Eight Ways Men and Boys Are Helping to End Gender-Based Violence
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“What can men and boys do to end gender-based violence?”
It’s that darn question again, the one that well-intended people ask without recognizing the assumption of exclusivity behind it. It’s a question I have come to both anticipate when I talk to people about the book I co-wrote, Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets, yet I still find myself wincing a bit when it is asked. I don’t blame the interrogator for proposing such an inquiry. I blame the social construction of gender-based violence, and those it affects, as a “women’s issue” for this question’s ubiquity. And truly, I’d rather it be asked than ignored.
My pat answer to the question is this: men and boys are already involved in and leading efforts to end gender-based violence, and more are joining the ranks of gender justice activism every day. Gay, bisexual, queer, and transmen have been struggling with heterosexist and homophobic violence for as long as women have spoken out about their own unique brand of misogynist hostility. And these same men and boys have been creating their own solutions too.
But one need not be LGBTQ to have a history with gendered cruelty; straight male victims of domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, and incest have long suffered at the hands of fathers, boyfriends, uncles, and cousins. They have been impotent witnesses to women’s and girls’ suffering, and strong allies in fighting back. For reasons such as these, it is important to unearth the hidden resistance to gender-based violence that has been developed and directed by men. This is a critical part of broadening the definition of who is affected by this issue, and moving from a model where men are assumed to be deficits in the work to one where they are assets to a comprehensive and inclusive anti-violence movement that is able to meet everyone’s distinct needs.
1. Using film and hip-hop as a teaching tool: Byron Hurt
Byron Hurt’s documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes is one of the most useful tools I’ve come across for deconstructing “masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture.” Instead of taking the traditional route of blaming a vaguely defined and erroneously homogeneous hip-hop culture for women’s degradation, Hurt focuses the discussion squarely on the individual men who participate in creating a limited conception of black masculinity that limits both men and women. He does so by featuring interviews with men and women who create and consume in hip-hop in various capacities, and puts the responsibility on men for developing solutions to eradicate violence. In addition to this award-winning film, Hurt has nearly twenty years of male-to-male gender-based violence prevention work under his belt, with a concentration on hyper-masculine spaces like professional athletics and the military.
2. Redefining strength & masculinity: Men Can Stop Rape
Since 1997, Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) has been a leader in redefining ideas about strength and masculinity, and establishing new socio-cultural norms for boys and men that do not rely on violence and domination. Although they do some direct service work with boys and men, the focus of MCSR is on training already established organizations on how to implement the MCSR program model to educate and mobilize their own communities. The model is used in universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to unpack traditional masculinity, identify a range of healthy gender expressions for boys and men, explore the intersection of gender role expectations and rape culture, discuss male survival of and healing from sexual assault, connect sexism to other oppressions (e.g., homophobia and racism), and consider how to be better allies to women and girls. After the training, MCSR staff continues to support service providers with technical assistance and resources as they implement the program with boys and men of all ages.