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Empathy is nice. Compassion is better. But when it comes to shifting cultural attitudes, what counts most is complete understanding. That’s impossible without an exercise in what it is like to live the life of another person.

Or gender.

Jackson Katz, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned author and educator who created the “Mentors in Violence Prevention” program used by the U.S. military. He’s passionate about helping society reach that level of understanding, and takes a creative approach.

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other. Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?

“At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’

“This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

“Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?

“Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

“Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cellphone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.” — Excerpted from Katz’s 2006 bestselling book, “The Macho Paradox”

If that sounds exhausting or like overkill, you’re on one side of the chalkboard. If it’s all too familiar, you’re on the other — and may be among the estimated one-third of females who have experienced sexual assault at least once (or one-fourth who report it). What’s sadder is that most are assaulted by someone they already know.

Most men are not dangerous, but most women and other vulnerable populations aren’t safe from the minority of men that long list is designed to avoid.

It would be such a relief to shorten it. Culture can do that, when what is and isn’t “normal,” or at least tolerated, changes.

Our daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and children deserve to feel no less free than the other half of the chalkboard.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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October 09, 2018 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Empathy is nice. Compassion is better. But when it comes to shifting cultural attitudes, what counts most is complete understanding. That’s impossible without an exercise in what it is like to live t...

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