Life

“Men Have to Hear From Other Men”

Aymann Ismail talked to advocate Kim Gandy about ending domestic violence.

Aymann Ismail and Kim Gandy.
Aymann Ismail and Kim Gandy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Lisa Larson-Walker and courtesy of Kim Gandy.

There’s a well-known link between mass shootings and domestic violence: According to a recent report by Everytown for Gun Safety, in more than half of mass shootings from 2009 to 2017, the perpetrator shot an intimate partner or family member. But what can be done to combat the social norms that underlie domestic abuse? In a recent episode of Man Up, Aymann Ismail spoke with Kim Gandy, who recently retired as president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, about how perceptions of abuse victims have (and haven’t) changed over time and how small, everyday acts can change the culture of misogyny and silence. A portion of their conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

Kim Gandy: I think there’s been a very significant change in public attitudes from the “It can’t possibly happen in my neighborhood” and “What did she do to provoke this?” that was in the ’70s. I would say that was almost a universal response. Very, very seldom do you hear something like that now. But the sad and frustrating thing is that the numbers don’t seem to have changed as much as you would think that they should have, as we have more resources, we have shelters, we have funding, we have laws, we have police departments and judges who are theoretically getting training and understanding domestic violence and dealing with it. But they are intractable problems that I think are deeply rooted in misogyny and patriarchy.

Ismail: Even in the way you were describing the attitudes toward it in the past, I feel worse knowing that I recognize some of it today. There are famous musicians, basketball players, athletes, who are caught on camera. The domestic abuse is there for the world to see, but still it feels like it’s handled with kid gloves. It feels like people are weighing [the stars’] value to them over the danger they pose to their partners.

Gandy: I think that’s quite true, especially with sports figures—you’ll often see even women defending them. It’s like, “Oh, she must have done something.” That kind of thing is surprising and disappointing, but it’s very real. I think the Ray Rice video was a breakthrough in some ways, that the nation saw this happening. They saw it over and over. They saw it on video, and they saw her being dragged out of the elevator.

But all of the people I work with said, “If there hadn’t been a video, nobody would have believed it.” She would’ve gone to the police. She would have said, “He dragged me out of the elevator by my hair. He punched me,” and they would have said, “Your word against his. We’ll arrest him if you want us to, but there’s no proof.” People really felt that if there had not been a video, no one would have believed it, and nothing would’ve happened.

Ismail: I know that your organization’s devoted to ending domestic violence on a national scale. A lot of that looks like your advocacy for survivors and specifically how society treats them, with shelters and giving them a little bit of financial security, those little bits. But what does the work of reducing domestic violence in men look like?

Gandy: I think society has to take a lot more responsibility about abusive men. One of my colleagues, Cindy Southworth, often says, “Domestic violence is not going to really start changing until people say that Cousin Sam is no longer welcome at the family reunion. He’s not welcome at Sunday dinner.” Until people start having consequences from people they care about because of their behavior, and until the people in their families start saying, “You beat your wife. I don’t want to see you for Sunday dinner. That’s not OK. You’re not OK with me.”

Instead, people often do just the opposite. They defend their family members and their friends instead of looking at it and saying, “Wow. That’s really bad.” We say that often as we work with the sports leagues, for example. The people the players look up to are the other players, the senior players, the better players. Until those folks are saying, “Hey, that’s not OK,” it’s going to keep happening. Men have to hear from other men.

Ismail: So do I have a personal responsibility myself on a cultural level?

Gandy: I think everybody does. I have a personal responsibility. All of us, when we see something, we ought to say something if you feel like you can. Even if it’s just a misogynistic comment, say, “Wow. I don’t feel that way about women. Why do you say that?” “Oh, I was just joking.” “Well, it didn’t sound joking. No offense, but hey, I think women are terrific.” And “Why would you say things like that?” You know, it’s hard to imagine different situations that you can be in, but sometimes just an “It’s not OK” might make somebody think.

Ismail: I started this conversation with Kim thinking about Dayton and the many other mass shootings before it, where victims included intimate partners or a family member at home. But as Kim told me, there’s so much more domestic violence than mass shootings. Seventy thousand victims are being served in shelters on an average day. One in four women will encounter an abuser. Yet to me, this often still feels like an invisible problem, a crime with no name. Kim is right. It’s all of our responsibility to recognize and respond to it, but I think men in particular have the longest way to go.

Whether that means calling out a stray comment, not defending an athlete, or refusing to support an abuser even if he’s a family member that you love. If we acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, it’s clear that this is the very least we can do.

If you need someone to talk to, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to thehotline.org.

To listen to the rest of the interview with Kim Gandy, click the player below or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.