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'Most Men Allow Harmful Shit to Happen to Women, But I Won't Anymore, and Neither Should You'

Read the first letter from the #31forMarissa project, in which men write about domestic violence experienced by women they know.

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When it comes to the movement to end domestic violence, women have remained at the forefront of the struggle. That's one of the reasons that inspired a new campaign called #31forMarissa. The campaign calls on men nationwide to write in support of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in jail after firing a warning shot at a wall near her abusive husband.

On September 25, a judge ordered a new trial for Alexander.

Each day, #31forMarissa will post a different letter written by a man about his story of violence experienced by women in his circle—his mom, sisters, daughters or friends. (Read the first letter below.) The letters will run on a blog called theSWAGspot, dedicated to starting conversations by men, throughout the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Hard copies of the letters will be sent to Marissa Alexander.

#31forMarissa was created by Esther Armah, founder of Emotional Justice Unplugged, a multimedia campaign focused on how emotions affect behavior, and Mariame Kaba, co-founder of the Chicago Task Force on Violence Against Girls and Young Women. The Free Marissa Now movement is also sponsoring the campaign.

Armah said she had long wanted to create a project in which men could engage in the movement to end domestic violence.

“When it comes to emotionality in our society, violence specifically, we essentially hold women responsible for the violence that is inflicted on them by men, no matter the circumstances,” Armah said. “And what I found through this work is that, with so many men, it’s sort of blame, deflection and avoidance. That’s how it’s dealt with. And that is cancer for the domestic violence movement....You cannot keep doing this work when one half of the people engaged in the action are totally absent from the movement to transform it.”

Armah said she tied this mission into Marissa Alexander’s case because the ruling was a clear disregard of justice. She added that her case illustrated the larger issues concerning the relationship our society has to violence. 

“There is no circumstance in which a woman can stand her ground and that be accepted without implicating her behavior, judging it, condemning it, convicting her and sentencing her,” she said. “And that’s what happened with Marissa.”

In addition to asking men nationwide to share their stories, Armah said the campaign also hopes to get men talking about their behavior, actions and inactions. A 2007 poll commissioned by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Verizon Wireless found that 57 percent of men think they can personally make some difference in preventing domestic violence and 73 percent think they can make some difference in promoting healthy, respectful, non-violent relationships.

Armah said, “What we’re seeing, which is extraordinary, is we’re watching men make connections from the case to their own behavior. And that’s the point.”

Armah said that men from all walks of life, scholars, artists, pastors, activists, and the formerly and currently incarcerated, are writing in.

She said, “It demonstrates that there had been a hunger and a need to create a safe space to have that tough conversation around domestic violence and the presence and the absence of men.”


This is the first letter from the #31forMarissa project:

Dear Marissa,

It was a cold and dark Christmas Eve—sometime in the mid-'80s. My mom, my three sisters, and I lived in a small, but comfortable, house on Maryland Street in Camden, NJ. We smiled a lot. According to the pictures I recently stole from mom, my sisters and I donned big smiles and tight-ass corduroys. What’s interesting to me some 20-plus years later, however, is the hard fact that I cannot remember my smile, I cannot reach back and grasp the joy I possessed, because on many days—not unlike the particular Christmas Eve that I am recalling right now—I watched in horror and fear as my father used his heavy hands or feet or words to brutally attack my mother. What was he thinking or not thinking? What was he feeling or desiring to feel that would make him harm the woman who loved him?

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