Over the last few years, we’ve been disappointed about the behavior of many men in positions of power. Arianna Huffington joked that if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters, they never would have gone under. Seriously though, the S&L crisis, the financial crisis which sent markets around the world plummeting and the scandals of the last few weeks of some of our most influential political leaders, makes us wonder who is a good role model for today’s young men? Indeed, percentage of boys who go to college right now is 44% compared to 63% of girls who attend college. Many of these boys drop out, serve time in prison and the very lucky ones become like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Below are some ways that teachers, parents and students can begin to understand what is at the heart of responsible adult behavior. After the good fortune of being raised by four older brothers who are exemplary people, husbands and fathers, I want to share with you what they shared with me growing up. I was fortunate to develop a strong sense of self, the ability to say “no,” maintain strong boundaries and the fortitude to follow my dreams.
1) Respect yourself.
Don’t count on men to pay for you or provide for you in ways you, as a woman, are not able to provide for yourself. Men will respect you if you have enough self-respect to say “no” to
behaviors and people you find demeaning. Conversely, men have to be able to see woman as equals and not as objects for their own pleasure. Men and women have to be able to relate
to each other in ways that honor each person and the decisions which each chooses to make without pressure, coercion, or manipulation.
Respect yourself, or no one will respect you.
2) Distance yourself from disrespectful people.
Tony Porter, an educator and activist who grew up in New York City, focuses now on calling men forth to men, recounts a chilling tale of his youth. “Do you want some,” his friend asked?
He knew that in the hood where he was raised that was a reference to either drugs or sex. His “friend” had been in the bedroom with a woman whom he had raped, though he didn’t consider it
rape. Porter, who felt the peer pressure from the surrounding group of friends, entered the room closed the door and took enormous pity on the woman who was there. He did not have sex with her, but he left the room later and pretended to his friends that he had. Who knows how this woman wound up in such a compromised position, but one thing is for sure: a culture where men in sports or positions of power act as though women are their sex objects is corrupt one even and especially among young adolescent boys.
Avoid people—men or women—who put themselves in compromising situations.
3) Be willing to get help for yourself and others.
When you yourself are threatened with compromising behaviors or you see others who are in peril, be willing to get help. If you are in high school, tell your parents, teacher, coach or
counselor. If you are in college, go to campus resources and speak to an advisor who can help you or get you to someone who can help you. Having courageous conversations to stop oppressive behaviors will change lives—and patterns that have been unaddressed until now. You can be part of changing those behaviors, attitudes and outcomes.
Step out and take a stand.
4) Be part of the solution.
There are many ways that you can make a difference beyond holding yourself and others to higher standards. If you want to make a difference with this issue in the United States, there are these organizations you can join:
· Educate yourself about sexual assault and prevention: http://www.nsvrc.org/
· Are you a college student? Take a stand on your own campus: http://www.safercampus.org/
If you want to make a difference on a global level, where women in places like Asia, Africa and India are sold into the slave trade, you can go to these organizations:
· Learn about sex trafficking in the United States: http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=1596778&page=1
At the very least, you may want to read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide which talks about how educating women and girls is the best way to combat some of the world’s worst problems, including poverty and extremism.
While the indiscretions of some of our male leaders are not on the same scale as some of the atrocities to women in this country and others, it is still a warning sign to all of us in the United States that something is wrong. Several stories aired earlier this year on the high rate of prostitution in the U.S. among women from broken homes and the pimps who manage them. In a recent NPR interview with Ambassador CdeBaca (Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department), he explained how sex trafficking continues to grow as does the definition to include any exploitation of people, including slavery, and not only applicable to those taken over international borders. The evolution of the term has shifted focus to women in the U.S. and the realization of how many victims there are at home. According to YouthNoise.com, U.S. sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business that comes in the third as the most profitable business in organized crime after drugs and arms stealing.
This is an opportunity for all of us to take responsibility for providing a positive, encouraging environment for men and women to grow up in so that we can have a global society worthy of our best selves, talents and actions. While the people in the news lately will likely pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again, I urge you to have at least one courageous conversation with a woman or a girl in your life who means something to you and one equally important conversation with a young man in your life who you confront on the same topic.
What other strategies do you have on this topic that can be useful to share with others?