Archive for the ‘Cultural Commentary’ Category

“real” war…

May 9th, 2012 Comments off

Bad enough we have to tangle with the phrase “real man”, as a means of males keeping other males in check and de-legitimizing any expression of masculinity that doesn’t pass muster, but now we have “real war” (presumably as opposed to a fake one).

In this case, the “real” war is against men. No, really. Give yourself a treat, trot over to the InForum section of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (as in North Dakota), an online news source. A “real” one, not a fake one, despite this Onion-like Letter to the Editor by one Michael Ross

Done reading? Is your head still spinning? Good. Mine was, for a day or so. Then I crafted the following response:

This letter is in response to Mr. Ross’s Letter to the Editor of May 5th; yes, it’s taken me a few days to write a reply because I spent the first few days under the presumption that Mr. Ross writes for the humorous newspaper The Onion.

Apparently, this is not the case. Apparently, it is also not the case that this is a letter from the 1950’s that was recently unearthed from some dusty archive and posted, belatedly, for April Fool’s Day.

Mr. Ross needs some editing; “men have ruled every civilization since the beginning of time and always”, here he clearly means “white men” yet it’s conspicuous that he does not call that out.

Mr. Ross says “when good men rule, it’s ordinary men exercising leadership in their homes, local churches, local civil government, local business and commerce.” And how, exactly, does this “leadership” manifest itself? Were the good men in charge when America was a slave nation, built on the backs of free labor excised through vicious punishment and the oppression of people of color we brought to this country? How does one exercise leadership in their home? By celebrating the humanness of his partner, sharing in chores and upkeep of the home, expressing love and modeling cooperation for the children as a way of helping to instill good, humanist values? Somehow I don’t get that sort of vibe from Mr. Ross’ letter.

Mr. Ross weaves the same old, tired, yarn of traditional misogynist sexism that we have heard for generations; it is self-serving, and totally self contained; the “evidence” for jobs traditionally belonging to men is simply that men have always been in charge (what do ya know, white males happen to be the ones in charge, and that’s what I am! How convenient!).

Absent is any sense of self-analysis, reflection, or critique of one’s complicity in a system of privilege; absent is connecting the dots between jobs traditionally reserved for men and the opening statement about civilizations being run by men.

No one is denying male and female, just adjusting how we have historically defined these identities – definitions which for millennia condoned the inhuman treatment of women and girls (and of any boys that didn’t fit a rigid, masculine mold) through violence, sexual assault, and murder.

It is not the elite that are the problem; it is a model of power and control which asserts the needs of one group (men, in this case white men) over everyone else, and sanctions violence against others on the grounds that this group’s right to be in charge and get their needs met at the expense of others is somehow dictated by an inherent law that is unquestionable and beyond reproach or criticism.

One more correction to Mr. Ross’ letter, the title: the real war is against ignorance.

Stephen Montagna
Men Stopping Rape, Inc.
Madison, WI
– a valuable part of the movement to end violence since 1983 –

As of this writing, my letter has not been posted, but luckily, I’m not alone, and the site has received a fair number of responses to Mr. Ross’s letter…

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starting strong(er)…

October 21st, 2009 Comments off

Just a quick note – the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has put up the funds to launch a new web site and programming initiative geared towards young teens, 11-14: Start Strong.

The site currently lists 11 cities, though one imagines the intention is to eventually branch out. This is a good example of the kind of coordinated effort that can occur when funds are brought to bear and help support the work that is happening on the front lines. Also, the web site design is A+.

I think RWJF and Family Violence Prevention Fund have framed the discussion perfectly, not just for that age group, but for the nation at large: ending violence in a culture steeped in violent behavior which masquerades as “normal” and “acceptable” ultimately means defining (and teaching) what constitutes healthy relationships.

I look forward to viewing more of the site when I find the time, and to watching the program grow.

The medium, the message, the lessons…

August 20th, 2009 Comments off

YouTube is a great tool. I’m jealous of this younger generation sometimes, growing up with the relatively inexpensive and widely accessible means of production right at their fingertips. When I was a pre-adolescent, I used to sit in my room and dream of writing and telling stories that vast numbers of people would get a chance to see. Today, pre-adolescents can sit in their rooms and with the click of a mouse record audio and video and within seconds their stories are accessible to millions around the planet.

Such was the case of one DaPhamily – a screen name; I don’t know his real name, nor his real age (though a colleague estimated him to be about twelve, and that seems accurate enough to me). But he posted a video on YouTube a couple of weeks ago on the occasion of nude photos of Vanessa Hudgens being posted online.

You’d think it was Christmas morning the level of enthusiasm that he exudes. Not to mention the display of blatant sexism and sexuality that would be disturbing under normal circumstances and is even more so on the face what appears to be an innocent, little boy.

His video can be seen here:

YouTube – New Vanessa Hudgens Topless photos!!! over like 10!!! August 2009

There are almost two thousand comments, and many of them are disturbing bordering on reprehensible.

However, YouTube also allows the posting of video responses. Since I didn’t have the luxury of the means of production as a teen, I’m trying to make up for lost time by making use of them in adulthood, and I posted a video reply in which I try to impart some thoughts to this young man that he might not have heard from an adult before.

My response can be seen here:

Stephen Montagna-Men Stopping Rape – DaPhamily Response

Another look at John Hughes’ films

August 11th, 2009 Comments off

We lost a fine filmmaker last week in Mr. John Hughes who had a cardiac event and died at the all too young age of 59. Despite being a big fan – what person who came of age in the 1980’s doesn’t have some affection for Mr. Hughes, who pegged our adolescent angst so perfectly – as someone who does violence prevention work, I’m very glad that Amy Benfer over at has written a postmortem where she takes him to task, rightfully, for being not so good when it comes to matters of date rape…

the barely conscious drunk girlfriend in question is Caroline, the evil prom queen. An epic party at Jake’s place leaves her leveled. (“I have Caroline passed out in the bed upstairs,” Jakes muses at one point, trying to put his finger on what’s missing in his relationship with her, and why he feels drawn to Sam. “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.”

