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Home Articles Can Domestic Violence Awareness Be Funny?

Can Domestic Violence Awareness Be Funny?

His one-man show uses humor to draw attention to a very serious epidemic

Can Domestic Violence Awareness Be Funny?

You could say advocate Ben Atherton-Zeman’s one-man show raising awareness about gender-based violence began one day, a few decades ago, when he took a walk.

really, really long walk. 

It was 1986 and the then 19-year-old took part in the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. He and a few hundred others walked from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. It took eight months to trek 3,700 miles and, along the way, he had time to talk. Or rather, listen.

“I met a lot of feminist women who taught me the extent of male violence against women. They taught me that every two minutes a man rapes a woman and that, for these women, violence was something that had shaped their lives.”

It made him angry, he says, a fact that didn’t garner much support. 

“Their response was, ‘Don’t tell me you’re angry. Do something with your anger.’” 

Humor with a Message

When he got home, Zeman began volunteering in shelters and women’s centers, eventually making advocacy his career. But when he began speaking to groups—high school assemblies, college orientations, the U.S. military, mostly men—he found that spouting the harrowing facts didn’t grab people. 

“I tried the gloom-and-doom statistics and it didn’t work well. They’d tune me right out,” he says, adding, “Some even fell asleep.”

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Until, that is, he tried humor. “I found that when I was funny, they’d all wake up,” says Zeman. In his show, Voices of Men, Zeman jokes, impersonations—even puppets—to get individuals to pay attention to the epidemic that is violence against women. At one point, Sean Connery, as James Bond of course, answers the question, “Why do victims stay?” In another, Kermit and Elmo debate gender socialization in a toy store. 

It’s On Men

He imparts a blunt message: Men need to play a bigger role in ending domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment. 

“Men aren’t stepping up to the plate,” says Zeman. “And that just seems irresponsible on our part. When you think about sexual violence, men perpetrate 99 percent of it. Why isn’t the movement to end sexual violence done by men? We’re shirking our responsibilities.”

And those responsibilities often include not speaking. Rather, he advises, listen. And, believe.

“Men need to step back and listen to the women in their lives. If you think you’ve never met someone who’s a victim of gender-based violence, you’re wrong. They just haven’t told you yet. Listen and become their ally.”

Zeman says, he hopes the show is a call to action.  

“Some men have waited their whole lives to stand up for something. They want to raise their voices, but aren’t sure how.”

Zeman is used to doing some 50 to 80 shows a year throughout the country, but that number has tapered off lately. He drives for the ride service Lyft to make ends meet. But Zeman is ecstatic that the #MeToo movement is reigniting the conversation about gender-based violence. 

“I’m so thrilled in general about that. But then again, I would much rather see an end to domestic violence than there be more work for me,” he says. 

To learn more about scheduling Zeman’s one-man show in your area, visit VoicesofMen.org.