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Jack Brennick notices a difference in the way he treats his young niece and nephew when they fall and get a scrape.
For the young girl, he tends to comfort her more, but for his nephew he says he is more inclined to give a bit of help before urging the boy to tough it out. It is not a reflection of his feelings toward them, Brennick says, but more of an ingrained belief about gender roles.
Such beliefs can do more harm than causing disparities in how adults treat toddlers, Brennick notes. As a domestic violence counselor he sees firsthand the danger of a society that often encourages male dominance.
"Men too often see women as an object, something they can control," he says.
Fed up with seeing women being hurt by men who believed they could do what they wanted to assert that dominance, Brennick joined with two others to create a non-profit organization to address the problem.
Stand Up Guys started as the idea of three domestic violence workers who noticed that the vast majority of the cases they saw involved men abusing women. They saw the control these men were able to exert over women in their lives and, more importantly, saw that few voices were speaking out against the behavior.
"There are some unspoken rules among men, and one of them is that one man won't tell another man how to act with, quote, 'his woman,'" Brennick says. "Men seem to have made an agreement that women are property, inferior objects that can be controlled."
Stand Up Guys was formed as a response to that problem, challenging men to stop perpetuating the notion that women are inferior to men. The organization is about raising awareness by engaging well-meaning men and women who will stand up and speak out about men's and women's violence against women and children.
For too long the effort to stop this violence has been led by women, Brennick says, so Stand Up Guys calls on men to take a more active role themselves.
"These are messages we've been hearing as men forever," he says. "Think back to the movie 'A League of Their Own,' when the man is coaching the baseball team and one of his female players cries and he tells her there's no crying in baseball.
"That's all part of this masculine message that society gives men, telling them that men have to be tough, hard, and that economic success and sexual conquest determines their worth."
This message has been reinforced through popular culture in characters like Archie Bunker, Brennick says.
"This is someone who was at the least verbally abusive, and his wife would shrug it off and just take it," he says. "Things like that reinforced the idea that love mixed in with non-physical aggression."
Stand Up Guys aims to dispel those stereotypes with events and outreach. The organization believes that men's silence on these issues can be interpreted as permission, so it calls on men to sign a pledge to be a "Stand Up Guy" and participate in awareness activities.
The organization, which was founded in 2005, now has a number of prominent male officials signed on to the pledge, including Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Police Chief David Moore and Rochester Institute of Technology president William Destler. Stand Up Guys operates a number of outreach events, including Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, an event last year at SUNY College at Brockport.
For the last seven years, the organization has sponsored events to empower men to speak up against domestic violence, and now it has plans to grow further. It recently merged with a Fairport-based domestic violence program, Safe Journey, and also has plans to expand its own programs.
Safe Journey is a non-residential program for counseling and support, and it also offers a furniture support program to women who have been in domestic violence situations. The merger gives Stand Up Guys a chance to extend its own mission to a wider audience, Brennick says.
One idea is modeled after a Massachusetts-based program that teaches men to become coaches for domestic violence awareness, who in turn teach others to stand up against violence.
"We're always thinking of how we can better engage men, and this program would create ambassadors who could go out and teach more people about what we're doing," says Pete Navratil, co-founder and director of Stand Up Guys.
Navratil says the organization, which operates on an annual budget of $30,000 to $40,000, is looking to expand in other ways as well. His work on college campuses has opened him to the idea of starting chapters of Stand Up Guys at local schools. He also envisions a program to work with youth coaches to impart healthy views among young boys.
"That is an age that's so important, not only instructing them in the sport or activity, but also setting them up for life," Navratil says.
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