Actor urges men to raise their voices against domestic violence|
Posted 2/4/2011 Updated 2/4/2011
by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs
2/4/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- "Every 12 seconds, somewhere in the United States, a man abuses the woman he's promised to love."
This is the first line of "Voices of Men," a three-act, one-man play written and performed by Ben Atherton-Zeman. Airmen and civilians gathered at the Maxwell base theater Wednesday to hear the comedian speak out against domestic violence. The event was hosted by Maxwell's Family Advocacy program.
"Abuse is not just about physical violence, it's about someone with the mindset of, 'I'm the husband ... so I have the right to control who you talk to and what you wear and what you eat.' This is not just someone else's issue," said Mr. Atherton-Zeman.
Mr. Atherton-Zeman performs his play for audiences all over the world, but says he especially enjoys doing it for the military.
"This year I've been doing a lot of military installations," he said. "It feels like a way I can support the troops. I'm so grateful to Airmen for defending this country that I love."
The show urges men to raise their voices against abuse and be aware of the impact their actions can have on those around them.
William Stallings, a contract specialist at Maxwell, was moved by the event.
"I'm just taken by [the show]. It was very beneficial," he said.
Women in attendance were glad to see these issues brought to the attention of males.
"All of this, as a woman, was common sense to me, but it was nice that he put it so that men could understand where women come from," said Airman 1st Class Chyna Forrest.
Through comedic renditions of movie characters, including Rocky Balboa, James Bond and Austin Powers, he relays serious messages about ending domestic violence and sexual harassment.
"I chose these characters because they are icons of masculinity," Mr. Atherton-Zeman said. "[They are a] great example of what goes on all the time; when a woman says 'no,' we men think it's an opening bid in an auction, instead of respecting the 'no.'"
Acting came naturally for Mr. Atherton-Zeman. What started as a way to get the attention of his parents eventually became a career choice.
"I was an only child, and I always loved being the center of attention," Mr. Atherton-Zeman said. "I never thought [acting] was a marketable skill. I've always been a ham."
It wasn't until college that he was drawn to this cause. After meeting victims of sexual and domestic violence, he wanted to speak out.
"Hearing their stories just broke my heart," he said. "I wanted to do something. I volunteered at a domestic violence program, got hired on as staff, and I wrote this play."
The characters didn't develop overnight. It took Mr. Atherton-Zeman 10 years to write the play.
Even now, things are still being changed to make the play more relevant to audiences.
"I'm a really slow writer; it took years," Mr. Atherton-Zeman said. "I performed it the first few times, and it was just terrible. But I got lots of feedback from lots of women, and with that feedback is when it got good. The play is still evolving."
At the end of the performance, men were given the opportunity to pledge to work to end domestic violence and sexual harassment. Hundreds of Airmen and civilians stood up and took this pledge.
Harriet Johnson, who works with Family Advocacy, was touched by the audience response.
"The most moving thing for me ... was when the men in the audience stood up and took the pledge because that is the message of the play; it's 'where are the men's voices?' To see that in a group is very powerful."
According to Mr. Atherton-Zeman, the Air Force is doing a great job of raising awareness of these issues.
"The Air Force has taken the leadership. The Air Force has shown the most initiative, at the highest levels, in preventing and addressing sexual assault, providing support for victims, providing restricted and unrestricted reporting options, funding Sexual Assault Response Coordinator positions and funding Family Advocacy positions. I think the Air Force is ahead of the game," he said.
Mr. Atherton-Zeman said he hopes his play will encourage all men to stand up and raise their voice. "We have to work to stop not just the overt violence, but the sexist jokes, the racist jokes, etc., that are the soil that violence takes hold in."