Open Letter to Chris Brown

Dear Mr. Brown,

You are standing at a crossroad of your life. One that many men have come. One that I had been. You joined (probably a long time ago) the ranks of men who have abused women. I wish I could tell you that I wasn’t part of the group but I am. Like most men, the cornerstone of my pride was based on my sexuality and physical toughness. There were times in my life where I felt humiliated for not being violent or abusive. I felt like the only way to wipe out the humiliation was to be violent and abusive. My crossroad came when a person came into my life and shook me to the core. This person started the deconstruction of my male belief system and 20 years later am I continuing that work. I was stuck in this “man prison” because my definition of masculinity was limited. Once I alleviated both perceived and real peer pressure that motivated me to engage in physical and sexual aggression to affirm my masculinity I was free. I hope this letter gives you some of the same freedom.

I took great pride in being labeled a “ladies man”. I was more interested in conquering women for sexual use than in the sensuality of the sexual experience. I regarded sexual experiences as conquests and often achieved these through conning. Just because I didn’t use force or coercion doesn’t make my abuse any more or less significant or vile. My interest had been in sex objects for my use and not as sexual partners. What I learned and what I hope you learn is that your behavior was terrible but you are not terrible. The second is that abuse is never good. Whether it is insults, shoving your partner, undermining confidence, or making slurs. I don’t limit my definition of abuse as just physical. It is all abuse.

My crossroad came unexpectedly. During my college years, there was a woman that every guy was interested in but none seemed to good enough for her. Let’s call her Marie. Of course, she became the object of my desire. I could do what no other guy could. I never talked to her. Instead I talked to her friends, did things for them, was available to them. I knew they would get around to telling her what a “nice guy” I was. You see, at the time I had the equipment to be involved in an adult relationship but I did not have the maturity, probably just like you. Eventually, we talked and I gained her trust. So much so that she told me intimate secrets of her life. Slowly she told me more and more. I eventually gained so much of her trust that she told me that she wanted to be intimate with me but there was something she had to tell me first. On the cusp of what I felt like I “worked” so hard for, what could have been that bad? I played the game and was about to win. Well, Marie told me that at her previous university she was ganged raped. I never have had a lower moment. I came face to face with who I really was. Marie loved me for who she thought I was. It was definitely someone I could be. Was it someone I wanted to be? My answer was yes. At that moment, I knew I needed a new soul or at least some major work on the one I had. The range of emotions that she went through that I had ignored for such a long time made sense to me now. One moment she was like a scared child, the next she was confident. One moment she wanted me right next to her, the next she couldn’t get away from me fast enough. This wasn’t day to day. This was minute to minute. I realized I had come close to abusing her even worse than the guys that gang raped her. I was no better than them. I had been using my penis as a weapon. Inflicting damage without thought of any consequences on others. I was always told what I was doing was part of being a man. It was game. I was playa. But if this was a game, how come I didn’t feel like a winner? I started going to domestic violence groups and eventually became an operator on a domestic violence hotline. I showed new female students areas on campus that had blue lights where phones were located for emergencies? Why would anyone need protection from winners? I realized I wasn’t a playa, I was jerk (to say it lightly). I began to do Women Self Defense workshops. Marie was proud of what I was doing but I had to share with her my most intimate secret. I wasn’t who I presented to be. I detailed my sexual history. I told her the extent of my search for sexual power, the ways I conducted that quest, the purpose it served, and the effect on others. She hugged me and said “Thank you”. She asked me to do her a favor. She asked me “Can you teach boys not to abuse women?”. Another enlightening moment. I was doing everything backwards. I was trying to teach women how not to get abused instead of teaching young men not to abuse.

