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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 4

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss
Creating an educational environment that recognizes the potential for a new masculinity

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

One of the main jobs of the educator is to create an opportunity for men to have a real and honest conversation about sexism and violence. This means creating a space where men can get in touch with their feelings of anger, outrage, fear, anxiety, sadness, and so on that frequently arise around topics and experiences of sexism and violence. Understanding men’s acting up as ways that men express these feelings is important for educators, as long as it does not interfere with the goals and process of education.

Rus Funk, pgs. 72-73

The educator must create a multifaceted environment. A straightforward lecture on the aspects of sexism is insufficient. The educator must invest in the emotional reality of presentation, where many are likely to become uncomfortable and possibly disruptive. Therefore, only certain people are able to handle the stress of this interconnected and occasionally quite harsh environment.

In Chapter One, Funk discusses the qualities of an effective educator, reminding his audience, “No educator has all of them. In addition, these are qualities that can be developed in educators as they grow” (4). These qualities include passion, flexibility, self-awareness, honesty, comfort with chaos, keen perception of others’ emotions, ability to handle confrontation, habits of organization, positivity, ability to actively listen, and slowness to judge.

At the first stages of planning, an educator should decide on a target population. There is no uniform group of males. Men differ on account of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, career, level of education, familiarity with the issues, age, and histories of abuse and being abused. Different groups of males experience the costs and benefits of sexism differently, and Funk points out the need for cultural relevance. An educator would present to an African-American male audience, for instance, with special mention of the role sexism has played in lynchings and racial violence in the past as well as racial profiling and incarceration rates in the present.

Another aspect to consider is the goal of the presentation. Funk encourages an educator to narrow his or her goals and accept the fact that men hardly ever become instantly active in the fight to end sexism and violence. He exhibits a spectrum that divides men into seven categories of willingness (78). The most an educator can hope to achieve in typical circumstances is to move each man one step closer along the spectrum to being an activist (79).

For my part, I have studied in the Women’s Studies program at UT for three semesters now. I had a professor last fall who inspired me a great deal and emphasized the need for us to fight for women’s rights, especially the right to birth control, almost every class. She told us that by not standing up, we were consenting to those rights disappearing. Her insistence has inspired me such that I don’t think it’s possible for me to stop working for women’s rights and gender justice. An effective educator in this setting will use the same tactics. He or she might apply this tactic to rape myths (90) that have such deep and insidious roots in our culture.

Men encounter many barriers as they work to become allies in movements against sexism and violence. And though all men benefit socially and economically from sexism, there are ways they can benefit from its disintegration as well. Namely, the world will be a much safer place in which to live for not only women in general, but for men’s loved ones—wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. Men won’t have to worry that their brothers are behaving in sexually violent ways and thus creating an environment of mistrust that affects everyone.

Change is possible, but without significant numbers of men working passionately for this cause, it is highly unlikely. Much depends on those people who possess a decent grasp of these issues, some educational tactics, and most importantly, a will to inspire men. As Funk says, “By not educating men, educators run the risk of having men continue to act in ways that, at the very least, disempower women, and at most, harm women” (63).

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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One Response to “Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 4”

  1. Amy says:

    I enjoyed reading your guest blogging this week; particularly the post on bullying. It’s always nice to hear new perspectives on feminism! Thank you 🙂

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