Over the last 12 years my view of the world and myself in it has radically changed, due to the many conversations with and between radical feminists I have been privileged to be part of. From my first exposure to the reality of women’s lives and the male violence they encounter and fear on a daily basis, to attending feminist conferences, it has been an eye opening, embarrassing and life-changing journey.
It has been embarrassing, because I have realised over and over again how much male privilege disconnects men from the fight to end male violence against women, which feminists have been engaged in for decades. A disconnection whereby male violence against women is often reduced from a human rights issue to a women’s issue, where the onus for change is solely placed on women and a fight that men can easily walk away from because in the end it doesn’t directly affect us on a daily basis. Although I am pleased that the tone of the conversation is slowly changing thanks to the continuing contributions and efforts by established organisations such as Women’s Aid, End Violence Against Women Coalition, White Ribbon UK and White Ribbon Scotland and more recently What Can I Do? and Police Scotland’s ‘Don’t be that guy‘, I am concerned that this is not enough for sufficient and wide-ranging change in the foreseeable future.
My main concern in this regard is the struggle to move men on from conversation and discussion to tangible action. Specifically, how can we inspire men to move from discussing their views and sharing their opinions in their social circles, making the White Ribbon pledge and sharing videos like #DontBeThatGuy (which has almost over million views on Twitter) and Women’s Aid’s All Men on social media, to taking more active steps in order to contribute to a society that is safer for women? How do we get men to intervene as active bystanders when they witness women being sexually harassed or assaulted? How do we empower men to engage their communities in making sure that pubs, clubs and other nightlife venues are safe spaces for women? And finally and perhaps most importantly, what stops men who do see male violence against women as a problem from taking active roles to end male violence against women through protest, campaigning etc? To me it seems that a large part of the answer to these and many other questions regarding the engagement of men lies in men organising themselves and each other more and empowering each other.
How do I come to that conclusion? Well, firstly it is not as if there aren’t any men working to prevent and end male violence against women. However, they can be hard to find and there isn’t an overarching structure connecting the various individual men and organisations. Secondly, as far as I I see it, a lot of it comes back to men not taking active responsibility with regards to their support of feminism. What I mean by that is that as men collectively, we are not taking full responsibility for male violence against women, if all we do is talk to women and similarly minded men about the issues, attend feminist events organised by women or read books by women.
Don’t get me wrong, all of my pro-feminist thinking is the direct or indirect result of work and thinking done by feminist women over the course of decades, even centuries and the work I have read by men is largely influenced by female feminist thinkers. It is something I am acutely aware of. At the same time, however, I feel that after all this time it is still too easy for men to rely on women putting in the work, time and effort to confront male violence against women through their writing, thinking and organisational skills. If men continue to simply consume feminist ideas, maybe sign a pledge and be ‘good guys at heart’ or in private, we are for the most part standing passively on the sidelines allowing male violence against women to continue. As the suffragette saying goes: “deeds, not words”. Deeds not words, is what the movement to end male violence against women needs from men and a credo men need to start living by.
Men need to start taking full responsibility for the behaviours and actions by men who are violent towards women, through visible actions and behaviours that counter that male violence and make it unacceptable. Men need to speak out, they need to speak up, they need to be upstanders, not bystanders. Men need to take more risks in standing up for what is right, even if this is a threat to their ‘standing’ within their male peer groups or at the threats from other men. Worries and fears about being labelled ‘gay’, being confronted with questions such as ‘what about male violence against boys and men?’ etcetera shouldn’t be holding us back from doing what is right. Women fighting against male violence are facing much worse than that for standing up for women’s human rights, including threats of rape and murder. Yet they still fight on. Men must do the same! We must be willing to put ourselves in the firing line for doing the right thing and stop relying on our privilege, only speaking out when it is convenient or safe.
At the same time men must organise themselves and each other and emancipate themselves to form a pro-feminist movement against male violence against women in their own right. This is important, because ending male violence against women will only truly be seen as an issue that men can solve if men are able to stand on their own without relying on feminists to fight that fight. This is not to say that we shouldn’t keep learning from and listening to feminists. On the contrary, we need to keep communication channels open. What we do need, however, is a strong male movement, that is able to stand on its own, by its own merit, to stand alongside the women’s movement.
It is my hope that the Engage Conference, which I cofounded with Chris Green earlier this year will make some contribution to the formation of a men’s movement to end male violence against women and girls. The conference will take place over three days, starting on International Men’s Day (19 November) with a men’s protest at the London Royal Courts of Justice and Manchester Crown Courts and we’re calling on all men to join us from noon.
The aim of the protests is to call for an end to male violence against women and to highlight the lack of justice that women who have experienced male violence receive from the justice system. The remainder of the conference will take place online in the form of panel discussions and workshops.
The virtual part of the conference will kick off with a free opening session addressing the question ‘Why men need to organise to end male violence against women‘. This is a free event, but registration is required.
Highlights from the online programme include a bystander intervention workshop by Graham Goulden (an international specialist bystander intervention trainer across education, law enforcement and other areas) & Chris Green (founder of White Ribbon UK) and a talk by the renowned author and activist Robert Jensen, who will explore the question ‘What do men tell us about pornography and what does pornography tell us about men?.
Additional events include a panel discussion about how masculinity contributes to rape culture and even issues like climate change and a workshop on how music propagates sexist and misogynist attitudes.
Tickets for most of the online events are available by donation and all donations will be passed on to Women’s Aid and Women for Afghan Women, in order to support the amazing work they continue to do.