Thousands Of Dallas Men Rally Against Domestic Violence: ‘It’s Our Problem’

Sportscaster Dale Hansen is something of a living legend in Dallas, where he’s been a nightly news staple for thirty years, building a reputation as a jokester, even a smart-ass. But he didn’t come to Saturday’s Dallas Men Against Abuse rally to talk Cowboys or make wisecracks about the Mavericks. He came to tell thousands of men what it was like growing up in an abusive home.

“My dad was the biggest, strongest man I ever knew, and he hit my mom and broke her nose,” said Hansen, his voice cracking with emotion. “Never has such a big man looked so small in the eyes of a little boy.”

The rally, held in the shadow of Dallas’ imposing concrete City Hall, drew men called to action by politicians, activists, and television personalities, by pastors, priests, and imams, and by sports figures who, in a place like Dallas, occupy an almost religious status themselves. Hours of programming featured former Dallas Cowboys Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach and recorded messages from daytime television’s Dr. Phil and Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, one of the country’s largest mega-churches.

Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings organized the rally in response to the January murder of 40-year-old Karen Cox Smith, who police say was shot and killed by her estranged husband, Ferdinand Smith. Smith had been accused of trying to strangle his wife in December, and a warrant was pending for his arrest when he allegedly shot her in a parking garage on January 8th.

In the aftermath of the shooting and in light of a dramatic increase in domestic murders in the city—according to the Dallas Police Department, husbands and boyfriends killed 26 wives or girlfriends in 2012, up from 10 domestic murders in 2011—Rawlings held a press conference at City Hall earlier this year. From the Dallas Morning News:

“If I could, I’d ask all the women to leave the room,” Rawlings said halfway through his 30-minute statement at City Hall. “I want to talk to the men now. This violence is our fault.”

Though much of the programming focused on physical violence, College Football Hall-of-Famer Don McPherson opened up the scope of the event to include talk about rape, sexual violence, and emotional abuse. He said he’d never seen so many men gathered to address the problem of domestic violence in one place before.

“We call it a ‘women’s issue,'” said McPherson. “It’s our issue.”

While that message—putting the blame for domestic violence squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators, not the victims—came across loud and clear, some of the invited speakers perpetuated some of the very harmful, misguided stereotypes and toned-down, victim-obscuring language that the mayor himself explicitly sought to toss out.

An on-stage emcee asked Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brandon Carr what he thought of his teammate Jovan Belcher, who he described as “involved” in a domestic incident last year. Belcher was, of course, much more than “involved”; he murdered his girlfriend, Texan Kasandra Perkins, before killing himself, in December.

And when asked what he saw as the biggest problem with domestic violence today, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said that more women needed to “come forward” to report it.

Staubach’s remark directly challenged what another speaker from, of all places, Mary Kay cosmetics had to say, holding his young son up to the microphone as he spoke: “We tell women, ‘Just leave.’ But why should she have to leave in the first place?”

Much of the messaging at the rally centered around what it means to be a “real man,” with a number of speakers using essentialist language that, while it may speak to many, reduces both men and women to strict, gender-defined roles, with men as heads of household and women as gentle helpmeets. Speakers repeatedly referred to women as “precious” and “fragile” gifts from God, things to be protected by big, strong, “real” men, saying, “Anyone who hits a woman isn’t a real man,” and “Real men don’t hit women.”

Other speakers invoked the popular “mothers, wives, sisters, daughters” rhetoric, used so often in attempts to appeal to those who would apologize for violence and abuse against women, which seemed to move many in the crowdafter all, domestic violence so often affects women not despite the fact that they are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters but because they are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. The trouble is, as Anne Thériault eloquently wrote last week in the wake of the Steubenville rape verdict, that this characterization often serves only to advance “the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.”

Certainly the men in the audience that RH Reality Check spoke to saw themselves, as well as their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, as victims of domestic violence. Byron Sanders and Christian Yazdanpanah, 29-year-olds living in Dallas, said they both grew up in abusive homes but had never before spoken to each other about it before the rally was announced.

