men, masculinities and gender politics

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Men’s positive roles in ending violence against women

Men have a positive role to play in helping to end violence against women. Growing numbers of men have come to the realisation that violence against women is an issue that touches their lives in deeply personal ways. And it’s a social problem they can do something about.

Most men don’t use violence. Most men know that domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. Most men treat women with care and respect. But most men have done little to reduce physical and sexual assault in our lives, families and communities. Too many men believe the common myths about violence. Too many have ignored women’s fears and concerns about their safety. And sometimes we have been violent ourselves.

Violence against women is a men’s issue

Domestic violence and sexual assault have long been seen as ‘women’s issues’, for obvious reasons. But it’s increasingly clear that violence against women is a ‘men’s issue’ too;

  • It is men’s wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends whose lives are limited by violence and abuse. Violence hurts the women and children that we love.
  • Often it’s men’s mates, relatives, and colleagues who condone violence or make jokes about it. Do men stay silent and look the other way when our male friends and relatives insult or attack women, or do we speak up?
  • Some men’s violence gives all men a bad name. Violence by a minority makes all men seem a potential threat. (Walk down the street at night behind a woman and you’ll know what I mean.)
  • Community leaders and decision-makers often are men. They can help make the changes which will prevent violence against women, or they can let the violent status quo drag on.
  • At the bluntest level, violence against women is a men’s issue because when this violence occurs, it’s nearly always perpetrated by men. A minority of men treat women and girls with contempt and violence, and it is up to the majority of men to help create a culture in which this is unacceptable.

The benefits to men

Men have much to gain from ending violence. In our relations with women, instead of experiencing distrust and disconnection, we will find closeness and connection. The girls and women we love will lead safer, freer lives. No longer will men be viewed with fear or suspicion because of the threat posed by a minority. Men’s sexual lives will be more pleasurable and mutual, rather than driven, obsessive and predatory. And boys and men ourselves will be free from the threat of assault.

Men who’ve joined the struggle to end violence against women want the same things as women. We want friendships and relationships which are fair, empowering and peaceful. We want sexual lives based on consent, safety, and mutual pleasure. And we want girls and women, indeed everybody, to grow up free from the threat of violence.

Simple steps

There are simple steps any man can take to be part of the solution. Find out about the violence that many women experience. Don’t condone the view that the victim is to blame. Check out how we treat the women around us. Speak out when friends, relatives, or others use violence or abuse. Be a good role model, whether you’re a dad, a boss, a teacher or a coach. And join public campaigns to end the violence, like the White Ribbon Campaign.

To really stop violence against women, we’ll need more. We’ll need collective action and wider social change, to shift the social norms and gender inequalities on which violence against women is based. Rape and domestic violence are shaped by sexist and patriarchal social norms and beliefs – that manhood is about dominance or honour, some women ‘ask’ to be raped, men have uncontrollable sexual desires, and so on. And they’re shaped by gender inequalities – by some men’s dominance in relationships, families, and communities.

There are some signs of progress. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that rates of violence against women have declined slightly. It’s not quite time to crack open the champagne though: over 440,000 women experienced physical or sexual violence in the last year.

Another sign of progress is in attitudes. Community attitudes towards violence against women have improved over time. Most Australians these days recognise domestic violence as a crime, and more reject various violence-supportive beliefs. But attitudes to sexual violence in particular still need real work: a survey in 2006 found that nearly one in six Victorians agrees that ‘women often say no when they mean yes’.

So, there is still much work to be done. Changing violence-supportive and sexist social norms and gender inequalities will take personal commitment, community involvement, and political will.

Violence against women will only stop when men join with women to put an end to it. And both men and women will benefit from a world free of violence.

Resources and reading

Katz, Jackson (2006) The Macho Paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help. Sourcebooks.

Online articles: http://www.xyonline.net/category/article-content/violence

Websites: http://www.whiteribbonday.org.au

http://www.xyonline.net/links.shtml#2