grieving child

Stand up, guy!

Guest blogger: Justin Russotti, Stand Up Guys

Justin co-facilitates Delphi’s RESPECT batterer intervention program and through Resolve of Greater Rochester, developed a curriculum that initiates discussion around intimate partner violence with high school and college students.  Justin also works as a research project coordinator and therapist at Mt. Hope Family Center.


A 24 year old Brooklyn architect, Charles Sonder, was riding the subway when a physical fight erupted between a man and a woman.  Sonder, while eating a bag of potato chips, casually got up and stood between the man and woman while continuing to snack away.  Now revered as the infamous, “Snack Man”, his strong, silent, and peace-keeping actions have labeled him as a true stand up guy.

Stand Up Guys, a part of Resolve of Greater Rochester, aims to shift the responsibility of eradicating violence against women from women to men.  For years, gender-based violence has been addressed either through risk reduction with women (putting the responsibility on the victim to avoid violence), or through secondary and tertiary interventions designed for perpetrators.  While this work is necessary and essential, there is a growing initiative to address men as “partners” of women in the early, primary prevention of gender-based violence.  While not all men perpetrate violence against women, all men have a role in preventing it by examining their own potential for violence, by intervening against the violence of other men, and by addressing it’s root causes.

These efforts can be subtle, but impactful. When a friend tells me he just got done talking to a, “chick”, I call him on it.  Unless he developed a recent affinity for baby birds, I assume he meant to say “woman” and I make a point to remind him of that.  I know, I know…who brought the “Buzzkill Bob” right? But addressing the small, everyday issues is how we start to change a culture.  For the average, well-intentioned guy, this is the area where we have the ability to be most effective.

See, most men don’t commit domestic violence, or what the field is now starting to call, intimate partner violence, but they also don’t mind cashing in on the benefits of a male dominated culture; therein lies the rub.  This is called the “patriarchal dividend”, or the benefit all men get from a patriarchal society.  A story from my friend, Jack, nails this on the head.  He had a bunch of older sisters growing up and they all had a strict curfew of 10 pm, but ol’ Jacky-boy, being a male, got to stay out as late as he wanted.  Now, Jack felt bad for his sisters and he could see the inequality there, but Jack sure as heck wasn’t about to walk up to his parents and say, “Hey, this whole thing is unfair, why don’t you hold me to the same curfew as my sisters.”

See, even when men can recognize the ills of patriarchy, many of them aren’t willing to “change a good thing.”  I’m guilty of it myself, at times.  I beat the drum all day about this stuff and then, I come home to my partner, and as we talk about marriage, the prospect of us both hyphenating our last name is brought up and I’m all, “Say what now…?”  It’s a sweet deal for a heterosexual man to get married; you get to keep your name and identity, you don’t have to change your license, or go by a new name professionally/personally, etc.  That would be privilege I’d have to give up.  But, as a man, I have two options there; I can try and justify the inequality for my own convenience…or…I can check myself, practice what I preach, and recognize the inequality in something that I’m traditionally granted just for simply being born a man.

Men’s lives improve when women’s do… A rising tide raises all ships.  It seems like an easy sell, right?  Unfortunately, many notions of masculinity, manhood, and dominant male culture stand in the way of treating women with respect and dignity.  As men, we receive societal messages that our “manhood” is defined by being “dominant”, “in control” and “emotionally/mentally strong.”  Just think of the phrase, “Be a man.”  It’s almost always used to tell the individual to stop whatever emotion it is they are feeling and to bottle it up.  A young boy falls and starts crying—“Be a man, suck it up, you’ll be fine.”

Gloria Steinem is definitely picking up what I’m putting down, or, more likely, I’m picking up what she’s putting down, as she’s been saying this for years during her influential work.  She said, “The greatest task that all of us face, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” If men can unlearn the idea that certain characteristics are feminine, girly, sissy, weak [read: NOT for them], we can make a drastic change in the way men interact with women.  For instance, characteristics like empathy and other emotional intelligence are regarded as feminine traits and tend to be undervalued in traditional male culture.  What if we could recognize empathy, not as feminine or masculine, but just human?

So, why does this message have a place on this blog?  SPCC, and other agencies or organizations like it, can and do play a crucial role in this reeducation of men and boys.  See, children learn what we teach them (see this great video:, and for the most part, we’ve taught our young boys that they need to be “tough” and “emotionless” (except for anger), leading to an unhealthy and, at times, damaging construction of masculinity.  As we work with fathers and boys, we need to help normalize empathy, emotional intelligence, and emotional expression.  If a father tells his young boy who is crying after a fall to stop “being a sissy”, we can gently provide some guidance; when a little boy wants to play “house”, we can encourage their creativity and help instill equal partnership from a young age.

It’s no easy task, I can promise you that.  As a man, I admittedly struggle with it myself all the time.  I finally allowed myself to tear up a little after watching Les Miserables for the third time, after forcibly holding back during the first two viewings.  I can hear my friends now, “Crying, while watching a musical {gasp}!!?!?”  But here’s where I can start the change, with the simple reply… “Hey, that’s normal, man.”

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