Let’s talk about the barriers that men face when becoming or even think about becoming involved in pro/feminist work
I wanted to shed some light on the following issue since, like any other aspect of men’s lives, it is rarely discussed.
When first entering what I have traditionally called the men’s anti-violence movement several years ago, I noticed that I faced numerous barriers, each of which could have led me to give up and continue performing my masculinity at the most traditional/mainstream level.
- “Everyone else ISN’T doing it” . Not having other men around them engaged in anti-violence and pro-feminist work and thus not having the support of other men can be a huge deterrent.
- “Travel the Road MOST Traveled”. Unless men are constantly encouraged to stop, think about their socialization(s), and identify how and why their behaviors can be problematic, it probably isn’t going to happen. Why go out of our ways to travel a rocky and unknown road when the “path of least resistance” is already set up for us and we got E-Z Pass?
- “Being Singled Out”. For men adhering to traditional notions of masculinity, it can be emasculating to identify as a “feminist”. Men who care about so-called “women’s issues” aren’t men. This is the popular view among many men and boys.
- “I’m pro-feminist…No-Homo”. Men who enter this work can easily [and almost inevitably] be pre-judged as gay, asexual, or even a “player” out to impress women. For heterosexual men who are just starting to explore being involved in ant-violence work, it may not feel comfortable to be seen as gay. To most men genuinely committed to ending violence, the possibility of being seen as a fake or “only in it to get with women” can be devastating. The fear of being considered on the same level as abusers that they are trying to stop cannot possibly be an encouraging element of joining the work.
- “I’m not a Women’s Study Major”. Many men can face barriers in feeling unqualified or less knowledgeable about the issues. This becomes especially true when academic theories are brought into the picture, perhaps prematurely.
- “All Men are Potential Perps”. To some extent, yes, this is completely true. However, violence prevention work has gotten a bad reputation (whether its fact or fiction) of regarding all men/male participants as more than potential perpetrations…even as abusers and criminals. The fear of signing up for a “male bashing session” is certainly a huge reason not to being involved.
This list can go on, however these few examples ought to illuminate the issues well enough to make it clear: Men certainly face many barriers when thinking about getting involved.
One way to counter these barriers are to be patient with some men. Let’s find support systems for those who are trying to let down their guard in order to being to feel comfortable getting involved. We must understand that all men are not the same. We seem to want to homogenize all men within a unified group. Men have numerous identities. Some are men of color, some are transgender, some have disabilities, some have taken ten Women & Gender Studies courses and are presidents of men’s college groups. Perhaps the one “golden rule” of working with men is: We must meet men where they are at. I’m not saying that we need to cater anti-violence movements to fit the needs of already historically privileged [by gender/sex] men, rather I am proposing that we remain vigilant in finding effective ways to engage all types of men in anti-violence work.