men, masculinities and gender politics

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Men Making the Commitment to Genuine Anti-Violence

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Casey E, & Smith T (2010). “How Can I Not?”: Men’s Pathways to Involvement in Anti-Violence Against Women Work. Violence against women, 16 (8), 953-73 PMID: 20679189

How do men stop violence against women? That is obvious: stop being violent. The harder question is how men might pro-actively participate in preventing violence in all its forms, a complex task given that men in war, in work, in sport, at home and on the street, are so often such unbridled fighting machines. Raised as we typically are with the expectation of biff, to be always ready to defend ourselves against it and pre-emptively if required, thrust into the biff ourselves to demonstrate our ‘manhood’, the concept of the peaceable and loving man is as alien to most men as a fluorescent pink quilt cover. Nobody likes a sissy boy, not men, not women, not anyone.

Casey and Smith (2010) believe that ending male violence against women ‘requires male participation’ (p.954). A truism if ever there was one but exceedingly difficult to successfully actualise. Why is that? Well I would conjecture that the participation of men in ‘anti-violence strategies’ is seldom matched by that necessary critical self-reflection, where we as men who have actively and/or through our passivity engaged in violence against women, do not ask the tough questions of ourselves, and of each other (2010, pp.967 & 970). It is as if we dare to enter the domain of anti-violence strategies with the false belief that we are ‘okay’.

We are not…

So how can we change for the better?

The authors (2010, p.955) here mention, amongst other perspectives, cognitive behavioural approaches that identify, challenge and provide the impetus for positive behavioural and attitudinal change. The assumption, therefore, is that once exposed to the objective reality of male violence, most men will come to both abhor and repudiate it. I wonder. Casey and Smith (2010, p.956) concede that such approaches lack sufficiently strong evidence, and I would add that the deeper any man is entrenched in perpetuating his own violence against women, the greater will be his resistance to substantive, genuine change. In effect, ‘reaching’ those men most in need remains the most difficult of goals.

By talking with 27 men who had become involved in anti-violence strategies, Casey and Smith (2010) discovered four common themes:

  1. That participation was a ‘process (italics in original) that unfolded over time and had multiple influences’;
  2. That participation had been predicated by personal or other emotive connections to violence against women;
  3. That participation was initiated via ‘existing personal connections and social networks’; and
  4. That participation was part of building a positive sense of community (p.966).

Unsurprisingly, largely missing from the mindset of these 27 men was how, through male privilege, they had been complicit in violence against women (2010, p.967). They could define and condemn the violence perpetrated by other men while remaining mostly ignorant to what role they might have played in creating and perpetuating such evil acts (2010, p.967). So long as arguably ‘well-meaning’ men keep pushing away male violence by crudely configuring it as some deviant man’s story, the imperative for positive structural transformation will continue to evolve at an excruciatingly slow pace. Peace and love need to become the new masculine ideals…

Reprinted with permission from Strong Silent Types - Stuff About Men.