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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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