Unhealthy manhood is not an excuse for violence

This morning I read Kevin Powell’s article “Manhood, football and suicide,” which he wrote in response to the recent murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chief’s player Jovan Belcher. On Saturday morning, Belcher shot his live-in girlfriend, the mother of his three-month-old son, multiple times before he drove to the Chief’s facility and took his own life. While I agree with much of what Powell has to say, including his statement that many boys are raised in an environment of unhealthy masculinity–as he says, “Be tough, men do not cry, man up” (CNN), that realization can never serve as an adequate explanation for violent behavior that leads husbands and boyfriends to kill 1,500 women in the US each year (PBS).

While we do live in a society that still abides by fairly strict gender roles, we cannot blame those roles for gender violence. When we live in a country whose government has politicized violence against women by not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it is clear that the problem goes much deeper than gender roles. VAWA was first passed in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support. Yet when VAWA came up for reauthorization this time around after expiring at the end of 2011, and the Senate proposed expanding the act to include gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans, the House balked. The House also balked at a Senate provision that would allow Native American women to take American citizens who abuse them to court within the tribal legal system. And finally, the House took issue with the Senate’s proposal of a path to citizenship for illegal women who have been abused and agree to cooperate with the police investigation of the crime. In fact, the House proposed lowering the cap on temporary visas offered to women cooperating in legal investigations to 10,000, below the Senate’s increased 15,000 level (csmonitor.com).

This stalemate leaves us with two different versions of a proposed reauthorization of VAWA. It also leaves us with the likelihood that VAWA will not be reauthorized by the current Congress, which means that when the 113th Congress arrives in January, we will have to start over. In the meantime, funding for services to prevent domestic violence and protect women is in jeopardy, and if that funding is cut, even more women will die needlessly.

I read another story this morning about an incident that occurred yesterday in Pennsylvania.  The first line of the article states, “An elementary school music teacher walked into a church in the middle of Sunday services and shot and killed his ex-wife as she sat in a pew, police said” (ABC News). Two days in a row we have seen headlines detailing the brutal murders of women by intimate partners. How many do you think we didn’t hear about, and how much violence is it going to take to get us to act?

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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