as often, or perhaps so few talk about it that they have a false sense of security. Nevertheless, it doesn't affect their lives and thoughts to the extent that it does ours. Byron begins with a description of the power dynamics in his own home, which wasn't overtly violent but in which his father always had the final word by virtue of size and strength and unspoken threats.
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