Ben Atherton-Zeman is a feminist.
“It messes with people’s idea of the stereotype,” said the 42-year-old man, sporting a stop-the-violence T-shirt.
When people hear the word feminist many think — “man-hater,” said Atherton-Zeman.
“But talking with feminist women, it made me realize I was one too.
“Rebecca West said, ‘I’m not quit sure what a feminist is, I only know that people call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.’”
Atherton-Zeman doesn’t understand why more men are not working to stop violence against women.
“Men stay home in droves on this issue,” he said.
“Statistics show my gender is responsible for most of the rape, sexual harassment, stalking and violence against women — so why are there not a lot of men speaking out?”
If it was a known fact that dog mushers steal cars, the dog mushers would likely get together and try to resolve the issue, said Atherton-Zeman. “Because it makes them look bad if after a race all these cars are stolen.”
But when it comes to violence against women, “it’s women who are doing all the work to stop my gender’s violence,” he said.
“As men, we should be doing a lot more than we do.”
Atherton-Zeman is in the territory to perform Voices of Men, an educational comedy with cameos by Austin Powers, secret agent 007 and Mel Gibson.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” says a groovy Powers, jiving around in a blue, crushed-velvet suit.
Hoping to pick up a girl who demands he read feminist theory first, Powers wants to know “how to be a feminist, baby?”
“You can start by calling me by my real name,” the imaginary girl retorts.
The play helps ease men into feminism, since many come at it with shoulders up and arms crossed.
“Most men don’t want to come to events that say the word ‘feminist,’” said Atherton-Zeman.
But luckily, most of his audience members don’t have a choice — Atherton-Zeman visits a lot of schools where attendance is mandatory.
Some of his audience will not have learned anything, but some young men do, and approach Atherton-Zeman after the show to get a white ribbon — symbolizing their support to stop violence against women.
“There are some young men who’ve waited all their lives to stand for something — like me,” he said.
Atherton-Zeman started thinking about feminism in college, after dating women who’d suffered abuse from past partners.
“Witnessing the daily indignities of being a woman — unwanted flirting, sexual harassment — made me mad,” he said.
So Atherton-Zeman started volunteering at the campus women’s centre. This led to future work at domestic violence and rape crisis centres, where he found he was the only man — and the first to get hired.
“Men like Ben are leading by example,” said Women’s Directorate communications spokesperson Brenda Barnes, who helped bring Atherton-Zeman to the territory.
“When I first saw Ben he was wearing a black T-shirt with white lettering that said, ‘This is what a feminist looks like,’ and I thought, ‘I love this guy,’” she said.
“I wouldn’t trust us, if I were you,” said Atherton-Zeman.
“So it’s an honour to be asked to show up.”
Violence and abuse is not just physical, he said.
Men who use alcohol or drugs to make women change their mind about sex, or believe that a woman who steps out of line needs to be “set straight,” these same men are often against rape or hitting women, said Atherton-Zeman.
Telling someone what clothes to wear, or that they can’t talk to their ex-boyfriend, calling them ugly or fat, or when they say, “No,” trying until they change their mind — that’s abuse, he said.
“And these non physical bruises often hurt more and take longer to heal.”
Across the country 86 per cent of sexual assault victims are women.
Sexual violence against women in the territories is much higher than in the rest of Canada, said Barnes.
“And First Nation women experience three times more violence than white women.”
Atherton-Zeman blames the objectification of women in mass media, sexist jokes, and unequal pay scales for a lot of the violence.
“It turns women into things,” he said.
“And it’s easier to commit violence against a thing, than against a person.”
Someone’s not necessarily going to look at porn, then go out and rape somebody, but a culture that portrays women as objects makes rape and abuse easier, said Atherton-Zeman.
“If gender roles, sexism, racism and homophobia didn’t exist, then men’s violence against women wouldn’t exist.”
When one group sees itself as better than another group, it makes it easier for violence to occur.
When men hear sexist jokes, they should speak out, said Atherton-Zeman.
“We have to question our culture, which sees this as the norm and only values women as sex objects — rather than focusing on women’s dreams, struggles and creativity we only value what they look like with their clothes off.
“If we, as men, see you as an object, it’s easier to commit violence against you.”
And if young people see mostly men in positions of power, it sends a strong message to boys, said Atherton-Zeman, who was thrilled to hear about Nunavut’s new female premier — the only woman in a cabinet of men.
“Things are getting better because of all the work women have done on this issue,” he said.
There’s a five-step process for men, he said.
They can start thinking about the issue, they can do something simple like wear a white ribbon, they can study the issue in more depth and volunteer somewhere, like a shelter, they can get a woman to mentor them, and when they’re ready, they can take on a leadership role.
But here they have to be careful, said Atherton-Zeman.
Once men get passionate about the issue, they tend to take over, take credit for ideas and interrupt, he said.
“Men have the power to know what women are thinking,” says Atherton-Zeman as Mel Gibson, in the show.
“It’s called listening.”
Voices of Men is at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight only.
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and admission is by donation. Proceeds go to the local women’s shelter.
Victims who’ve suffered abuse of any sort, or who have questions, and people who are interested in volunteering and learning more can contact:
Victimlink at 1 800 563-0808, Victim Services at 667-8500, Kaushee’s Place at 668-5733, the Dawson Shelter Transition Home at 993-5086, Help and Hope House in Watson Lake at 536-7233, or the Women’s Directorate at 667-3030.
Contact Genesee Keevil at firstname.lastname@example.org