MEN, YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM…
BUT PART OF THE SOLUTION!
Copyrighted, 2006, Rebecca McDonald.
If you do not remember anything else from me, please hear this, from my heart to yours: after decades of dealing with human trafficking’s gut-wrenching details and horror, I believe this is not a gender problem. This is not male vs. female. This is not “men’s fault.” YES, men are the buyers mostly. But the person doing the “force, fraud and coercion” is more often a woman than a man. The enslaver, the torture and scams are more often conducted by female traffickers. The worst stitches we ever had to get for a victim was from being beaten for seven hours by another woman, the trafficker. Anyone—men, women or children—can prey on their most vulnerable.
In faraway lands, little old ladies with silver buns offer desperate families a job for their daughter in a remote city. They get them a job, all right — chained to a bed and sold ’til they die from any number of abuses, diseases or torture. Nestled under the Himalayan mountains, far from civilization these families know about prostitution, but they know nothing about Red Light districts, organized crime, big city crime and the 24/7 demand for sexual services. In Asia, where age is trusted, an older woman simply thinks they are sending their daughters to a “better life” in a foreign city, imagining them working in a restaurant, factory, hotel or home. They have no idea the horrors their daughters will meet.
Traffickers hang out at train stations, and outside our partnering orphanages in 15 countries, and prey on the innocent. Our partner in Myanmar lost two boys to the drug dealers that hung out at the orphanage gate and offered the boys jobs in a faraway city. Our partner in Eastern Europe reports that when children turn 18 and age out of the orphanage, they are asked to paint their room for the next one coming, given maybe $50 and sent by bus to the closest city with no skills, job plans or place to go. More often than not, the orphanage has called the traffickers in that city to let them know the child is arriving, and they are there to offer the lure of a job that is no real job. We have rescued girls chained in cages with muzzles on their faces like an animal.
Whose guard is up for a woman recruiting a woman?
The aftercare industry is dominated by women for obvious reasons, but we are honored to be surrounded by “a few good men” who walk beside us in the work of rescue and restoration. I am calling on the protector in every man. As an organization headed by and principally run by women, our primary passion and mission is to bring the wounded out of slavery and risk and support them in their lifelong recovery. But it is not exclusively an organization for women. We also rescue, assist, support, and educate both men and boys, and recruit men for security, job placement, and more.
As an organization, we love the safety and protection that the men in our lives consistently demonstrate. Women are drawn to safe and protective men. We find sweet comfort in their presence. As mothers, we want our sons to be those men. We want our daughters to love and marry those men. We honor each and every man who uses his strength, integrity, and world to be a circle of protection, a safe place where we can be ourselves, and see our dreams come true.
A few years ago, I found myself facing a violent man stomping on a tiny woman beneath the smiley face at Wal-Mart. The men in my life were by my side. When it was all over, I looked around at three or four cars with people sitting there in the parking lot, watching. Men and women watched the drama of the McDonald family rescuing an abused woman, and they did nothing. They were bystanders, not allies.
Many times, after I have spoken, teen boys ask me how they can help. I instantly praise any young man courageous enough to recognize he has the power to make a difference. I call on the protector in him. I start giving examples in his world where this can be manifested. I get so many notes from little men after such a talk, telling me, “Mrs. Mac…I did it! I stuck up for the underdog. It kind of worked. But it was so, so awesome!”
This is a call to men, especially, to take action, to take a personal stake in making the world a better place, a more just place. One of the clearest ways for men to act as allies for women is to change from being a bystander to an ally.
A bystander is someone who stands by while verbal or physical violence occurs. For example, men in a locker room begin to talk about a woman in derogatory ways while others silently listen. Maybe it’s a man harassing a waitress while the others sitting nearby tell rape-jokes. I tell young men in schools and colleges that Trafficking 101 starts with the mouth!
Silent bystanders empower and encourage the “joker” to escalate and feel safe and justified in his abusive values. By speaking out in these situations, men challenge men. Challenging this talk sends the message that derogatory language is unacceptable. It is bullying. Bullying is the beginning of trafficking, setting up an individual for vulnerability and abuse.
There is a real fear in taking a public stand. Ostracism or appearing uncool are real fears. Women who defend women are not nearly as effective as men defending women. Even more powerful are when men speak up for women when no women are present. Men put more weight behind the opinions of other men than they do those of women. When defending women, speak for yourself. Rather than saying, “That’s offensive to women,” say “I find that offensive because….” Or, as my sons would have said it as teens, “Dude, shut up. That’s stupid.” Defenders who are strong enough to risk censure will discover that other men in the room are equally uncomfortable and relieved to see someone man enough to voice it.
