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Men and violence: One man’s story
In 2003, I was asked to create a theater piece for Lynann Politte’s Vashon production of the Vagina Monologues addressing the question “What would our world look like when violence against women and girls no longer exists.”
My first impression of the question was that is was incomplete. It should have said “…violence against women and girls, by men,” otherwise, it’s just an impersonal concept. Seventeen Vashon men between 16 and 60 came together to workshop this piece and envision this world without violence. But how to begin? How to get to something real and true? It’s easy to imagine something, but what can we do to create this world? What must we do?
Well, the first step came clear as a bell. We had to look at ourselves and ask the hard question, “Am I a violent man?” This was the first time I took a good hard look at violence and me. I dug deep: What was really going on in those moments, what was I feeling?
A memory rose up from my youth offering to be examined. I went to my girlfriend’s house. We’d had an argument — about what I can’t even remember. Knocked on her door, knew she was in there, no answer. I had to talk to her, get her to listen to me. So I shouted, sweet and confident, of course: “Hey, I know you’re in there. I just want to talk. Please? I love you.” A frightened voice from inside. “Just leave me alone.”
My heart sank. Great. Now she’s afraid of me. And I was afraid too. Afraid of being alone, screwing up, being a loser, afraid of what she thought of me. I needed her so much I was too ashamed to admit it. I couldn’t just leave and feel all this fear and shame and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Then a fire rose up inside and filled my gut, my chest, my head. I yelled “Goddammit! Talk to me!” and smacked the door hard with both hands.
I didn’t think I’d hit the door that hard, but all of a sudden I was staring into her apartment, the door ripped from its hinges on the floor. She was standing there, in shock and absolute terror. “Get out! Now! I mean it! I’m calling the police!” “No, no. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll fix it. Just let me fix it. I can fix it.” “Get out of my house! Get out of my life!” So I left.
I had let my rage take over. I had broken down her closed door. Where did I learn that was OK?
“You’re nothin’ without a woman.” That’s what I had been taught. I needed one so much I was always afraid of losing her and always ashamed of needing her. I couldn’t see women for who they were, only for what they did for me, how they filled some empty space in me. As long as I had someone to bed, I was a man.
So what really happened and what’s changed? The powerful, uncomfortable feelings of fear, shame and need made me feel “powerless” because no one (no man) had ever taught me that it’s OK to feel them. No man had ever said to me, “Wow, I’m afraid too.”
Since then, I’ve been blessed to find men courageous enough to share the truth of their own feelings and experiences with me and each other. That’s what changed. I’m not alone, I’m not a freak, I’m not weak. Do I still feel fear and anger? Sure. But I no longer feel “powerless.” So I no longer need rage and violence to feel powerful again.
Supporting other men, particularly young men, and sharing my truth is what I can do. We can also support Vashon’s new domestic violence project, DoVE, which is working to protect and assist those who experience violence in their homes and put an end to the vicious cycles that lead men to act violently against women, girls and boys.
— Stephen Seigel, an Island resident, designs and produces theme parks and museums and creates theater in the hopes of giving people rich, new experiences that are inspiring, authentic and fun.