In a glossy magazine advertisement, two bikini-clad women hang on either side of rakish man while he points pistols at them. At a Minnesota State Fair radio booth, talk show hosts discuss when it is okay for a husband to murder his wife. A culture where such things are permissible breeds sexual and domestic violence, advocates for prevention say, but it does not have to be that way.
Men have a crucial role to play in changing that culture — they need to speak out, argue local groups. Men Breaking the Silence to Prevent Men's Violence is the title and mission for a new campaign led by local anti-violence groups Beyond Tough Guise, the Winona Women's Resource Center, the Winona County Primary Prevention Project, and the Winona State University Gender Based Violence Advocacy Program. The organizations are focused on stopping domestic abuse and sexual assault before it starts, and they do not mince words about what gender is responsible for the majority of such violence. In the last decade, 250 Minnesotan women have been murdered by husbands or boyfriends, they report. A new concept has been gaining popularity among anti-sexual violence groups and local governments: the idea that combatting machismo and instilling a greater respect for women may be the key to stopping rapes and murders.
Winona Mayor Mark Peterson will introduce a screening of an award-winning documentary on culture and sexual violence for Breaking the Silence's kickoff next week, and a talk with documentary writer and St. Paul representative Michael Paymar and Minnesota Men's Action Network co-founder Chuck Derry will follow the film. Paymar developed the documentary "With Impunity" with the late women's advocacy hero Ellen Pence.
Paymar himself began fighting domestic violence by accident. He was a City Council member in Duluth when men in his district committed a rash of rapes. Distraught citizens, women's advocates, and local leaders sought ways to prevent such tragedies, and their efforts led to one of the most successful sexual violence prevention programs in history and inspired prevention programs adopted by Winona County and the city of Winona.
"We've done a good job of changing the laws in this country" regarding domestic violence, said Paymar. "But changing the laws are not good enough," he continued. "We can create all the laws we want, but until we change the culture, this attitude that boys and men have about women will still lead to violence."
Breaking the Silence is based on a simple but bold concept: viewing women as sexual objects and believing in male superiority makes it easier for men to abuse women and harder for them to relate as equals.
"We want to encourage community leaders, particularly men, to start talking about how to prevent sexual violence," explained Beyond Tough Guise President Joe Morse.
Fair warning, for some, the message behind "With Impunity" may not be an easy one to hear. Paymar and his cast of abuse experts indict popular video games, jean advertisements, pornography, and even professional sports for contributing to what they deem as a degrading form of sexuality. The greater emphasis of Break the Silence, however, is an attempt to get men talking about and modeling respect for women and intolerance for sexism and violence.
Men need to send the message that being a real man means caring about your community and the women in your life, Morse said. Challenging friends' sexist jokes is not easy, said "With Impunity" main character, Hector Matascastillo, a former abuser turned abuse counselor, but "If you're comfortable then you're not growing." Admitting you have mistreated women is not easy either, he continues, but "courage comes when you start taking responsibility."
Breaking the Silence to End Men's Violence will screen "With Impunity" on Monday, October 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Student Activity Center, downstairs in Winona State University's Kryzsko Commons.