Men, we are calling to you. We need and honor all the protective instincts instilled within you. We need a few good men and we know you are there. We see you and are calling from the deepest recesses of our hearts for you to join us.
In Jewish culture, the name for father means three things. One is protector. We need that. One is provider. We benefit from that. The third is nurturer. Men, too, are nurturers. We honor the protective instinct. Our world needs this. We honor the circle of men in our lives who empower us. They are special fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles and friends who are strong, yet gentle. You believe in advocating for the vulnerable. You believe in the women and children in your life and protect and surround them with dignity. You are our knights in shining armor, our rescuers, protectors, and friends. We respect and thank you for the many things you do that all spell HERO.
When our team moved into the WAR HQ, we decorated the women’s restroom because we girls do so much in there. The men complained that I didn’t decorate the men’s room. I responded, “I had brothers; I raised boys. Men spray walls.” (Well, you know what I mean.) There was outrage and denial. So, I went to town and decorated theirs too!
Stationed in the men’s restroom of the WAR ofﬁces is a touch of humor…a real knight in shining armor! Also on the wall are the words that are now our bestselling card for men, with a coat of armor and a plaque. When I see a tiny boy in the boutique, I whisper to him. “Hey, there is a surprise for you in the men’s room. Just for you.” He goes in and comes out enthralled with the knight. We give tours of the men’s room sometimes…at least, I do. But a serious plea is represented in our sincere desire to reach out and honor those men whom we love and respect. This is a clarion call, a war cry from the heart of a mother…called to be a safe place, to end the carnage of the innocent. We are called to breathe life and whisper worth into the hearts and lives of those we love and inﬂuence. We need “a few good men.”
Women At Risk, International is passionate about leaving a legacy of safety for each person we love, and even for the forgotten but unforgettable. We welcome you to join our growing army in the ﬁght of a lifetime to create safe places, offering worth and dignity.
On the United States Marine Corps home page, www.semperfimarine.com, are listed some interesting characteristics of an elite group of Americans. They pride themselves in being “a group that has no desire to be like others.” Their motto in Latin, the language of law, is “Semper Fidelis.” It means, literally, “always faithful.” To them, this is a non-negotiable, binding promise of their dedication to each other, their mission, and their community. In my opinion, they are the original male (and now female, too) equivalent of a “circle of protection” to one another and their cause. This sentiment is echoed in their military song that says, “I’ve got your back.” When there is a war being waged, these soldiers are the first in, and are ready to stand up, pay the price, and be a circle of protection for each other.
Secretary of State Colin Powell once put an Iraqi reporter in his place. The scribe tried to rattle the statesman by asking, “Isn’t it true that only 13 percent of young Americans can locate Iraq on a map?”
“That may be true,” Powell snapped. “You’re probably right. But unfortunately for you, all 13 percent are Marines” (from the semperfimarine.com website).
Not every man out there may grasp what this predatory war on women and children is all about. But I know that there are “a few good men” who do. They are the “13 percent” who know where the battleground is. They know there is a war being waged against women and children, and they want to be part of “a group that has no desire to be like others.” They are not predatory, nor consumers of flesh. They are not pedophiles, nor bullies, nor are they trolling the Red Light districts. They are “always faithful” and know unswervingly that they are on a non-negotiable mission.
I personally believe that the “silent majority” of men are these “few good men.” It’s not that they are few and far between. Rather, like all of us, they simply don’t know what to do. Not wanting to seem to be part of the problem or be misunderstood, they remain silent, frozen in fear, and then walk away. I plead with parents to stop training their sons to “look the other way” when they see porn on their buddies’ phone, or when they hear the demeaning comments. This is what we have trained “good boys” (and men) to do, to walk away. And to that I say, NO! Please, NO. Train your sons when they are young to stand up and be a voice to say, “Dude, that’s dumb,” or the equivalent.
I remember well the day my second son came home from school madder than a hornet. He was one of those kids who were “cool.” I don’t know why one kid is considered cool and another one isn’t. But you either have it or you don’t. He did (and does). His “cool friends” were bullying and demeaning other kids in their class. There was a rash of suicides as a result. He spouted, “Why is it that they are mean, and act mean, and are still ‘cool’ the next day…or people still think they are cool?”
This mamma pounced on the opportunity, ever so carefully. “Well, you are cool, too. You hate it when people are mean. You are truly cool because you care about others. That’s what makes you cool.” See, I had to praise him first. “Whatever it is that gave you ‘cool’ could just as easily take it away, but I have an idea. If they can say mean things and still be ‘cool,’ then you should try telling them to shut up and most likely you will still be cool, since that’s the way it goes.” Then I went in for the jugular. “If you don’t, you will hate yourself and you will maybe wake up one day no longer cool. Don’t ask me why you are cool and others aren’t.” (He smirked) “But it is a platform for being a voice with impunity, it seems. Use it for good. Tell your friends to cut it out. Tell them to shut up or back off, or whatever words are ‘cool,’ and we’ll see what happens. You say you are tired of them as friends, anyway, because of this, so what do you have to lose?”