“I grew up in an abusive house, but we just put that under the rug,” said Sanders, recalling how his family would pretend nothing was wrong when “company” would visit. Yazdanpanah grew up in a similar situation, but it wasn’t until he got an e-mail from Sanders inviting him to the rally that he ever told his friend that they shared a similar history.

Sanders said he saw the rally as “blow” against the culture of silence around domestic violence.

“We never talk about this,” agreed Yazdanpanah.

But that changed, at least for those two young men, on a cloudy Saturday in Dallas, Texas.

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  • Rev4Choice

    Happy to see this movement in Dallas, especially among the town heroes – professional athletes. Hurray for the mayor for putting the weight of his office behind this initiative. Yep, I get your point about the gender stereotypes & “essentialist” language, but as with any painstaking work for justice, it’s valuable not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If you’ve ever gathered a group of people to engage in public work on a topic they’ve never spoken about before, no matter how much messaging you offer, it’s impossible to keep everyone on the talking points or within the appropriate frame. This is a huge cultural shift to begin this dialogue in a testosterone-fueled environment. Not saying they/we shouldn’t strive for a clearer & more illuminating frame (& I appreciate your analysis of language here) but I hope we really celebrate this bold step more than we criticize it.

    • Beverly Diehl

      This: “not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

      That men are rallying in the thousands and talking about domestic violence – however imperfectly – is a HUGE step in the right direction. Let’s hope other cities join in as well.

    • maiathebeegrrl

      “I hope we really celebrate this bold step more than we criticize it.”
      Isn’t that exactly what the author of this column did???

  • Sparks13

    It takes a huge amount of cowardice to beat on someone smaller and/or weaker than one’s self. Be it a man, woman, child or animal.

    • Murray Pearson

      It takes even MORE cowardice to beat up that person using proxy violence. For example, my friend was beaten unconscious by his abusive girlfriend’s new boyfriend. But an even more insidious form of proxy violence is the use of the “justice” system as a weapon of personal vindictiveness through false allegations. BOTH of these behaviours are essentially 100% female tactics, and BOTH of them depend on the fallacious perceptions based in the lies of the totally debunked and baseless Duluth Model.

      • maiathebeegrrl

        Neither of the abusive actions you’ve described have anything to do with the causes to which you’ve attributed them. In fact, both are quite handily explained by the Duluth Model – an analysis of abuse that recognizes abuse is about power & control, not just physical violence.
        Go away, MRA!

      • Carla Clark

        Hmm, so the widdle man couldn’t say no? Seriously, that you believe a woman cries victim when she makes claims of spousal abuse, but don’t attribute that same behaviour to the man who beat up his girlfriend’s ex is VERY telling that double standards still DO exist for women. So, lie put to your claim that it is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT female tactics. Overgeneralizing women like that IS sexism. Finally, just because you don’t see bruises on a woman’s face, or because you think a ‘little tap’ isn’t abuse OR because the man is found to be not guilty (ALL of which are a result of pervasive sexism and MISOGYNY), doesn’t mean he isn’t guilty. Moron.

  • Murray Pearson

    What do these people think about domestic violence perpetrated BY women? I don’t have figures for Texas, but for example in Canada StatsCan reports that 6.4% of women experience intimate partner abuse — as do 6.0% of men. That means for every 100 abused women, there are something like 93 abused men. Are those men also at fault for the abuses they receive?

    • Paul Stella

      In the eyes of a hyper-feminist, men are probably at fault for everything.

      • me2u2

        Not all feminists see it that way. Many feminists are also concerned about violence against men.

        But men must organize. There has to be a men’s movement.

      • Carla Clark

        You have no idea what feminism is.

        • Paul Stella

          I don’t? How can you deduce that I have no idea what feminism is from one sentence I posted? Explain feminism to me. Then explain hyper-feminism. Please, educated me if you think I’m wrong.

          • Carla Clark

            All I have to do is look at what you replied to, and compare that with the usual rhetoric used against feminists, being decried as hyper-feminism or radical feminism, which are, either, non-existent or completely different things. Seriously, reading comprehension, please.

