Education and Awareness Building Activities for Program Participants
“Engage men where they are at. Help them to move beyond their comfort level and work through defensiveness about this issue … Use concrete interactive activities and exercises. Keep the focus on the kids. Responsible fathers model a non-violent lifestyle.”
Tyler Osterhaus, Weld County (Colorado) Department of Human Services 1
“Provide a forum in which to develop positive attitudes towards women.”
Johnny Rice, Maryland Department of Human Resources 2
“Many men, even those who are not identified as abusive, use abusive behavior. An important role of fatherhood programs can be in transforming harmful norms around masculinity and encouraging men who acknowledge their use of abusive behavior to become better allies in spreading the word about the practice of non-violence.”
ramesh kathanadhi, Men Stopping Violence 3
Berkowitz et al. suggest providing opportunities for men to share their feelings and concerns about domestic violence and focusing on “the development of empathy for victims, learning the meaning of consent, reducing bystander behavior, and re-imagining what it means to be male.” They emphasize that “work with young men and boys is particularly critical for changing social norms regarding relationships and violence against women.” 4 Similarly, Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men, recommends giving men the opportunity to reflect on the impact of male socialization: “Men are socialized to see less value in women, treat women as property, and objectify women … [so it’s hardly surprising that] this leads to violence against women.” 5
Experienced practitioners recommend treating men with respect, allowing time for them to process new information, and being cautious about shaming or confronting them when they make disclosures. Some practitioners bring up domestic violence by asking questions such as, “How do you want your children to remember you?” or “What messages about relationships did you get from your parents?” Others point out that you can help men reflect on their behavior through questions such as, “How do I treat people around me?” “Are there ways in which I am controlling or abusive?” “Do I support sexism by laughing at sexist jokes?” Fernando Mederos, who has worked with numerous agencies in Massachusetts and other states, suggests asking questions such as, “Do you ever give her orders, act angry, ignore her, yell at her, put her down, call her names, belittle her, or make fun of her in front of the children?” Mederos points out that questions like these can lead men to recognize the importance of showing respect for mothers and encourage fathers to acknowledge that “what you do will stay with your children ... you cannot disrespect or hurt their mother without hurting your children.” 6
Men Stopping Violence uses a Violent and Controlling Behaviors List to help men reflect on and inventory their behaviors. Participants think about their relationships as they work through the list: “Which of these behaviors have you used? Circle all that apply and note the pattern that you created. What do you think the impact of this pattern of abuse has been on your partner or past partners?”
The Men Stopping Violence approach also addresses the issue of oppression for African American men. In group exercises, men analyze the elements and impacts of racism that they have experienced and compare them to sexism experienced by women. They also acknowledge how they have engaged in oppressive conduct toward women. The Intersectionality Exercise in the Men Stopping Violence curriculum Men at Work: Building Safe Communities addresses negative stereotypes to demonstrate how sexism, racism, and classism are intertwined. The exercise highlights how engaging in abusive, controlling, or prejudiced behavior in one area reinforces systematic oppression in other areas.
Incorporating Movies and Video Clips
Using movies and video clips can be a powerful way to start discussion and encourage self-reflection.
- Something My Father Would Do (15 minutes) presents the stories of three men who grew up with abusive fathers and had to grapple with their choices as intimate partners and fathers.
- Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity (82 minutes) examines the relationship between pop culture imagery and the social construction of masculine identities.
- Breaking Our Silence: Gloucester Men Speak Out Against Domestic Abuse (11 minutes) shows how groups of men can come together to promote nonviolence.
- Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (60 minutes) explores manhood, sexism, race, gender violence, and homophobia in hip-hop culture and encourages discussion of manhood stereotypes.
- Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture (60 minutes) describes how negative definitions of femininity and hateful attitudes toward women get constructed and perpetuated in popular culture.
- Nobody Ever Earned It (3 minutes) was created by House of Ruth Maryland in partnership with the Maryland Department of Human Resources through a federal Responsible Fatherhood grant. This video shows the powerful role that fathers can play as five fathers reflect on the impact of domestic violence, particularly on children, and share their vision of living violence-free futures.