Men for gender justice

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Men for gender justice

XY: Men's roles in achieving gender justice   http://www.xyonline.net/

 
Michael Flood: Keynote address to Australian Women Speak: Inaugural National Womens Conference, 26-28 August 2001, Canberra
Men’s lives have changed in significant ways over the past three decades, particularly in the wake of the women’s movements and feminisms. There have been upheavals in four areas: the legitimacy of men’s monopoly of political and institutional power, the gendered organisation of paid work, the status of heterosexuality, and images of male identity. Some traditional forms of masculinity are increasingly felt to be obsolete, although there is not a ‘crisis’ among men in general. Some men are flourishing in the context of shifting gender relations, finding both relief and exhilaration in the new forms of intimate and public life available to them. There are important signs of positive change among men. However, images of change may not match the reality (as in childrearing and domestic work), few men have challenged gender inequalities, and governments’ economic and family policies can be regressive in their effects.

MenWeb   http://www.vix.com/menmag/gendjust.htm  

 

Rus Funk

I have to agree whole-heartedly with Ms. Pillay. One of my frustrations with men in relation to the feminist rape crisis movement in the states is the presumption that these programs will offer services to men who have been victimized. Similarly, as I have been working to build community support for the updated Violence Against Women Act (a law in the USA to provide funding and expand the federal definitions of violence against women); men and some women) ask "what about violence against men."

My feeling is two-fold, not only have we as men always looked to women to take care of us (and these two examples are only that -- two of many examples). In addition, it seems to me that basic empowerment (power from within rather than power over) demands that as men, we develop these resources for ourselves rather than expecting (demand???) that women provide hard-won services to us as well.

I agree with Ms. Pillay that ultimately it is up to us as men to change the system that inhibits our full humanity.

That being said, I think Michael's piece was wonderful. I obviously can't speak for him, but I believe that he would say agree with me as well. The challenge for me, in working with men, is how to build this without taking our time, energy and passion away from the work of fighting men's violence against women. As Michael's piece suggests, men's violence, whether it be against women or other men, is connected. And working to end men's violence (and support people who have been victimized by men's violence) is inter-connected work.
    

rus funk
washington, DC
founder of men for gender justice

Men's Roles in Achieving Gender Justice

ABSTRACT

Men's lives have changed in significant ways over the past three decades, particularly in the wake of the women's movements and feminisms. There have been upheavals in four areas: the legitimacy of men's monopoly of political and institutional power, the gendered organisation of paid work, the status of heterosexuality, and images of male identity. Some traditional forms of masculinity are increasingly felt to be obsolete, although there is not a 'crisis' among men in general. Some men are flourishing in the context of shifting gender relations, finding both relief and exhilaration in the new forms of intimate and public life available to them. There are important signs of positive change among men. However, images of change may not match the reality (as in childrearing and domestic work), few men have challenged gender inequalities, and governments' economic and family policies can be regressive in their effects.

Any consideration of "men's issues" must keep three aspects of Australia's gender order in mind: (1) men's institutional privilege and systematic patterns of gender inequality; (2) the costs to men of dominant definitions of masculinity; and (3) differences and inequalities among both men and women (such as those based on class, race and sexuality). These features of gender relations feed into three key principles in constructing men's roles in gender justice. First, be pro-feminist and guided by principles of equity and social justice. Second, be male-positive and oriented towards enhancing men's lives. Third, recognise diversity and be inclusive.

What is men's role in the struggle to achieve gender justice? Men are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. If men's behaviours and attitudes do not change, then gender equality is simply impossible. Men have shown that they can and do support feminism, in their individual lives and through organised activism. Men have taken public and collective action in support of efforts to end men's violence against women, and there is a small but active international network of pro-feminist men's groups.

Men's collective mobilisations on gender issues are a delicate form of political activity. The danger that participants will entrench gender privilege has already been realised among the 'men's rights' and 'fathers' rights' wings of the men's movement, which are pursuing an anti-women and anti-feminist backlash. It is understandable that some women are nervous about men's participation in efforts towards gender justice. On the other hand, there are important resources in men's lives for gender justice, such as men's intimacies with women, concerns for children, and ethical and political commitments.

Cross-gender partnerships and alliances are the crucial foundation of men's involvement in gender justice. Building gender equality requires that women and men work together in ways which are progressive, respectful and indeed pleasurable. Men's partnerships with women and women's groups enable men to learn from existing campaigns and scholarship, lessen the risk that men will condone oppressive forms of masculinity, and are a practical demonstration of the shared interests and constructive relations on which gender justice is based.

