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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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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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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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Engaging men and boys in preventing violence against women: Part 1

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss

Pornography, prostitution, rape, sexual assault. Sexual, gender, and street harassment. Stalking, domestic violence, dating abuse. All of these actions can be prevented by a coordinated and strong movement for women that includes men. Men, however, must be educated. In order to pull more men into a movement that demands respect for women, men must see their “response-ability” to end sexism.

I was taught by society to reject weakness and “be a man.” Again and again, I simply looked on as racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes developed in my fellow youth—and occasionally in myself. I was sometimes a victim of bullying, which gave me fear and anger towards certain types of men. Perhaps these are feelings I hold in common with many women, for I was mistreated predominantly by the male sex.

These commonalities are a critical part of reaching men. Getting started is often the most gut-wrenching part, but Rus Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence does an excellent job of providing exercises that promote active reading and reflection. Before men can change, they must want to change, and a knowledgeable, self-aware, and adaptable educator is crucial in that process. Though men face obstacles in becoming advocates for women, as Funk shows, a well-planned approach can create the educational environment necessary for cultivating a new definition of masculinity—one that recognizes the need for gender justice and an end to the violence.

Throughout Week Without Violence, I will be writing a series of posts inspired by Rus Funk’s processes for educating men. Be sure to check back every day this week for additional posts. Later in the year, I’ll add to the series by addressing the issues surrounding men’s engagement and working from within the movement.

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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Are we there yet?

Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brewer

The changing political and social status of women in the US could be likened to a very long car ride. We began the journey at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton made the first public pronouncement for women’s suffrage, declaring “that all men and women are created equal.” Supporters faced frequent impediments because they challenged the traditional 19th-century belief that a woman’s proper role was limited to the home and family. Despite these obstacles, women manifested their grievances into a highly organized social movement that spanned for a generation and ultimately won women the vote.

After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women continued to organize and collectively challenge aspects of US law and society that they perceived to be unjust or oppressive. Their efforts resulted in victories such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion; the formation of the National Organization for Women; Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex for educational programs  receiving federal funding; and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which extended a right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Women have made huge inroads in strengthening their political status and autonomy, but the journey, far from complete, hit several bumps in the road in the last year. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have strengthened protections of both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Despite the passage of these bills, women continue to earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that pay discrepancies for the same work are not related to gender; give women more time to sue their employers for pay inequity; prevent companies from retaliating against women who share salary information; and train women on how to negotiate a fair salary. The bill promoted the financial security of women and families, especially in households where women are the primary, or only, breadwinners.

Congress may also vote to limit or withdraw assistance to victims of domestic violence. The Senate recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, adding protections for minority victims. The Act was reauthorized amid little controversy in 2000 and 2005 with bipartisan support in both chambers; however, the House of Representatives recently passed a considerably diluted version that would partially dismantle and downgrade resources for the Office on Violence Against Women, impose costly paperwork on agencies, roll back existing provisions that protect minorities, and remove the requirement that victims be notified of housing rights before eviction. Congress must now reconcile the two competing versions. If the House’s bill prevails, it will be a giant step backward for women’s rights.

In addition to these legislative setbacks, women have struggled simply to be heard on issues regarding their own health. Lisa Brown, the state representative for Bloomfield, Michigan, was barred from the state house of representatives after she uttered the word “vagina” during a debate over an anti-abortion bill. Jim Stamas, the floor majority leader, claimed that her usage violated house decorum, and she was silenced for the rest of the debate. During a Congressional hearing in Washington, DC, women were prevented from taking part in panel discussions concerning reproductive health. The panel at the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms concerning the contraceptive coverage rule was entirely composed of men. Senator Patty Murray said that seeing the all-male panel “was like stepping into a time machine and going back fifty years.”

This image reflects a more fundamental problem: the lack of female representation in politics. Although women constitute 51% of the US population, they make up only 17% of Congress, making the US 91st in women’s elected representation worldwide. The political atmosphere continues to thwart women’s political ambition. A report from American University’s Women & Politics Institute found that the gender gap in political ambition is virtually the same now as it was a decade ago because women are more likely to perceive the political environment as hostile towards women and to believe that they are less qualified to run for office than their male counterparts.