Ms. Benfer does a good job of upholding respect for Mr. Hughes’ skills in terms of his acumen for dissecting class, while acknowledging shortcomings on how he dealt with gender and sexism. This is the often over-looked aspect of dissecting the popular culture, we often have to take people who we revere in some ways to task for their less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s a well written, and thought-provoking piece.

It makes me want to rent the Hughes canon and view those films again, twenty years later, with an adult awareness, and with the eyes and ears of someone who has worked in the movement for nearly that long.

Masculinity a barrier to good health? “yes” says ASA

August 11th, 2009 Comments off

A new study to be released by the American Sociological Association at their annual conference, demonstrates that holding rigid attitudes about masculinity had a negative impact on men obtaining appropriate preventative health care.

An article on EurekAlert “the news site for the American Association for the Advancement of Science describes the research:

Middle-aged men who strongly idealize masculinity are almost 50 percent less likely than other men to seek preventative healthcare services, according to a study: ”the first population-based analysis of men’s masculinity beliefs and preventative healthcare compliance” to be presented at the 104th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The research actually has a Wisconsin connection:

Using a sample of 1,000 middle-aged men drawn from responses to the 2004 wave of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the researchers reviewed the respondents’ masculinity beliefs, socioeconomic status (as measured by education and occupational status) and receipt of three commonly recommended annual healthcare procedures for middle-aged men: a complete exam/physical, flu shot and a prostate examination. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study is a large-scale study of the education, careers, health and aging of adolescent males and females who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. The study was administered again in 1964, 1975, 1992 and 2004.

As we’ve contended all along, examining issues of violence and gender is important for men not just because A) we’re statistically perpetrating the vast majority of these crimes, B) we know that women around us are being negatively impacted by misogynist attitudes and the violence associated with it, and C) we ourselves are negatively impacted by perpetuating gender stereotypes which de-value women and simultaneously cause us to shun our own humanness – including the vulnerability of our bodies. Still, I’m thankful for the heavy-duty numbers-crunching scientific types who put many hours in to come up with the evidence that supports this; I’m also thankful to Mr. Laxman Belbase of Men Engage-Asia who posted the link to this article in the Men Against Violence listserv.


Women at Risk – NYTimes OpEd

August 8th, 2009 Comments off

Very well written piece by Bob Herbert in today’s New York Times (dated Aug. 7 online) regarding the recent, tragic shooting at a Pennsylvania health club and its linkage to a long list of such violent attacks. Mr. Herbert does a fine job of bringing misogyny to the forefront of the conversation “something that is usually buried in stories such as these; he also brings masculinity into sharp relief:

Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal, he said, is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.

I have no doubts that Mr. Sondini had mental health issues; but let’s not paint this as an isolated incident, but a sign of larger, unexamined patterns of masculine behavior that desperately need to be addressed.

Fine work, worth a read…

Op-Ed Columnist – Women at Risk – [update 2022: paywall]

Rape culture at the highest levels? – Naomi Wolf on Huffington Post

June 13th, 2009 Comments off

Excellent, if disturbing, article on The Huffington Post by Naomi Wolf regarding the recent reversal by the Obama administration regarding the release of photos allegedly showing detainee abuse by American soldiers.

Naomi Wolf: Busted, Pentagon: Why The Photos Probably Do Show Detainees Sodomized and Raped.

brothers will be brothers…

June 4th, 2009 Comments off

Very well written, insightful piece released by the NSRC (National Sexuality Resource Center) on their website [update September 6, 2012: the NSRC site is no longer available; we are looking for another source for this text] by Nicholas L. Syrett (professor of history at University of Northern Colorado University): Bros Before Hos: College Fraternities and Sexual Exploitation.

Professor Syrett does a very good job of putting fraternity behavior in historical and cultural context. This piece is a must-read for anyone doing prevention work.

My thanks to Amy Benfer of the Broadsheet at for bringing this article to my attention (and for offering a very good overview of the salient points).

4 teens charged as adults in locker room sexual assault case –

June 4th, 2009 Comments off

Via CNN, a FL case that is eerily reminiscent of a WI case from over two decades ago (around the time that I first joined MSR). It’s cases like these that serve as stark reminders that when we say “sexual assault” we’re not just talking about sex, and we’re not always talking about female victims.

It’s also very instructive that the victim in this case did not come forward to report. Turns out there are reasons why someone who has been assaulted might not necessarily want to shout it from the highest hill. Perhaps male on male assault can teach us something about male on female perpetration…

4 teens charged as adults in locker room sexual assault case –

Study: Abuse, provocative images increase Internet risks for girls –

May 26th, 2009 Comments off

Interesting article via regarding a study on previous abuse experience being a factor in girls receiving unwanted sexual attention online.

A good study that I support being done, though I worry that there is a risk here; though the article does note:

One significant factor that helped decrease the risk to girls was the presence and influence of caregivers, the authors found.

It also falls back on one of the typical statements about female behavior:

That risk is tied not just to an avatar, but to the overall image a girl projects online, they say. On sites that don’t use avatars, such as MySpace or Facebook, simply compiling suggestive photographs or narrative descriptions can increase girls’ vulnerability, they say.

… without examining or commenting on the behavior of males online – ie: that females open themselves up to this type of attention, but that the attention itself is expected and “normal” apparently.

Perhaps that’s the next study? Let’s hope…

Study: Abuse, provocative images increase Internet risks for girls –