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Good guys don't have to yell, but they should speak up

Maybe it's my tomboy background, but I don't like sexual divides. Boys on one side. Girls on the other. I think life is best when we all play well together.

But Friday's story about domestic violence was a gender-specific shout-out to Rogue Valley men. Or, as one Medford police officer so succinctly said, it's time our resident good guys "man-up" around this complex and challenging issue.

Why should you get involved? Because we are your mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters and friends. And we need our fathers, sons, uncles, brothers and friends to actively demonstrate what it means to be a real man. We need to stop this scourge which has already claimed the lives of seven women and children within our community this year.

Before any double-X chromosome readers bail in anticipation of rampant male bashing, let me state unequivocally that when it comes to domestic violence, this gal knows that "men" are not the enemy. Abusers are the enemy. But these bad guys, while only a small fraction of the male population, are doing one hell of a lot of damage.

On average, three women are dying each day as a result of domestic violence in America. One in four women (and one in 13 men) will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And we're all feeling the fallout, fellows.

Former Rogue Valley resident Jackson Katz is one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists. A lot of men think because they are not personally beating, raping or murdering women or children, they get a pass on the domestic violence issues, he said.

"I'm not a rapist" is not exactly a glowing character reference. "Raise the bar," Katz said. I gotta agree.

Male or female, most folks would step in and/or call the police if they saw someone being terrorized or witnesses physical acts of violence. But what to do when the lines are not so clearly defined? Katz speaks about men being empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers. If a brother, friend, classmate or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don't look the other way. Do not remain silent. Please.

A new friend I teasingly call Wicked unwittingly showed me his good-guy chops in some recent conversations. One evening, while talking about his work, up popped a story about an irate male client who'd gone ballistic. Dude went berserker screaming in my friend's face. I know from personal experience Wicked is a pretty patient fellow. Still, he doesn't seem the sort to suffer bullying fools lightly. So when he told me he'd leaned into the fellow, I was anticipating a violent — or at least verbal — smack-down had ensued. But my friend had taken note of the situation from a wise man's perspective.

"Calm down," Wicked said, speaking softly into the well-do-do family man's ear. "Your kid is watching."

Children exposed to domestic abuse tend to take one of two paths, they either become abused, or abusers, we agreed.

Another night he spoke of pulling a fellow college boy off a drunken coed at a wild party. It was decades ago. But confusion and disgust still echoed in this former wild child's voice as he recalled the alcohol-fueled event. Drunk or sober, why would any man want to violate a woman? He didn't get it. He still doesn't. I'm just glad he rescued that girl.

Earlier this week we talked about the trajectory of our own educations on the complex problem of domestic violence. As we discussed power and control and the damage done, another story surfaced. A windbag was bragging about a sexual conquest before a group of buddies. "Why would you talk about a girl like that?" he'd challenged Mr. Big-Talker. "What if she were your sister?"

I was particularly curious to hear about the reactions of Wicked's male peers. He's a popular fellow. Had he suffered any social consequences? Nope. Turns out a man's conscience can be contagious, if he has the courage to share it. The crew stopped listening to the kiss-and-teller, who quickly stopped dissing the girl.

Want to be a good guy? You don't have to be Superman. Try a calming voice here, a helping hand there, or a few words of caution — in each case it was enough to shift the abuse paradigm. And, gender issues aside, it's little enough to expect from a fellow human being on behalf of another living soul.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.