10,000 Men Project: Interview with Ben Atherton-Zeman
What motivated you to become an "Engaged Bystander"?
In college, a woman I dated shared with me that she had been abused by a previous boyfriend. Another told me she had been coerced into having sex. Hearing about that, and hearing about what it meant to be female, especially from someone I really cared about, opened my eyes.
I began to notice women's reactions when someone flirted with them and they did not want that attention. I noticed that women's voices were not valued as much as men' voices in the class, and how women in general were judged on how they looked and not what they said. Hearing and seeing all of this made me mad. One of my girlfriends encouraged me to do something about it.
At first, I volunteered at a college women's center. I was trained to give workshops in local high schools about sexual violence and dating violence. Years later, I got a job at a domestic violence shelter doing the same thing. Eight years ago, I wrote my play "Voices of Men" (http://www.voicesofmen.org) which covers the same topics, except using funny voices and costumes.
"Voices of Men" really encourages men to get involved, starting with simple things like wearing a white ribbon (http://www.whiteribbon.com), interrupting sexist jokes and listening to women.
What are you doing now?
I was at a conference for College Men's Anti-Sexist Groups. One of the keynote speakers, Pat Eng from the Ms Foundation for Women, said something that touched a chord. "If you say you are an ally, show it, don't just tell it. Rape Crisis Centers and domestic violence programs all over the country are laying off staff - if you care, give a little money now." I realized that I could do something and made a decision to find a way to show that I am an ally.
So, together with some colleagues, we created a few "Facebook Cause" group called "Ten Thousand Men Supporting Women's Anti-Violence Groups. We're just getting started but already have a thousand members! Ideally, we want men to join the group, find their local RCC or DV program, give them a check and then maybe volunteer. We are creating that first step, almost a "drive-thru" to get involved for those who would not otherwise find the local RCC. Once they are involved, we think it will be easier to take the next step to get more involved.
Do you have any advice to share?
We have created five steps to involving men and keeping us accountable:
- Step One: Educate us about male violence.
- Step Two: Ask us to do something small, something simple.
- Step Three: Ask us to learn more.
- Step Four: Mentor us.
- Step Five: Encourage us to take leadership when we have a deeper understanding
Ben is a spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism www.nomas.org and is a public speaker on issues of violence prevention. Ben identifies as a "recovering sexist" and believes every man must challenge violence and sexism in the world and in themselves.