What led you to write Don't Blame It On Rio: The Real Deal Behind why Men Go to Brazil for Sex?
Answer: The short answer to this question is that the book is a response to...more
In his ground-breaking literary debut, Don't Blame It On Rio: The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex, author and gender analyst Jewel Woods takes you deep into the lives of men. They discuss why they choose to travel overseas to live the lifestyle that they feel is denied them in America by whites and black women. more
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Engaging Black Men During Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Submitted by Jewel on Thu, 10/30/2008 - 20:09.
A shorter version of this commentary currently appears on theroot.com
My mother is a wiry-thin black woman who - soaking weight, with rollers in her hair and wearing a pair of roller skates - only weighs about 110 pounds. My father, on the other hand, was around 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, a former Golden Gloves champion, ex-Marine, and a Vietnam Veteran. Therefore, as a child, I simply could not picture what it was like for a man, particularly this man who appeared to be a giant to me, to hit a woman, let alone my mother.
The fractured memories I have of domestic abuse, of men's violence against women, is not restricted to my family. In junior high school, I remember being at a party, hearing a loud thud, and later being told that what I had heard was the sound of Mark, the "pretty boy," stomping his girlfriend on the gym floor. In college, I remember walking into another school's Black Student Union moments after a sister had called the campus police on a man who had physically threatened her. What I recall most about that incident was the consensus among the other males (and some females) about how she should not have called the police on a "brother." I also remember playing ball with a guy in college who we always suspected of occasionally beating up his girlfriend, but we never tried to find out, because he was our friend. In hindsight, domestic violence surrounded me as a child, a teenager, and as a young adult, even though I was not always aware of it.
As a professional working with men in areas that include domestic violence, I now know that I was not alone in my exposure to domestic violence. According to a report to the Department of Justice, Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than white females, and about 22% higher than women of other races. In addition, black women are 2.4 times more likely than white women to suffer from severe forms of abuse and domestic homicide is now the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 15 and 45.
More importantly, I now know that physical violence is only one aspect of abuse that all women suffer from. Black women are the victims of emotional abuse, characterized by name-calling and personal belittling - calling a black woman ugly, fat, or not worthy of affection in order to create emotional isolation and dependency. Virtually all the female survivors of domestic abuse that I have spoken with say that the wounds from emotional abuse take longer to heal than the wounds of physical abuse do. In addition, women suffer from financial abuse - where men withhold money to curry favors ? and sexual abuse, which involves not only rape, but inflicting pain during sex and requiring participation in degrading or demeaning sexual acts.
So what encourages a man to participate in these types of behavior? What makes a 34-year-old black man walk into his estranged wife's job, douse her with gasoline, and then set her on fire? What makes a prominent Bishop in Atlanta allegedly beat, choke, and stomp his wife in a parking lot? There are many theories that explain why men participate in battering and abusive behaviors. My father's abusive behavior, for example, can be explained by most of the dominant themes in research on abusive men. He had a hard upbringing and ended up being a drinker. When he got drunk, he loved to punch people ? it was his way of reliving his days as a boxer.
Research does indicate that alcohol is associated with abuse; but the role that alcohol actually plays in domestic violence is much less clear. On one hand, men consistently use intoxication to explain why they participate in behavior that they otherwise would not. On the other, we know that alcohol often acts as a "dis-inhibitor" that allows people the courage to participate in things that they may not to do on their own. Whenever I talk with black men about the role of alcohol in abuse, I remind them of how white lynch mobs would frequently get drunk to make it easier for them to unleash violence on black bodies and black communities. Drinking is never a reason for committing acts of violence, whether it is against minorities or women. Men often offer many other explanations why they are abusive: ?she pushed my buttons?, ?I lost control?, ?it wasn?t that bad?, etc. The challenge is to offer men tools and insights so that they choose not to participate in or condone violence against women.
To put men into the best position to choose other alternatives, it is essential that we start talking to boys about how men use violence to address, but not solve, problems. Like the age-old adage, "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail,? violence becomes the signature tool in men's toolbox that we use to try and fix our problems. We choose violence in part because we know that violence works, but also because it is one of the few emotional pathways through which men give themselves permission to express themselves. I vividly remember one brother in a jail group who asked, "What do you do when you get to the point where you just don't give a "expletive" and you want to take everyone out?" One man in the group, trying to be supportive said, "Just think about the people who love you." To which he immediately replied, " It's during those times when those are the people I want to take out the most!"
The room went dead silent because the staff and the men in the room knew this man's particular personal history, which included severe forms of domestic abuse and gang- violence. He was often quick to say that he was an ?equal opportunity abuser? and the group knew he was sincere in his question and serious in his response. After his comment had settled in, I offered up the suggestion, "When you get to that point, why don't you invite whoever it is out for tea and coffee." The man thought about it for a second, and then burst into laughter. The sheer absurdity of that example in his mind illustrated that even though he felt he had gotten to a point where he didn't care, he actually did! Violence was the tactic he would choose, precisely because of the results it would achieve and the perverse emotional catharsis that it would serve. We must do a better job of identifying and addressing a bevy of ?negative? emotions that men are confronted with such as anxiety, depression, and fear which all get channeled into anger or rage.
It is equally important that we give men the tools to engage their friends who are abusive. Far too many brothers believe in "drunk therapy", where they assume that taking their friends out to get drunk is the best way to stop him from being violent. The first problem with this type of intervention is that men are often more concerned with their friends "catching a case" than they are in the safety of the women involved. More importantly, taking the friend out of the house does not address the issues of domestic abuse. Similar to the time when the police would to come to a home where there was a report of domestic abuse and have the man leave the house for a while to "cool off", these so-called ?time-outs? are temporary measures at best, and at worst, promote an idea that men cannot be responsible for their own behavior when they are upset. This does not mean that there are not times when it is advisable to remove a friend from a volatile situation. However, a true friend must see the long-term consequences of abuse, be focused on the woman's safety, and be more concerned with the children's emotional and spiritual lives than his friend?s legal problems.
The way African-American men have responded positively to the ?responsible fatherhood movement? provides clues that can be used to move us in this direction. First, we can tap into the profound joy that comes from loving and raising a daughter. World-renowned historian Robin D.G. Kelley allegedly once said that, "Every man with a daughter is by definition a feminist." I cannot tell you how many men end up viewing women differently based on their experience of raising daughters ? this personal insight has to be expanded into a larger political commentary about how men view females. Second, many men have a visceral reaction to the idea of not being the type of father to their children that their fathers were to them. I constantly hear men talk about not wanting to make the same mistakes that their fathers made, implicitly acknowledging the type of abuse children suffer when they do not have active fathers involved in their lives. This is also a potential indictment of the abandonment and physical abuse of their mothers that men often witnessed as children. Men have to make these linkages in both their private lives and in their public statements about ?responsible fatherhood?. You cannot be a responsible father and participate in or condone violence against mothers!
I have a teenage son of my own today, and if his father and other men in his community have done our jobs well, he will understand that he can never be the type of husband, father, friend, progressive, and ?strong black? man that we know he can be, as long as black women and girls are the victims of domestic violence.