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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 2

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss
What women have the right to and why men do not speak out

[This post draws on Rus Ervin Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence.]

Women have a right to walk down the street and not be accosted, to sleep in their own beds and be safe, to live in their own homes and not be beaten, to walk into convenience stores and not see images of themselves displayed as men would like to see them, and to spend a day at work or in school and not be harassed.

Rus Funk, page 54

Men have much to gain by the elimination of sexism. Funk lists three main “freedoms” for males: “[1] Freedom from the threat of a significant other experiencing sexist violence [2] Freedom from worrying about friends and loved ones perpetrating the violence [3] Freedom from women fearing men” (55). Furthermore, many men would be free from being abused themselves. Surprisingly, the rate for men being sexually assaulted is 1 in 7, and that violence is perpetrated mostly by other men (112).

A wary look, a defensive stance, a quickened step. Women’s fear of men is felt to some degree by all men, though men of color and working-class backgrounds often feel this most acutely. This is one way the question of gender is tied to race and class, which a wise educator will acknowledge. Overcoming this problem is another benefit to ending violence against women.

Still, there are plenty of barriers. On a surface level, all men benefit from sexism. If a man is not acting violently or viewing women negatively, he is still privileged economically and socially by institutions that have roots far older than feminism. Culture is always difficult to change, but men have a duty to start working to change these institutions, social relationships, and most importantly, themselves.

One of the most fortified barriers to men’s work is homophobia (83). Years ago, I was bullied. A shy, gentle boy, I was an easy target for another boy in eighth grade. He would walk up behind me in English class to throw something away or leave class to “use the bathroom.” He’d slap me in the head. He would vary his abuse to keep me guessing, but after years of socialization, I learned that the way to resist his treatment was to act more manly and try to win the approval of him and his friends. So I too would disrupt class and engage in sexist mistreatment of my classmates. Once I purposely knocked a pencil off the desk and asked the girl in front of me to pick it up. I was hoping to see her behind as she bent over. The strong need to be “manly” by rejecting the title of victim, mistreating women, and ridiculing other men for their perceived weaknesses inhibits men from allying themselves with women to fight for gender justice.

Another barrier is the shear enormity of the problem (83). The amount of trauma victims of sexual violence experience—and many men know at least one person who has experienced that trauma—is difficult for to grasp. This may cause some men to shut down emotionally. They may honestly have no idea what to do to improve the situation, which is linked to how rarely these topics are discussed with men. Nevertheless, educators have a duty to give these issues the gravity they deserve and, if possible, to guide men out of despondency.

Finally, upon hearing definitions for terms such as rape, domestic violence, or street harassment, men may ponder their own participation in these acts. They may minimize and deny their actions (82). This could be a source of much defensiveness, for despite even a herculean effort by an educator to not cast blame, men often feel blamed in these settings. However, a compassionate educator will remind them that “there is much more to them than that behavior” (82). Understandably, men want to see themselves as good people, which is a perfect way to encourage men’s transformation into allies.

Funk, Rus E. Reaching Men: Strategies for Presenting Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence. Indianapolis: Jist Publishing Inc, 2006.

Ryan Bliss is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in women’s studies and minoring in English. He volunteers at the Family Justice Center through the YWCA Enough! volunteer initiative, which assists survivors of domestic violence. He loves to ride his bike and help out in the community. He was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has enjoyed living in Knoxville for six years now.

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