I’m glad to see Sir Patrick Stewart calling on men to prevent violence against women, particularly given the vicious harassment campaign against feminist commenter Zerlina Maxwell that commenced after she dared to suggest that maybe we should teach rape prevention to men rather than asking women to take all sorts of precautions that might or might not work to guard themselves against assault. In an appearance on Friday:
The 72-year-old British-born actor, best known for his roles in “X-Men” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” served as host for the launch of “Ring the Bell,” a global campaign calling on 1 million men to make 1 million “concrete, actionable promises” to end violence against women.
“Violence against women is the single greatest human rights violation of our generation,” Stewart said.
“This is a call to action — not an action that will make things better in six months’ time or a year’s time,” he continued, “but action that might save someone’s life and someone’s future this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow morning.”
First, I think it’s great to see a genre-fiction icon like Stewart speaking out on violence against women, and speaking from a place of personal experience. That’s something women are often asked to do to personalize women’s issues, but that also gets them dismissed as subjective or overstating problems. Hearing that domestic violence affects men as well is powerful testimony, and takes some of the weight off women to repeat their stories, and to make the argument that such violence may be directed at women, but that doesn’t mean that its effects are confined to people who are physically damaged. To have Stewart define masculinity as solidarity with women strikes me as a useful thing in the geek community, though I think it’s definitely worth talking about concrete action that respects women’s agency, rather than setting up domestic violence survivors as simply another version of the Damsel In Distress.
And I think it’s important to talk about what concrete steps can look like for men who don’t conceive of themselves as violent (or in the conversation Maxwell started, as potential rapists), or who don’t have direct personal contact with domestic violence right now. How do men start and frame effective conversations with other men, whether it’s about the presentation of women’s issues and violence in the real world, or about content they’re consuming together that may be casually violent against women, or may employ violence against women and sexual assault as a lazy way of generating stakes? What are good ways to teach consent-seeking as that push back against pick-up artist techniques and attitudes, some of the only guides to being more socially engaged that some men in the geek community ever encounter (a point made valuably, and pushed back against, by the wonderful Dr. NerdLove, who I had the privilege to meet up with here in Austin)? Being committed to not being personally violent against women in a theoretical way is a wonderful thing, and one I’m glad to see men embrace, but it’s the kind of mentality that can also make men think that they’re the kind of people who could never possibly be violent towards women, which contributes to the inability to see one’s own bad acts. Trying to reduce a culture of violence, and to promote the idea that violence against women ought to be something that makes men feel uncomfortable for their own sakes, is something rather different.