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS
Dr Michael Flood teaches in Women's and Gender Studies at the Australian National University. His PhD thesis was on young heterosexual men and safe/unsafe sex. Michael has been involved in pro-feminist men's activism since 1987.

Thank you to the conference organisers for inviting me to participate in this forum. I am delighted to be here.

Men's lives have changed in substantial ways over the past three decades. They have changed in the context of broader upheavals in gender relations and sexual relations, prompted particularly by the women's movements and feminisms. There are at least four key areas of change. The legitimacy of men's monopoly of political and institutional power has weakened dramatically. The gendered organisation of paid work has been disrupted. Public alternatives to heterosexuality have emerged. And new images of alternative masculine identity are evident.

I use the word "masculinity" to refer to the meanings given to being male in any particular context or society, and to the social organisation of the lives of men. Some traditional forms of masculinity - based on being emotionally shutdown, dominating others, work-obsessed and aggressive - are often seen now as obsolete, unhealthy and indeed downright oppressive.

Sonic commentators make the simplistic claim therefore that men are in 'crisis'. Certainly there are some men who are in crisis. Think of the likely experience of a 45 year-old heterosexual man who has just been divorced, a young gay man in high school or in a country town, an Aboriginal man who's gone to jail after assaulting another man who 'looked at his woman', or a working-class man who is long-term unemployed. In each case, this man's crisis has something to do with masculinity with the patterns of belief and behaviour associated with being male. But these crises also have to do with other social divisions, other forms of social differentiation, such as race, class, sexuality and age.

I do not want to give you the impression that men in general are suffering in the context of shifting gender relations, because we are not. Many men are flourishing. We are enjoying having more trusting, respectful and egalitarian relationships with our wives and partners, having greater connections with female and male friends, and being involved fathers to our babies and children. Men show increased support for women's paid work outside the home; young men are taking greater responsibility for contraception and safe sex; there is a decline in men's agreement with myths about domestic violence; and there is increased attention to the quality of fathering.

However, I want to sound three notes of caution.

First, images of change may not match the reality. The best example is parenting and domestic work. There has been a very noticeable shift in our images and ideas about fatherhood, but the widespread belief that fathers are significantly more involved with their children and with domestic work is simply not true.

Second, few men have challenged gender inequalities.

Third, the Federal Liberal government has been rolling back some of the gains made by the women's movements, reasserting traditional patriarchal masculinity through its economic and family policies. Things weren't that great under Labor either. And "men's rights" and "fathers' rights" groups are having important successes in changing family law to increase men's power in families and over wives, ex-wives and children.

Gender relations in Australia show three key features, and keeping these in mind is vital when considering "men's issues" and men's role in gender justice.

First, "Men, as a group, enjoy institutional privileges at the expense of women, as a group." (Messner, 1997: 5) There is a gap between the reality of gender injustice and men's awareness of this injustice, and this gap is typical to systems of power and oppression.

Second, men pay some heavy costs under the current gender order, and they are limited (but not oppressed) by the unattainable ideals and constricting social relations of masculinity. Third, there are differences and inequalities among women and among men, and men of different backgrounds simply don't have the same access to social resources and social status.

There are three principles which are fundamental in engaging with men and men's issues, and each corresponds to one of the features of gender relations I've outlined (Flood, 1993-94).

First, to be gender-just is to be guided by principles of equity and social justice. It is to be critical of those aspects of men's behaviour, constructions of masculinity, and gender relations which are harmful to women or children (and indeed to men themselves). It is to challenge women's oppression, sexism and gender injustice. Other terms one could use are "pro-feminist" and "anti- sexist".

Second, to be male-positive is to believe that men can change, to support efforts at positive change, to recognise the positive aspects of masculinity, and to be oriented towards enhancing men's lives.

Third, any approach to men's issues acknowledge both commonalities and diversities in the lives of men, accepting the feminist insight that gender intersects with race, class, sexuality, and so on.

I move now to the central question of this session: what is men's role in achieving gender justice? First of all, men are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. For whatever aspect of gender inequality we consider -violence against women, inequalities in political power, the division of paid and unpaid work, oppressive and degrading cultural imagery - men's behaviours, attitudes, identities and relations are part of the problem, part of what sustains and makes up these inequalities.

Men are therefore necessarily also part of the solution. If men do not change, then gender justice is simply impossible. In fact, the notion that it is desirable and practical to involve men in the movements towards gender justice is rapidly becoming institutionalised in the philosophies and programmes of international organisations such as UNICEF, the UNDP and the World Health Organisation, particularly in the areas of family planning and reproductive health, violence, poverty and development, and HIV/AIDS.