I’m reaching out to you to do the same. Here are some of my recommendations where you could start. Because like myself, I think you have some work to do if you are truly sincere about not doing this again. Don’t allow your guilt and shame to ward off confusion, tears, tenderness, sorrow, and love. When we allow ourselves these feelings, the women and children in our lives may be able to feel a commonality and closeness with us, rather than feeling driven by us. I had to be comfortable not being in control, being patient, listening, offering advice, being of service- if power and control are essential to who we are, these will always be alien. But if we want love and connectedness, rich relationships with women, children, other men and ourselves…you have to be open to these. I had to do was develop a self disgust for the very behavior that I thought defined me. I had to look at the damage I inflicted on the life of others. That took me dropping the excuses (i.e. it was her choice, its all part of the game). Friends and family may even try to excuse your behavior (i.e. she started it, you didn’t plan on being abusive, you didn’t really mean it). Don’t accept the excuses. Look at your behavior for what it is. Divorce yourself from the image of playboy/ ladies man. The longer you hold onto that image the further away you get from stopping your behavior. That means getting away from your songs you have been so used to producing. It means divorcing yourself from the artists that produce music that encourages the behavior. It means possibly losing endorsements, money, and friends but it is an essential part of your healing process. Keep checking yourself. Make sure you are always aware of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that encourage your old behavior. Intervene in the patterns and continually fight old ways. Use your music as a sounding board for the survivors of violence against women. Use it to help with the healing process for friends and survivors and to raise society’s awareness of the extent of the problem of violence against women. Lastly, confront men in the absence of women. Confront the attitudes when you are not on camera. Let people know this is the new you and not someone trying to reduce their sentence or come back into good graces. There are people out there who are willing to help and support you. This is only the beginning. Be well.

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Women and the Criminal Justice System

Think of prison populations and you think of men. Indeed, men make up the greatest numbers within the system. Yet, the population of women in U.S. Prisons has more than doubled in the past 10 years. How a woman will be punished when she violates acceptable norms reflects the common view of that woman’s role in the greater community. Customary influence by family and community, for women, has traditionally been effective and much more violent than for men. The promise of formal controls, which for women carries a heavier toll than for men, seems intimidating and could account for the lower female prison population. The fact is, though, that across the world the percentage of women confined in prison is only a fraction of the total prison population, yet their sentences are generally longer and harsher. The question should be, Why this disparity when it comes to women and law?

Recent studies challenge the stero-typical thinking that women who are imprisoned are “bad”, or “whores”, or unnecessarily “tough”. Universally harsher and longer sentences illustrate a partiality. The issues of gender role and patriarchal culture must be understood to comprehend the relationship of women to law. Women in Kabul, have been targets of intense repression and victims of fundamentalist interpretation of religious law. Recently, a young woman wanted to marry a boy she had chosen and rejected by her parents’ choice. When she appealed to the Taliban for help, they sentenced her to five years in jail for violating Islamic law. Her two female cousins, 14 and 15, were taken to be married by force in exchange for a fee paid to their families. While the Taliban authority exemplified extremism, it is common for the Afghan family of the groom to pay a fee for his bride, diminishing the woman to property of a patriarchal society.

In the United States, the disparity of incarceration rates for men of African or Hispanic descent is well documented. For women, Black, Hispanic, or White, the disparity is even sharper. The percentage of women under correctional supervision had risen to almost 10 percent by 2006 compared to 1.3 percent increase for men. The disparity in incarceration rates for women may in part be attributable to the claim frequently made by women prisoners that they were incarcerated for crimes that were coerced, or even committed by their male partners, for whom they took the fall under the mistaken belief that a woman would get a more lenient sentence. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also reveal that prior to their own imprisonment, the majority of these women prisoners had been victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, or coerced drug abuse involving older men; in other words crimes committed against them by men presaged these women’s incarceration.

It has been my experience that men commit homicide as the result of extreme rivalry and competition,, and committed the act in public and outside of the family. This indicates to me that men are conditioned from infancy to see their role outside of the family core and into the world arena. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to remain within the family unit. Most women that commit homicide share a commonality of similar background experiences of abuse. Maybe it is time that homicide be examined as a “social issue and cultural phenomenon”. Additionally, society is critically unforgiving for women who are believed to have betrayed their maternal attributes. While men who commit homicides are viewed to have momentarily lapsed into uncontrollable anger, women are seen to have violated their nature. The behavior of a man in this situation is seen as an extreme exhibition of his masculine nature, even at times more firmly establishing his masculinity, but a violation of this nature for a women overturns her identity and leads to her ruin.

Whatever the violation and wherever the country, the population of women in prison continues to grow. Logic would say that women are committing more crime. Are they really? Or, has society, through the utility of formal and informal law, changed the intensity of its response to women?

