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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 3

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss

Change is possible, but women have no time for men to feel guilty

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

You have the time to feel guilty. We don’t have the time for you to feel guilty. Your guilt is a form of acquiescence in what continues to occur. Your guilt keeps things the way they are.

-Andrea Dworkin, page 91 of Reaching Men

One of the most important parts of men’s work to stop sexism violence is that they begin immediately. “It is worth pointing out that men often do things even though they do not know what to do, from building a wall to replacing plumbing, to working on a car. It is even a common theme in sit-coms that men take on projects they know nothing about” (90, Funk). In many areas of society, men seem to improvise just fine.

A man attempting to become active may feel guilt for a variety of reasons, but perhaps foremost would be that he has committed an act of violence or has eroticized abusive behaviors (91). Nevertheless, “[n]o program or political agenda is worthwhile if it requires that people feel guilty in order to be involved” (91).

Despite my own occasional sexist acts, I was raised by a mother who encouraged my sister and me to mark up hymnals in church, replacing a number of “he’s” with “she’s” and a number of “men” with “humans” or “people.” She also had a number of things to say to my father, who neglected most of his household duties because he was “too busy with work” or “pooped” because of it. My sister grew up to be a strong symbol of womanhood, going to protests and risking her life on wild adventures all over the country. When I came to Knoxville, I met a couple of guys who showed me that men too can fight sexism, and during that year, I read my first feminist book, The Chalice and the Blade. Role models are crucial for men, and there are not nearly enough of them.

Sometimes, like many men struggling to get involved but still lapsing back into old habits, I feel like a hypocrite. I have to remind myself that though I am not perfect, I still have a “response-ability” to fight for gender justice. Rus Funk lists assumptions that educators can use in planning a session to positively perceive men’s roles in stopping violence:

Everyone has experienced various forms of violence and abuse[, ]Everyone has the right to be free from violence, abuse, and threats [,…] Men are not naturally or innately sexist, violent, or abusive [,] Men do care [,…] Men can handle their anger and other strong feelings that may be triggered as a result of talking about sexism and violence. (9)

Funk gives emphasis to the last assumption by claiming it is crucial in the education process to give the topics the weight they deserve (10). Through these feelings, men can cultivate a passion to be allies with women.

Finally, educators may encourage men to see issues of sexism and violence as a human rights issue. Though men have been highly represented in movements for such goals as environmental justice, racial justice, and labor rights, as of yet, few men fight for gender and sexual justice. Funk says, “The rationale is the same” (57). Men can be involved just as passionately in movements that see sexism and violence as infractions on human rights, because, “morally, they can’t not be involved” (57). If men are to recognize this reality, educators must be well organized and ready to meet men where they are.

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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