Women must collectively overcome their fear and trepidation in order to achieve political equity. In the past, fearless leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and later Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem stepped forward to improve the status of women despite personal costs. Women need such bold leaders now more than ever to protect progress and make new inroads. Voting is the easiest way to make a difference by supporting politicians who advocate for our rights. We must organize and participate in the political process. Even though the journey is far from over and there are times when we have made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, we are well on our way. As Senator Barbara Mikulski exclaimed on the floor of the Senate, “Put on your lipstick! Square your shoulders! Suit up, and let’s fight for this new American revolution where women are paid equal pay for equal work and let’s end wage discrimination in this century once and for all.” It’s about time….

Alexandra Brewer is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a research assistant at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and holds a Master’s degree in comparative politics from American University. Her research focuses on collective action, social change, and public policy. 

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Another day, another sex scandal

There are too many to name—the long list of powerful men who chronically cheat, secretly father children with women other than their wives, sexually harass employees and colleagues, hire prostitutes (including minors and victims of trafficking), and sexually assault women. Not all men have these problems, of course, and not all powerful men, either. But why do some treat women this way? And what happens when women have power?

I’ve been talking to people about this subject lately and received a variety of responses. (Note: These were just casual conversations, not a study.) One person said it’s all about ego and nothing to do with sexism. A few think women are doing the same things but simply aren’t getting caught. I’m figuring those folks were talking more about cheating than prostitution and rape, and, yes, there are still far more men in power than women, so that accounts for at least some of the imbalance, but if loads of women really are behaving as badly, why aren’t they getting caught too?

Most respondents think that powerful men and powerful women behave quite differently—for the most part. I tend to agree, but not because I think there is necessarily a biological cause for this difference. Rather, I think men and women experience power differently because of the ways we are socialized and because we have yet to achieve full equality across the board.

In general, women still have to work harder to get to the top, and once they get there, their positions are often less tenable. I suspect they are less likely to take that power for granted. Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times, “Women have different reasons for running [for office], are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw—all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.”

Women are judged more harshly for their sexual proclivities, so they have more to lose. (If you think double standards like this don’t exist anymore, then welcome to Feminism 101.) As author Erica Jong says, “Women know they won’t be protected and that they’ll be exposed. And it has to do with how much power men have in society and how little women have.”

We can’t talk about power without talking about ego. Dutch psychologist Joris Lammers, who has studied the relationship between power and confidence, says, “Power leads to this disinhibited sense that you can get what you want and should take risks to get it.” As at least one person I spoke with mentioned, narcissism definitely plays a role. But can we blame it all on that and take sexism out of the equation? I’m not so sure. What does it mean when someone spends much of their public life fighting for human rights but treats women like objects in private? Is this not a reflection of institutionalized sexism?

Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about the personal lives of politicians and others in the public eye, but when their personal lives reveal behaviors that demean women—and I’m not talking about simple cheating (men and women cheat in almost equal numbers) but the deplorable actions listed above—I don’t want them making decisions about our economy, our laws, our lives. I’m sure many of these men would maintain that they are not sexist, that they believe in equal opportunity and even actively support it, but when their private actions are fundamentally sexist, I would argue that they are too.

We live in a society that not only tolerates but still promotes a “boys will be boys” attitude. Men in power are often expected to treat women this way. Many powerful men are invited to cheat, introduced to prostitution rings, encouraged to exploit women. This has been the case for thousands of years. It’s insulting to men and demeaning to women. But the fact that we now talk about it openly means it’s changing, however slowly.

What can you do to help it along? Men, pledge to treat women with respect. Recognize that what may be fueling your ego may also be devaluing women. Women, keep fighting for power and don’t let it go to your head.

If you’re a woman in a position of power, we would love to hear your thoughts.

–Sara Baker, YWCA Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

Sara Baker holds an MA in English with Writing Concentration from the University of Tennessee and a BA in English and Religion from Maryville College. Her lifelong commitment to women’s issues includes volunteer work with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, American Association of University Women, National Conference on Community and Justice, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, University of Tennessee Women’s Coordinating Council, University of Swansea Club W, and Maryville College Sisters in Spirit. Sara has studied African American women’s literature, women’s roles in world religions, and the status of women in North Indian culture. Through her work at the YWCA, she researches women’s rights, violence against women, women and poverty, and girl empowerment.

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