How can Re-examination of masculinity

help stop violence against women


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A summary of "Swimming Upstream:
Looking for Clues to prevent male violence in couple relationships"

by Oswaldo Montoya Telleria.

Montoya's article is based on the research carried out by the Foundation Puntos de Encuentro (Common Grounds) in Nicaragua which aimed to identify male fears and expectations in couple relationships with women and to identify the personal and social factors that influence men to be non-violent in couple relationships. The study was part of Puntos de Encuentro's development of a campaign against male violence against women. As it is estimated in this piece that 29% of Nicaraguan women have experienced physical violence from their partners in the last year (from ENDESA 1998), this is clearly a pressing issue.

One of the reasons that this study is particularly interesting is that it uses a group of men practicing non-violent relationships to effectively study why men are and are not violent in a relationship. Two study groups were set up -- a group of men who did exhibit violent behaviours with their partners and a group that did not. Non-violent men were studied in more depth because it was hoped that very particular lessons could be learned from them, which could then be applied to men exhibiting violent behaviours. By comparing the two groups it was hoped that the factors influencing violent actions would become clearer. In addition, it was hoped that the results of an examination of men's fears and expectations could then feed into a more successful campaign.

The methodology of the study revolved around in-depth interviews, particularly with men who had non-violent relationships with their partners, and it used notes and from workshops on men and masculinity in Nicaragua. One of the most critical aspects of this methodology was the clear identification of 'violent' and 'non-violent' relationships. Subsequently, men who are free from physical and sexual violence behaviour against their partner, who are neither authoritarian nor controlling in their relationships, who do not resort to behaviours considered to be emotionally violent and who are not drug or alcohol-dependent are considered to be non-violent. Similarly, men who had been involved in the anti-violence or feminist movements were excluded from the study.

The first part of the study examined men's fears and expectations in couple relationships with women. According to this research, men generally expect the following;

* To be served by the woman
* To be understood by the woman
* To lead the relationship
* That the woman be dependent on him
* That the woman be faithful
* That the woman give birth to his children

Similarly, men's fears included fear of being dominated, fear of having an independent partner, fear that the partner had sexual relationships with others and fear of "performing badly" in sexual relationships. These findings were then used in the campaign to demonstrate to men that their own patriarchal expectations of relationships in fact "locked" them into a particular way of interacting with their families -- one that often leads to violence. They were also used in the design of pre-campaign surveys to identify men's attitudes about relationships which were then compared to post-campaign survey results.

On the other hand, numerous factors that promote non-violent behaviours in men were identified.
They are as follows:

* Reasoning (ways of thinking)
* Support and stimulation from others
* self-image as non-violent
* home-loving
* open to self-examination
* working from an ethical standpoint
* childhood experiences
* non-violent models or rejection of violent models
* connection with mother
* parents moral understandings

Through this research men identified numerous benefits to being non-violent, such as well being of their children, harmony in the home, self-esteem and developing a good reputation. However, men also indicated that there are heavy pressures to be a "real man" who is not controlled by his wife. This research also revealed that although non-violent men may work actively to share control within the household, overall patriarchal values still abound in their relationships. The men interviewed, violent and non-violent, still held traditional expectations of their female partners, considered themselves the "givers" in a relationship and felt the need to lead the relationship. This led the researchers to note that when working with men against violence it is very important to avoid promoting the "good patriarch" as the ideal model of behaviours. While non-violence may represent a "fissure" in dominant expression of masculinity, it is still embedded in patriarchy.

The campaign against violence against women took these findings and proceeded to design actions and messages around them. In particular, the work with non- violent men provided proof that there are ways of living non-violently while in a 'machista' context. Similarly, posters developed by the campaign demonstrated alternative actions that men can take when they are on the verge of mistreating their families. Posters advertising more egalitarian gender roles within the family were also distributed. The campaign also used a "man to man" approach and had non-violent men sharing their experiences over radio, TV and print media. The campaign proved to be fairly successful. Of the men surveyed after the campaign, 60% knew about the campaign and 1/3 of them had talked it over with their wives; 2/3 of men hearing about the campaign talked about it with other men.

Source: This article was summarized from the full text of the presentation given by Mr. Oswaldo Montoya Telleria, "Swimming Upstream: Looking for Clues to prevent male violence in couple relationships" ( ) at the Men, Masculinities and Gender Relations in Development webpage. This site was developed as a result of the Men, Masculinities and Gender Relations in Development seminar series held in partnership with The School of Development Studies (University of East Anglia), The Institute of Development Studies (University of Sussex) and Oxfam.

AWID Resource Net
Issue 39 - Friday August 17, 2001

The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
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