“The advancement of women without a doubt is a pre-condition for the establishment of a humane and progressive society”

United Nations

A society reflective of that goal can only be measured by the maturity and benevolence of its citizenry and a complete respect for human life.

One Man’s Perspective on Violence Against Women

Breast bruised, brains battered,
Skin scarred, soul shattered
Can’t scream-neighbors stare,
Cry for help, no one’s there

Stanza from a poem by Nenna Nehru, a battered Indian Woman

Despite differences in cultures and ideologies, women seem to face a consistent bias regardless of where they live. Tied to the social expectations of feminine behavior, victimization of women reflects a universal value placed upon them by men.

Violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle: Pre-birth is marked by sex selective abortion (China, India); battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on woman, effects on the birth outcome); and coerced pregnancy (i.e. mass rape in war). Infancy carries the threat of female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse; and disparity in access to food and medical care for girl infants. Adolescents can be scarred by child marriage; genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; more disparity in the access to food and medical care; and child prostitution. Dating and courtship violence (i.e. date rape in the United States, acid throwing in Bangladesh) as well as economically coerced sex ( Africa); sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment, forced prostitution; trafficking of women. The reproductive age carries the risk of abuse of women by intimate partners; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities. Being older does not reduce the risk of victimization. In the U.S. the only country where records exist, elder abuse affects mostly women.

Quite consistently, women are, “defined according to traditional patriarchal images and within the patriarchal ideologies and structures of national and international relations”. Judith Zinsser, researcher for the United Nations.

Crimes against women are based on their role in society, as a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. Women are never judged as persons, and always judged as passive to their roles. A man is evaluated as a man, aggressively responding to his situation, within his roles in life, as father, son brother, husband, secondary to his gender.

This subjectivity to patriarchy is well illustrated in dowry burnings, popular in India. Murder, generally accepted as a crime against humanity takes on a different persona when related to brides who for one reason or another, experience with their husbands and husband’s families conflict over their dowries. In areas that require a marriage settlement, dowries become a powerful tool for moving up through social strata. In a firmly patriarchal society, the esteem of the male depends on the “purity” of the female. Not only a financial inheritance, the dowry reflects the moral purity of the bride. Indian dowry effectively functions to disinherit women and promote their economic dependency on men which is the real crux of dowry murders. When the dowry is no longer satisfactory, the bride becomes vulnerable to harassment, assault, and death.

Murder is illegal, but social norms in India validate the acceptance of such practice, marking it virtually impossible to punish anyone participating. Families involved in this practice place tremendous significance upon the material value of the union between two families and a financial gain for at least one. When the woman is sacrificed, the families protect each other from civil prosecution, further ingraining the value of men and valuelessness of women.

Think about rape. In our culture evidence of rape is evaluated by a perceived participation by the woman (i.e. how was she dressed, did she invite sex and then change her mind, was she using drugs). A recent story of a young girl in Pakistan who became pregnant as the result of rape. Unable to convince the court that rape had occurred and since her pregnancy was taken as proof that sexual intercourse outside of marriage had taken place, she was thirty lashes and three years imprisonment. She gave birth to the child in prison (a girl). Because of this situation, women are more afraid than before to bring a case of rape to court, and in turn this could, of course, encourage rapist. There is an easy transformation from victim to offender. Her actions did not change, only the subjective political observation of them. In the United States, a woman illustrated how she was victimized into criminalization:

“She was a Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven; a victim of brutal domestic violence that caused her to miscarry twice; a drug user addicted first to heroine then to the so called cure, methadone; finally a mother forcibly separated from her daughter on account of her convictions and incarceration, and, finally, a woman who died in prison of a brain hemorrhage, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of beatings”.

Written from her death bed.

I hope to have shed some light on the epidemic of violence being perpetrated by us (men). I hope that we will no longer live by a “criminal code” of silence and non action. Its not what you say and do when women are around. Its what you say and do when they are not. Take a stand in the fight to end violence against women.

What Does She Look Like?