    • Carla Clark

      Um, links to your sources, please? Also, no one is saying that men are at fault for anything. Seriously, please read. We ARE saying that men directly benefit from the patriarchy. Meaning that masculine behaviours are applauded and/or feminine behaviours are stigmatized. That men can benefit from it, also means they are the ones to most likely enact change. You may thank me for your edumacation, now.

  • Steven Earl Salmony

    Another problem, a problem that is bigger, much bigger but harder to see…….
    We are not ‘connecting the dots’ between the skyrocketing growth of the human population and the cascading evidence of climate destabilization as well as natural resource dissipation because many too many continue to deny the ecological science of human population dynamics. Something is happening on Earth that appears to be directly driven by seven billion (to become 9 billion by 2050) human being…s overconsuming, overproducing and overpopulating. These activities of humankind threaten future human well being, biodiversity and environmental health. Some of us overconsume; some overproduce and some overpopulate. And many of us do all of the above. All of this distinctly human-induced activity is soon to become patently unsustainable on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth. Well established scientific knowledge, human intuition and common sense are in agreement that the colossal current scale and fully anticipated growth of unrestrained overconsumption, unbridled overproduction and unregulated overpopulation activities of the human species in which all of us engage cannot continue much longer, much less indefinitely.

    Perhaps necessary behavior changes toward sustainability are in the offing.

    • maiathebeegrrl

      “Overpopulation”, per se, is a myth. The earth has no specific carrying capacity of a number of human beings that are supportable. “unrestrained overconsumption” and “unbridled overproduction” ARE certainly problems, and are a major threat to the sustainability of human life. But these are problems that exist regardless of the raw number of the people on this earth.

      And we need to (with good reason – hey eugenics!) be wary of discussing “overpopulation” as if the problem was just that some people (you know which ones!) having too many babies. If you’re going to comment on this blog, you need to be aware of how problematic (and often coded racist) the language of “overpopulation” is.

      • Carla Clark

        Okay, I am a white person with privilege. So I am inserting myself into a discussion that doesn’t, and wouldn’t, directly affect me in the context of racism. So, please let me know if you want me or the mods to delete this.

        (But, here is what may be my foot-in-mouth opinion:

        When you consider unrestrained overconsumption and unbridled overproduction are results of the concentration of consumerism in Western hands, leaving little to the rest of the world. Meaning westerners, including myself, are contributing to any overpopulation as per sustainable living that any other countries may have incurred. Not least is the fact that overpopulation may not just refer to the carrying capacity of the earth, but to the carrying capacity of our brethren, not just humans. Also, unrestrained overconsumption and unbridled overproduction can still sound like someone is brushing ALL countries with the same brush, as well, I think…? It sounds like there is not one country that is excluded from contributing to either. Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist, because she wanted to supply those whom she considered infirm with a way to prevent pregnancy. However, if we look at it another way, preventing children from being born into impoverished circumstances by providing women with a way to delay pregnancies, is also a form of eugenicism, Therefore, it can be a good thing.

  • Jennifer Collins

    When I was a kid my father broke my mother’s nose 3 times (He testified to this under oath.) and dislocated her shoulder in front of me and my brother (Again, he admitted this in court.) but the judge found that the abuse to our mother was irrelevant pertaining to us kids. He determined that her fear of our father was causing ‘parental alienation’ so he reversed custody to our abusive father. Needless to say our father beat us as well! Eventually our mom ‘kidnapped’ us back, and we fled the country. We were granted asylum in The Netherlands and hid there for 17 years. After the FBI found us we recently returned to the USA. Now hundreds of abused mothers and children are begging me to help them but I don’t’ know how. Sometimes it is discouraging. This story restores my faith in “Man Kind” and “Kind Men”! Thank you so much! Jennifer Collins, Courageous Kids Network

    • Ben Atherton-Zeman

      thanks, Jennifer! you and your family are inspirations to many, including me. Welcome home to the United States!

  • Ben Atherton-Zeman

    Outstanding article about a great event. I appreciated both the reporting and the analysis of what went wrong.

  • taloolah

    What a wonderful story! Violence against women is so terrible. For men to stand up and address the issue is encouraging and admirable.