Initiatives aimed at ‘engaging men’ to address gender inequality have gained popularity in recent years. But how much do we really know about the most effective ways to engage men in gender equality?
I’m going to start with some points about men, patriarchy, and feminism which I hold to be self-evident. That is, some basic truths. And I will end with some harder questions.
So, this first section is “Engaging Men 101”.
Some truths I hold to be self-evident
To achieve gender equality, we’ll have to engage men.
To end patriarchy, to achieve gender equality, men will have to change. Putting this another way, we will have to engage men. Above all, because gender inequalities are sustained in large part by men – by men’s attitudes, behaviours, identities, and relations.
Patriarchy is about men – about male privilege, about men’s practices and relations, with women and perhaps more so with other men.
Men are members of a privileged group, and we receive various benefits and dividends whether or not we want to. We have an ethical responsibility, a political responsibility, to challenge and undermine this privilege, to change our own sexism and to challenge other men’s.
So, to put it far too simply, men are part of the problem, and men are part of the solution.
There are many good reasons to engage men in building gender equality, especially given that some men’s practices, identities, and relations can sustain inequalities. The need to engage men can be particularly true in conflict and post-conflict societies, which often reinforce narrow views of masculinity and gender hierarchies. At the same time, involving men in gender-related policy and programming carries the risk of compromising resources and services directed exclusively to women or diluting the feminist orientation of such efforts.
Here is a handy, one-page guide to key activist and academic resources on men, masculinities, and gender.
It's available below, and in a downloadable Word document further below.
Genders at Work: exploring the role of workplace equality in preventing men’s violence against women (2013)
When men are involved in feminist work, this is ally politics. [… and] ally politics can only ever been seen as one component of social change efforts.
Black feminist Audre Lorde wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She might also have written, ‘The masters will never dismantle the master’s house.’ Certainly not by themselves. Certainly not without being part of a broader feminist movement. […]
What about the actual work of engaging men? Engaging men doesn’t easily or quickly produce substantial change in gender inequalities, although it can certainly contribute to change. […]
Perhaps the most important reason why engaging men is not a game changer is that changing gender inequality, including changing men, is hard. […] Large proportions of men resent feminist efforts and resist the recognition of sexism. They deny, minimise, and blame.
[…] Sometimes, engaging men is the same old patriarchal game. […]
However, if we can change men, if men can change, in large numbers and in substantial ways, yes, that will be a real change in the game.
Attitudes towards men’s violence against women shape both the perpetration of violence against women and responses to this violence by the victim and others around her. For these reasons, attitudes are the target of violence prevention campaigns. In order to improve understanding of the determinants of violence against women and to aid the development of violence prevention efforts, we review the factors which shape attitudes towards violence against women.
In violence prevention, we must move beyond simplistic notions of “white men saving brown women from brown men”. Women from CALD and indigenous communities are not necessarily hapless victims, and nor are immigrant and refugee men any more sexist or violent than their English counterparts. In any context – rich or poor, Anglo or otherwise, newly arrived or fifth-generation – work with men must recognise the intersections of race, class, and sexuality which shape men’s lives.
In efforts to prevent men’s violence against women, there is a growing emphasis on the need to engage men. Men are becoming involved as participants in education programs, audiences for social marketing, activists and advocates, community leaders, and policy makers. First then, what does this ‘engaging men’ field look like? Second, what are its achievements and what are its limitations or dangers? This field is one instance of a wider ‘turn to men’ in gender politics, an increasing emphasis on the roles that men can play in building gender equality.