What does she look like?  You know who I am talking about.  We hear the names on the news sometimes but dont see a face.  Sometimes we dont even get a name.  The media will often say “a woman”.  That child who’s sexually abused? That woman who’s raped? I can tell you.  She looks like your girlfriend, wife, mother, aunt, sister, and any other woman in your life that you have cared about. For the woman, she may look quite a lot like you. Statistics say one out of every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. We don’t see a lot of the victims. Most of the time, she is right next to us.  Hopefully, if you are one of the four that when you look in the mirror you don’t see a victim either. I hope you see a survivor. In my work inside prisons, dealing with the victimizers I often wonder about the women I read about in the offense conduct of Pre-Sentence reports. Almost every day, a court documents crosses my desk, telling the tale of yet another woman who’s been battered, beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, and even murdered. An unscientific guess tells me that over 90% of the men I deal with have some type of domestic assault in their past. Either arrested or told to me in a group setting. Some are even getting visits from their victims. It’s important to note that experts say there’s a link between child abuse and sexual assault. I happen to think they’re right. I often wonder what happened to that woman, that left her so vulnerable that she tolerates a relationship where she gets beat up. Sometimes I know there is no reason or rationale and it could be a coincidence – but quite often, it’s because she was a victim of another kind of abuse, while still a child. I say this because of what the experts say: A 2002 report says that 75 percent of women who reported being raped were under age 18, with 37-percent of that group being 11 or younger. And anyone who’s spent much time working with battered women knows that the experience of childhood abuse can linger on – often in the form of more abuse, by different abusers, down the road. A few years ago, I decided to volunteer in a woman’s shelter and those statistics looked underreported. I wanted to see the victims of the victimizers I see everyday. I wanted to meet them and ask questions. Maybe find answers to this epidemic. The stories of neglect and abuse are heartbreaking. One woman who was open about her past and was truly a survivor. I asked about any childhood abuse. She said, “Was I an abused child? No, but perhaps I was neglected. Not with regard to food, clothing or shelter, but as the child of a “single” mother (since my parents lived apart much of the time) I experienced neglect of another sort. It’s the same kind of neglect that many parents exercise, by placing their firstborn in the position of caretaker for the younger siblings. As a result of such “neglect,” I was one of at least three siblings who was abused by a child molester.” It didn’t stop there. It not only happened once but twice. Married two different men, many years apart, both of them batterers. She certainly did not go looking for a man who would beat the living daylights out of her. It’s just that when that man – as he did, in her case – came looking for her, her self-esteem was low enough, or even non-existent, she just settled. Settled because she thought that was all she was worth. For the past two years, while speaking publicly about these issues at local colleges or advocacy and awareness programs, I decided to discuss the victims and the victimizers. Then something amazing started happening. Victims started talking to me about their past abuse. They became comfortable enough to reject the anonymity so many victims choose to live with. They felt comfort that someone knew that they did nothing wrong, and have nothing to be ashamed about. The shame belongs to the people who truly deserve it – the child molesters, sexual offenders and wife beaters. Abusers come from all walks of life. Confirming this helped people (especially skeptics) realize that child abuse, rape or domestic violence doesn’t just happen to women on the lower socioeconomic ladder, or to women of a certain color, size or intellect. It also happens to smart, savvy women who have careers and supervise employees, to college-educated women who are doctors, lawyers or scientists. It even happens to mothers and wives. In short, it can – and does – happen to anyone. What’s the justice in all of this? What does rape or domestic violence do to you? It makes you stronger. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you put yourself in harm’s way just to become a potential target, because there are other ways to gain strength that are far less painful. But I’ve learned that when you use what you’re given – even if it happens to be something pretty nasty – you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to empowerment.

I leave you with this from Sojourner Truth: And ain’t I a woman?

Look at me Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me. . . And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man– when I could get to it– and bear the lash as well and ain’t I a woman? I have born 13 children and seen most all sold into slavery and when I cried out a mother’s grief none but Jesus heard me. . . and ain’t I a woman? that little man in black there say a woman can’t have as much rights as a man cause Christ wasn’t a woman Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him! If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, all alone together women ought to be able to turn it rightside up again.

