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Earth to Me
A dear female friend asked me recently-me, "Given everything you went through as a boy, how did you become the good man that you are?"
Why was she asking me of all people? I categorically deny that I am a good man. I am as fucked up as any other guy. A little more fortunate than some, that's true, having been able to resist the overwhelming power of the tortuous conditioning men endure. I remember long walks home from grammar school, trying to find alternative routes that avoided the various male bullies of my own age. "How come you're still playing with girls? Are you a fag?" they would taunt me. The only way to prove I was one of the guys was a fist-fight. Luckily, I didn't become one of them.
Contemplating my friend's question, the best answer I can come up with is: blind luck. This luck began with my having male role models whom I respected. My father, the men of my family, the male leaders of a church, school, and the sixth grade teacher I admired ... who was also my firs baseball coach: "There's no excuse. A real man NEVER...but NEVER...hits a girl," he taught us. "No matter how much they seem to provoke you."
For men who haven't been so lucky, I'd like to pose a few simple questions for helping them understand their position toward women and violence, and how far they might go.
- What is your relationship to the pursuit of acquiring wealth?
- Do you believe that competition is an instinct and/or that competition is genetically hard-wired into the male animal?
- When you consider a female, do you believe she is anything less than completely equal on any level?
- Do you believe that you can never have enough money?
- Do you believe that competition between men is universally necessary for humankind to survive and progress?
- Or do you think that biology is destiny and women are destined to certain roles because of their bodies?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you could conceivably become an abuser of women. You may be in danger of striking a woman or a girl, raping a female, or standing by while others genitally mutilate a girl. You could find yourself not fighting for laws that guarantee the protection of the fate of women and girls.
Every man faces two choices. We can do nothing to effect a change and contribute to the continuation of such shameful, deplorable behaviors. (Mel: Pick a word: heinous, deplorable, shameful, your call). Or we can take action to stop these crimes. If you're confused about what action to take then just ask a woman's advice. Or follow the Golden Rule by not doing unto others what you would not want done to you.
One of my father's persistent rules was "ladies first." At first glance, this appears to be an antiquated bromide; sometimes even attacked by feminists as being at the very root of the problem in the first place. But the nugget of truth within the old-fashioned behavior is that a man's habit should be to automatically recognize a woman's potential physical vulnerability to male violence. In other words, "step back" and "stand guard" when a female passes. The default position of a man should be respect.
A lot of men have succumbed to bad conditioning over what it means to be the quintessential, John Wayne-type of man. "Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Men are expected to be not only sure, but cock sure. Otherwise, they don't qualify as real men. That's why I say that, after all, blind luck is really what saved me. I could have just as easily been born to a father much different than my own good one. I could have just as easily been born in a country where my only alternative to starving to death was picking up a gun at age eight and going off to fight with the other "boy soldiers." I could just as easily have been raised in a section of this country where the only example of what a woman's supposed to be is an unhappy, submissive, house-wife. And, of course, I could have been born to circumstances of utter poverty where it was next to impossible to escape to a better place. I call that lucky. Luck and effort. That's what makes a good man.
Mel Cobb is a theatre professional (actor/director/writer). He has an MA from the University of Hawaii and a BA from California State University at Fresno. For fifteen years he lived and worked in London for Shakespeare's Globe. He is presently the Producing Artistic Director of the Worcester Shakespeare Company in Massachusetts.