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MVS heroes fight male-pattern violence

Mayeken Kehr - 08/07/08

Mennonite Mission Network


It took a week of soaking costumes in a bathtub to wash the sweat out, but for three superheroes, it was worth it.

MVS participant Jason Shenk (as Batman) interacts with attendees at the event in Elkhart. Photo by Katie Rogers.

The superhero personas successfully brought attention to the need for men to become active in stopping violence against women.

Nicholas Cloutier, CJ Irelan and Jason Shenk, all residents of the Elkhart, Ind., Mennonite Voluntary Service house, donned Superman, Spider-Man and Batman costumes, respectively, for more than two hours in nearly 90-degree weather.

Cloutier, Universalist Unitarian Church, Waterville, Maine, organized the event, “Be a real-life hero: Take a stand against violence,” through Individuals & Families in Transition (formerly Family Services of Elkhart County), where he serves. The event is part of iFiT’s larger campaign, Men Encouraging Nonviolence.

On June 13, at Elkhart’s Civic Plaza, the MEN superheroes organized cooperative children’s games, including egg races and bean bag tosses. Adults received information and talked about gender-based domestic violence prevention. All left with free T-shirts and pins.

“It was a good success not only in numbers of turnout, but the type of excitement and fun that adults and children were having,” said Cloutier. “One by one, person by person, [our efforts] are making a difference.”

MVS participant Jason Shenk (as Batman) interacts with children. Photo by The Truth staff.

Cloutier lives at Jubilee House, Mennonite Mission Network’s MVS unit in Elkhart, with MVSers Shenk and Irelan. One way they work at community peace and justice is to speak about gender violence from a male perspective.

Irelan, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, said when a person only looks at violence from a female perspective “you’re treating the symptoms and not the cause itself. It’s everybody’s justice. It’s everybody’s issue. The problem affects both halves.”

Shenk, Eighth Street Mennonite, Goshen, said, “Often people talk about domestic violence in the passive voice. We say ‘300 women have survived domestic violence’ instead of ‘300 men committed domestic violence.’

“There are so many men involved in acts of violence,” Shenk continued. “We need to promote a nonviolent and healthy masculinity.”

Many men do not realize that programs are available to help them address gender-based violence, explained Cloutier. He cited the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Jackson Katz’s book Macho Paradox: Why some Men Hurt Women and How all Men Can Help as good resources.

To work toward nonviolence and social justice, MVSers repeatedly stress the importance of collaboration and cooperation.

Cloutier said, “Cooperation speaks to the nature of why people are in peace work or social justice work in the first place. No one person can do what a group can do.”

“Individual faith can be strong, but united we stand,” said Irelan. “The more people you have coming together, sharing their faith and being open and honest … the better chance you have of coming up with a solution [to society’s problems].”

MEN intends to collaborate and remain in conversation with preexisting women’s organizations to prevent domestic violence.

“To be a part of the feminist movement is good, but to take it over would be a travesty,” said Cloutier.

Shenk said, “We are aware of and respect women who have done important work around gender issues.”

Although one-time events don’t change a lot of things, explained Shenk, “Be a real-life hero” brought attention to MEN and allowed participants to establish relationships necessary to creating nonviolent solutions.

“Nonviolence isn’t just about not having a gun or not going to war,” said Shenk. “It is an active respect or reverence that I seek to cultivate in all my relationships.”

MVSers at Jubilee House attempt to live an ethic of nonviolence. They hold each other accountable to avoid language that is infiltrated by violence, Clouiter said.

According to Irelan, that violence could be something as simple as changing ‘mankind’ to ‘humankind.’

“I feel a duty not to be a silent bystander … when violent or sexist words come out,” said Cloutier. “Even if they’re slight and people don’t know what they are saying [we have to] help them learn that what they say is hurtful.”

For MVSers, community and nurtured relationships lead to nonviolent living. Shenk values this lifestyle with reverence.

“When we live in community we can embody the very kind of kingdom relationships that we advocate for—we don’t have to wait for the second coming,” said Shenk. “We can be passionate and called to deep service very much in the midst of our own communities.”

Cloutier said that living in Jubilee House has, “increased my spectrum of what service can be. It doesn’t have to be my work at iFiT with MEN. It can be my interactions with children or going door-to-door to get to know my neighbors and have a conversation with them—that can be service too.”

Irelan cited his favorite superhero comic, Spider-Man.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” said Irelan. “As Mennonites we might not think of ourselves as very powerful, but if we can come together, then we can make big changes happen.”

Other MVSers at Jubilee House include Sarah Thiessen from Austin (Texas) Mennonite Church and Sarah Thompson from Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind.

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