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 3:51 am  Comments (5)  
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Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Misogyny

Most men can admit that women are underprivileged. However, change the direction of the conversation about men’s overpriviledged status and the monster comes out. Most men vilify rape. However, let their favorite sports star be accused of rape and see how fast the “gold-digger” and “set up” comments come. Recently an article seeded about whether a woman can withdraw consent after penetration had comments that excused men if they didn’t stop intercourse if the woman said no after it started. In prisons, I have come across some interesting personalities. This man burglarized an apartment he thought was vacant. However, someone was home. A female. He fought with her and eventually overcome her resistance. With her pinned on the floor, he proceeded to stick his finger in her vagina and anus. He did not know that she had heard him come in and called the police but when he heard the sirens quickly left. He was eventually captured and had spent 8 years in prison when I met him. Before he could sit down, he had a multitude of excuses and justifications about his crime. Then he was quick to point out, that the female he violated worked with his sister and she told his sister that she has forgiven him for his crime. I said, “What’s your point?”. In his mind, he is paying his debt to society and she has forgiven him so, in essence, its over. Here is our conversation

Me: “How do you spend a normal day?”
Him: “Working out. Reading. Watching TV”
M: “What do you watch”
H: “BET. Videos and stuff”
M: “Are women in these videos?”
H: “Do I look like a retard? Of course. I only watch it for the women in bikinis, dancing” (smiling proudly)
M: “Ok. What do you read?”
H: “Magazines. Maxim, FHM. Wait a minute. Im not like that anymore”
M: “Like what??” (Trying to look stunned)
H: “Look that happened a long time ago…Im still a man”

Shortly afterward. I had been on a couple of dates with a woman and there was no talk about commitment. However, I knew this is what she expected. During some passionate foreplay, she told me she didnt want to go any further. I begged, pleaded, and promised I wasn’t like the others. Eventually, we just went to sleep. The next day another woman showed me some attention at a night club. We go to my house and again I’m into some passionate foreplay when guess who shows up at my apartment. Yep. In a black trench coat, bra, and panties. She notices woman #2 and runs away crying. I give chase and an argument ensues. Then I give the classic line “I’m still a man”. Having heard this before, I knew what I had done. I had managed to join the swelling ranks of abusive men with relative ease. Until I committed an emotional violent act that it hit me how deeply I believed women to be inferior to men. I decided to find an antidote for Mr. Misogyny. I had to own up to my backward-ass gender politics.

Just imagine. You are walking down a street at 2am in the morning. You are wearing jewelry and have money in your pocket. You end up getting robbed. When you are questioned about it by others (i.e. police, friends, family) about the incident, you get questions like “what were you doing out at that time?”, “why were you wearing jewelry”, “you knew that area was high in crime”, and “it was your fault”. This is exactly what woman face in regards to reporting sexual assaults. Think about it. Sexual assaults is almost exclusively identified as the responsibility of women in our society. Essentially, if you can find a breech in her responsibility, you can find absolution.

My initial response was to use my experience and expertise to do what I thought was best for the cause. I held woman self defense workshops at college campuses and my work, volunteered at family crisis centers, and did some counseling at a rape hotline. However, it wasn’t until one night that the phone was silent and I wondered who was getting raped and didn’t call. Had Mr. Misogyny appeared overtly again? Were my acts condescending? I struggled with that for a long time. I came to the conclusion that I had a higher purpose. Why am I teaching women and girls how not to be raped and start teaching men and boys how not to rape. Spreading the antidote for Mr. Misogyny around. So here is my challenge gentlemen. Whether you agree or disagree, just try to read one of these books:

John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women .
W.E.B. Dubois, Traps: African-American Men on Gender and Sexuality. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape Patricia Holland, Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and Subjectivity

Lastly, believe and support women. This may seem obvious, but it is extremely important and something that few men ever really practice. Any claim to support women’s rights and gender justice is empty and meaningless unless you support the real, breathing women in your life, day in and day out. Listen to women. Listen to them when they tell you what they want. Believe them when they tell you about their experiences. Believe them when they tell you that they have been abused. Support them when they fight against that abuse. Don’t forget to ask women what they think and what they want. Don’t ignore what they say. Don’t marginalize their experiences. Don’t abandon them when they have to fight against men. Sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence is rampant in our society. Don’t debate, deal with the reality.

Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 12:45 am  Comments (6)  
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