Yes, large numbers of men and boys are killed and injured in war. They are sent to war largely by other men. Wars are supported more by men than women. And traditional masculinity has been central to justifications for war. It is men, not women, who have excluded women from joining men in military and combat roles. Feminist women and women’s movements have played key roles in challenging war and militarism. Finally, the overall impacts of war and conflict and their aftermath are greater for women than men.
Here is the scorecard. Australians know something about violence. We are aware of the wide range of physical and non-physical behaviours that are often part of domestic violence. But we don’t know much about its impact, so we struggle for example to know why women stay. We have the wrong idea about why this violence happens, blaming anger or sex drive or intoxication rather than gender inequalities. We are too willing to excuse domestic violence. We blame the victim. We still see women as liars. We see men as lust-driven pigs who can’t be held responsible for their sexual behaviour. We say we would intervene in violence, but we don’t necessarily know where to get help.
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.
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.