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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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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