He did it — and “voila,” he was still cool. He was already a leader. Now, he used his status to silence cowardly voices, or at least let others know it was not ‘cool’ to do those things, according to some of the ‘cool’ kids. Teach your sons to speak up. They will grow up to be men who use their voices to protect. They will be among those few good men who are the tip of the spear, willing to be first into the battle for dignity and freedom. Those are the men who “have our backs.” They are not out to harm but to empower men, women, and children to be all they desire to be.
As a frequent public speaker, I have learned to be careful when I speak to a mixed crowd on the subject of women at risk. Unaware at first, I watched the body language of men as I spoke about predators. They became hostile and acted as if I meant them. I made that mistake once, but never again. Now, within the first couple minutes, I bring up the statistic that more traffickers are women than men. I really need men to help. I can’t do this alone.
I learned to call to the warrior, protector, father, brother, and husband in them as I spoke. They began to lean forward during my presentations, intent on my words. They started lining up to ask how they could help, and reached out to their wives in compassion, causing many women to share secret fears for the first time.
One couple came to me after I had finished a presentation. The woman told me how her husband had turned to her while I spoke and asked, “Is this true? Do you feel this way?” She was overcome with tears and he reached out with strong arms of love! They thanked me for giving voice to his wife’s silent pain.
Men, you do not have to have cash to give your children a fortune. You can give them wealth beyond belief with the inheritance of a strong circle of protection, one that has raised them and protected them to be all that they can be. This is the best inheritance of all, and the one that my husband is already leaving to me and our children.
I have three sons and a son-in-law who are well on their way to being men who empower women, and a daughter who knows she can be all she dreams to be. They know that their character is their greatest asset.
Earlier in this book, I mentioned my upbringing as being one in a culture dominated by men. I repeat it here because I learned much having walked in what is predominantly a man’s world my whole life. Women in my family line are three generations, now, of a singular daughter alone in a sea of doting fathers, brothers, and uncles. Add to that, growing up as an American female in Muslim Asia. I learned early to hunt frogs, wild boar, civet cat, and doves. I learned how to trap and how to wrestle. On rare occasions, my brothers would let me dress them up in costumes and “teach them school.” However, more often than not, I had to fit into their world of play. I learned to jump walls, run fast, yell loud, and dig hideouts in the jungle. I never did conquer their enormous gift for belching in foreign languages.
As a non-Muslim in a Muslim land, I also learned how to negotiate my way in public, in this man’s world. In their homes, no visiting woman is at risk. There, she is under the protection and hospitality of that home and is treated like one of the family. If she is visiting women, they will not be veiled in her presence. I did not wear the veil, but as an adult I learned to cover my head in public, not because anyone made me, but because it protected me from the nuisance of unwelcome cat calls and groping, and it allowed me to blend in.
As a child, I would feel physically sick when I had to “walk the gauntlet” through the male-dominated marketplace, unveiled. I can still feel the knot in my stomach while walking between the Outpatient Department and my father’s office at the Hospital, where all the patients waited. I would take a deep breath, step into this sea of humanity, keep my eyes down and plow through, not looking at anyone. Since they were all men, no one took offense at this, and they thought me to be a nice girl.
Later in life, while I attended college in America, I had to learn, the hard way, that strangers here try to make eye contact when passing in the halls, and that if you do not do the same, you are considered rude or arrogant. My husband, then only a friend, used to coach me about what he called my “invisible veil.”
I had the freedom of being a child at home, though as a girl in my early teens, I was viewed as marriageable by Muslim culture, but not by my Western family. I remember the moment when my playmates, who were Muslims and Hindus, would go from swinging in the trees one day to becoming total strangers the next, because their period had started in the night.
Overnight, they had transitioned abruptly into adulthood, knowing that their parents may start arranging their marriages. It was like they had dropped from an alien planet that first day after. They wanted to sit in my room now and look in my closets, to imagine setting up a home. I still wanted to go hide in the jungle, hunt or play with my brothers, or make perfume concoctions from the jungle flowers.
Later, when I was a mother and wife, I picked up where I had left off with my old friends, as if nothing had changed. It was then that I learned to keep an orna (matching scarf to my daily outfit) by the front door so that if I went out, it was there to grab, to hide behind.
Boarding school in Muslim Pakistan was even more intense. I never went to the markets without a gaggle of girls or my older brother. I would take his arm and march down the aisles, my eyes always shopping and never making contact with human faces. At times, young men on the hunt would try to break my brother and me apart.
