This is an article about having the courage to speak out. It begins with a personal story and a vow made 50 years ago. It ends with a present-day appeal to acknowledge the shame and break the silence.
A Teenager’s Vow
When I was sixteen, my mother learned to drive and bought our first car, a used 1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupé. Then she was able to get her first "real job."
On April 20 she headed off to work. Even though she was driving quite slowly, she skidded on some fresh snow and came to rest on the small-town street.
But before she could be on her way, another car sped into town down the middle of the street and hit my mother’s car broadside.
There were witnesses to the slow skid and stop. There were witnesses to the driver of the other car entering the 30 mph zone at an estimated 70 mph. There were witnesses to his crashing into my mother without any attempt to slow down. Still others said the man had been drinking.
My mother was killed instantly, leaving me and my three younger brothers without parents.
The other driver initiated a lawsuit. I went with an uncle around the community to speak directly with all the witnesses. Together, they provided the consistent picture described above.
Yet every witness without exception mouthed the refrain: "but I don’t want to get involved.” And not a single one stepped forward. The other driver won his lawsuit and a major portion of my mother’s very meagre estate.
At that tender age, I took a vow that if I ever witnessed an accident or other incident of potential injustice, I would stand up and be heard.
Yes, it has meant stopping at accident scenes when I was in a hurry. It has meant going to court a few times. It has even meant being threatened occasionally. But it has been a principal I have attempted to live by.
A Men’s Issue
Twenty years later, the press was portraying violence against women as a "women’s issue,” and I got angry at the faulty logic. Doesn’t the fact that men are the perpetrators, mean that violence against women is a men’s issue? A few of us men and one woman stepped forward. We secured the initial funding for what was then called a "rape crisis centre” for our community.
Courage and a willingness to take risks are supposed to be hallmarks of masculinity. Yet consider what happens in a group of men, whether in a logging camp, a fire hall, a locker room or a board room, when someone uses an abusive term to refer to women, or tells a sexist joke. Even though a number of men in the group may feel uncomfortable with it, they seldom have the moral courage to speak up.
Standing up and speaking the truth takes real courage because of the intense pressure to conform. The man who stands up may be standing alone. Other men who feel the same way may not be willing to risk standing up with him. To stand up could bring ostracism and exclusion. Do you see a lot of men standing up as witnesses in the current fire-hall sexual-harassment cases? That would take more guts than running into a burning building.
Who else in the male community will stand up and tackle the ever-present men’s issue of tolerating discrimination, harassment and violence against women? Shame on us men for waiting so long to express our outrage!
"Helping capable people who feel stuck.” Dr. Neill Neill, Registered Psychologist, serves clients from Ladysmith to Comox in their psycho-spiritual healing and growth. Call 250-752-8684 or visit www.neillneill.com for free e-book.