“Engaging Men” Work: Is it for Men Only?

When you hear the term “Engaging Men Coordinator,” who comes to mind? Do you envision a man in this position? The movement to end gender-based violence is seeing attention and funding directed to engage men and boys - in public education campaigns, community organizing, and prevention work. State coalitions against sexual and domestic violence host conferences with workshops and keynotes on how to engage men as allies. National speakers and consultants travel to train groups on how to engage men. Most of these speakers and consultants are men. There seems to be an assumption that men are more qualified or “fit” to take on these positions, when in fact, women may also have expertise and experience with engaging men to stop gender-based violence. Why does this matter? Women leaders of these movements have been engaging men for decades. They may not have called it that – it might have been simply “volunteer coordination” or “outreach.” They may not have had a title to do it, but women did it - along with facilitating support groups, answering hotlines, and supporting survivors in other ways. Half of every community is composed of males; every woman who has tried to educate their community and recruit allies has had to educate men and recruit male allies. Indeed, many women are experienced and qualified for these jobs. Outside of “engaging men” work, the broader work to end gender-based violence is still overwhelmingly led by women. But if men are recruited into the movement by men, and work only with other men in “engaging men” work, they are often isolated from women’s experiences, insights, and leadership. This has fallout for all sorts of things, like men coopting and dominating shared space, men being seen as the experts and authority on sexual and domestic violence even if they lack experience and training, and even the likelihood that men earn more money than women for comparable work. As more “Engaging Men Coordinator” jobs are created, let’s be mindful of issues of equality and sexism – are they getting paid more money than hotline workers? More than hospital advocates? More than shelter workers? With fervor and conviction, we support the growing movement of men working to stop gender-based violence. In fact, we think men’s involvement is critical for stopping gender-based violence and we commend local, state-wide, and national groups working to engage men in their communities. We also want to urge these groups to consider women experts in this area when hiring. In these cases, as in many other cases, the best “man” for the job might be a woman.