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Gala celebrates role of men in ending domestic violence

Tiffany Probasco

One in three women in the world will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. This startling statistic is the basis for the Love Life Now Foundation, which works to combat domestic violence against women. On Feb. 15, the organization held its annual White Ribbon Night Gala fundraiser at Lombardo’s in Randolph. The gala is a part of The White Ribbon Campaign founded in 1991 in Canada that is the largest effort in the world of men working with men to end violence against women. Love Life Now created the event to celebrate the sometimes silent partners in the struggle — the fathers, partners, brothers, boyfriends and husbands who stand alongside women as comrades, comforters and friends by making a commitment to be active participants in the cause.

The theme of the evening was changing the paradigm of what it means to be a man and what it means to be masculine. Speaker Craig Norberg-Bohm of the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe Inc. said, “If we can accept men who are soft, then we can stop the violence … We have to learn to stop saying phrases like ‘You hit like a girl.’ Instead say, ‘Hit like an athlete’ to both boys and girls. Make the emphasis on striving for excellence and not on gender identity.”

UMass Amherst’s The Phallacies theatrical group performed three short skits further exploring the idea of masculinity in a humorous yet thought-provoking way. One skit was a pseudo training course on male hugging. The models demonstrated hugs like “A Frame Hug,” “The Back Slap” and “The Confused Handshake.” To drive the point home, they ended on “The Embrace” where two men held one another in a long hold, finding comfort in the physical manifestation of friendship without shame or uneasiness.

The program continued to stretch the comfort level of the audience with a real-time conversation to challenge people’s convictions. Antonio Arrendel — health educator at the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center at Boston University — invited all the men to the front of the room to participate in a dialogue on the question, “Is it ok to have consensual sex with a woman after the both of you had consumed alcohol?” The men had to move to separate areas based on whether they agreed, disagreed or were undecided. As the dialogue ensued, some changed their points of view, while others stayed the same, but all raised questions, which Antonio said was the purpose.

“It’s purposefully vague, so that you’re forced to ask questions and continue the conversation,” he said.

Bob Ward, investigative reporter for Fox 25 News, was the recipient of the White Ribbon Night Ambassador award. The focus of his speech was on three women he had interviewed during the week who varied in ethnicity, age, and education level, yet all found themselves in violent and even fatal domestic violence situations. He said that he does his work for women like them.

Though the focus was on men, women were also lauded. Deborah Collins-Gousby, executive director of Casa Myrna, a non-profit dedicated to ending violence, was honored for her work, and expressed her gratitude for Love Life Now’s support of the shelter. “We serve 60 women and children. Our beds are full and there is a waiting list. Thank you,” she said.

Keynote speaker and actor Chad Coleman, best known for his work in HBO’s “The Wire” and now in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” spoke of how domestic violence had affected those he loved, as both his mother and his stepmother (a Boston resident) were victims of domestic violence.

“The least of what we are is to hit a woman,” Coleman said “[We need to build] bridges of forgiveness, not of judgment, but of redemption — to listen to her hurt and ask, ‘How can I be a part of your healing?’’’

Love Life Now President Lovern Gordon reminded those in attendance to continue the conversation, to continue to reach out to young men and boys to challenge the ideas that cause them to become violent towards women.

“This is a fight that we will win together,” Gordon said.