With dark hair, dark eyes, but starkly fair skin, I received a lot of unwanted attention. My blond friends did, too. One girlfriend learned to carry an umbrella, swinging it in front of her as fair warning that male proximity was unwanted. The men laughed good naturedly, knowing exactly what she announced. I ran like a sheep closely behind in her wake, gleaning the benefit of her enforced circle of protection.
We all knew never to fight back. One girlfriend had carried a hat pin that she stabbed a man with when he pinched her, only to have him turn on her—for the humiliation of a woman besting a man in public—and beat her soundly.
In Bangladesh, the men were more bark than bite most of the time. I never once feared a Bengali man would ever do me serious harm. At five-foot-five, I was most of their height and could easily have squashed one in a self-defensive rage (remember, I grew up with brothers). Besides which, Muslim men detest hysterical women, and, as Muslim women quickly taught me, that is always the best recourse in a pinch. On some level though, I knew Bengalis wouldn’t lay a finger on me, the daughter of the doctor.
In Pakistan, where men and women are often over six feet tall, it was another matter. I taught my husband the classic Bengali phrase to say when you want to warn a man off your wife or daughters: “Don’t you have a mother or sister?” This instantly reminded them that your wife is part of a family, and is therefore due respect and protection. After all, they would not want you to treat their family in a similar fashion.
That usually worked, although one man quipped back, “Yes, but she doesn’t look like that!”
Despite my ability to negotiate this world, danger always lurked. While I was somewhat insulated from risk as a foreigner, my friends were not. For them, life was always treacherous outside of the home. As a result of these experiences, it is sometimes hard for me to feel compassion for targets of the mild chauvinistic “slights” of the Western world, because I have lived with having witnessed such terrible extremes. When you grow up with a friend like Neehru, voiceless from an acid attack, then a dumb blond joke or sexist put-down seems insignificant.
My heart had to be broken for the wounds of American women. I learned to care about wounds that were not acid burns, but that were written on the woman’s heart and crushed her self-esteem. I am living proof that you can grow up surrounded, as I was, in the culture outside my door, which was telling me daily that I was an object, a piece of property to be bought and sold in a marriage contract. I knew they were wrong. My girlfriend in boarding school grew up with the same message, and it destroyed her for a time. When she returned as an adult to serve humanitarianly and started to raise a daughter, seeing her daughter go through what she went through brought on her nervous breakdown.
One night at a boarding school reunion, we lay awake in the dark asking ourselves the question, “Why did it make me strong, and yet temporarily destroy her?” We came to the conclusion that, despite the fact that we both had loving supportive American families inside the walls of our home, there was one glaring difference. My dad was daily, constantly, intentionally loving and reinforcing my worth. I was the only girl in my family. That helped too. I was adored, and never for a second doubted it. My dad wasn’t perfect, but I knew he loved me. Her dad loved her too, but he was not a touchy-feely, verbal dad. He was gentle, reserved, and did not scream the message of my friend’s value outside their walls.
What on earth does this have to do with America? Everything! In this Hollywood-obsessed land, the message outside your walls is that we are the sum total of our externals. You are nothing if you aren’t a Kardashian, nipped, tucked, ‘Liked’ excessively on social media, skinny, cool, rich, big lips, big rear…whatever.
Dads, brothers, men…you have to intentionally undo this message. If you don’t, this destructive voice will be the loudest. I am living proof that it’s possible to spend more years in Muslim lands than not, and still know the demeaning message of that culture was wrong. It made me stand up for the voiceless, and not lose my voice. I credit my dad for that.
Dads, don’t stop hugging your baby girl when she reaches puberty, in some misguided attempt to not be inappropriate with her. She still needs your hugs, your words of affirmation for her character, her brains, her achievements. Don’t just comment on her clothes. Don’t remove appropriate fatherly affection. Humans need affection. We are wired in our amygdala to need intimacy like we need food, air, or water. You don’t have to be the touchy-feely type to flood her life with the message of her value and worth. Do some study on the five love languages—with her if possible, as it would be a great idea for a Daddy-daughter date—and find out which ways of expressing your love you can do naturally, and which ones will speak love to her the most. She might be most impacted by words, or face-to-face time together, or a gift, or a literal pat on the back. Those things that she needs most will be extremely powerful coming from you.
Humans will find intimacy somewhere, good or bad. Daughters get their idea of how a man should treat a woman from their fathers. Even bigger, they get their first and biggest human concept of God’s view of them from how their fathers view them and treat them.
Men have power in the heart and mind of a woman like few others, for good or bad. Use it wisely.
Copyrighted, 2006, Rebecca McDonald
Edited by John D. Elmore