We should be heartened by the fact that men have shown that they can support feminism and gender justice, both in their personal lives and through organised activism. The example with which I'm most familiar is men's activism against men's violence, which in Australia is represented primarily by Men Against Sexual Assault. Small numbers of men have also taken up pro-feminist agendas in men's health, boys' education, and fathering. Men's organised and public support for gender justice has historical precedents in support for women's suffrage and equality by men's groups in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Strauss, 1982; Kimmel and Mosmiller, 1992; John and Eustance, 1997).

Men's anti-violence groups are one expression of a wider network of pro-feminist men's activism, represented for example by the National Organisation of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) in the U.S.A., the European Pro-feminist Men's Network, and the Men For Change Network in the United Kingdom. While some campaigns such as the White Ribbon Campaign achieve large numbers, 1 should caution though that the numbers of men directly involved in pro-feminist men's activism is small.

Men's collective mobilisations on gender issues are a delicate form of political activity, as they involve the mobilisation of members of a privileged group in order to undermine that same privilege. The same issues arise when white people try to do something about racism or heterosexuals do something about homophobia.

Most if not all contemporary societies are characterised by men's institutional privilege (Messner, 1997: 5), such that men in general receive a 'patriarchal dividend', a 'payoff', from gendered structures of inequality (Connell, 1995: 79-82). The danger therefore is that by mobilising men collectively as men and thus drawing on their shared interests, activists will inadvertently entrench gender privilege (ibid: 234-238). This potential has been realised among the 'men's rights' and 'fathers' rights' groups in the men's movements, in that this wing of the movements is energetically engaged in an anti-women and anti-feminist backlash (Flood, 1997; 1998). While the men's movement has a small pro-feminist wing, most of the movement and most public attention to "men's issues" shares a "men's liberation" perspective. Promoted particularly by Steve Biddulph, this focuses on the ways in which men are limited or harmed, and it very easily slides into the reactionary claims that men are oppressed as much as women or even by women, women and feminism are to blame, and men are now the real victims.

It is not surprising therefore that some women are nervous about men's participation in gender issues.

However, men can be and are motivated by interests other than those associated with gender privilege. There are important resources in men's lives for gender justice. Through their loyalty and closeness to particular women - a mother, a partner, a friend, a sister, a daughter - some men come to an intimate understanding of the injustices suffered by women and the need for men to take action. Some men's advocacy is grounded in other forms of principled political activism, such as economic justice, pacifism, green issues or queer politics. Others become involved through dealing with their own experience of sexual violence or sexual abuse from other men and sometime women, perhaps as children or teenagers (Stoltenberg, 1990: 11-12). Men's desires to be trusted, loved and respected and to be good husbands and fathers are further resources.

Men have much to gain from ending gender inequality. Feminism offers men the possibility of freedom from a way of life that has been isolating, violent, obsessively competitive, emotionally shut down and physically unhealthy. Yes, it demands that men let go of their unfair privileges too, but outside a patriarchal worldview this is a small price to pay for the promise of more trusting, honest, pleasurable and fair relations with women and with children.

If men are to be, effective participants in action to achieve gender equality, they will have to do so in partnership with women. Cross-gender partnerships and alliances are the crucial foundation of men's involvement in gender justice. Partnerships with women and women's groups are critical in three ways. First, they enable men to learn from existing efforts and scholarship rather than 'reinventing the wheel'. Second, they lessen the risk that men will collude in or be complicit with dominant and oppressive forms of masculinity. Third, they are a powerful and practical demonstration of men's and women's shared interest in democratic and peaceful gender relations. Women and men are in this together, and the reconstruction of gender requires our shared commitment and involvement.

Men's partnerships with women are an inspiring example of cross-gender collaboration, a form of activism which reaches across and transforms gender inequalities.

Pro-feminist men typically conduct their efforts in alliance with women and women's organisations. Ideally, they consult with women's groups, do not compete for funding or other resources, and build strong lines of communication and trust (Funk, 1993:125-126,132-134).

Responses to men's involvement in gender issues are themselves shaped by patriarchal privilege. First, men's groups receive greater media attention and interest than similar groups of women (Luxton, 1993: 368). This is partly the result of the former's novelty, but it is also a function of the status and cultural legitimacy granted to men's voices in general. Second, men acting for gender justice receive praise and credit (especially from women) which is often out of proportion to their efforts. Any positive action by men may be seen as gratifying in the face of other men's apathy about and complicity in sexism. Third, men are able to draw on institutional privilege to attract levels of support and funding rarely granted to women (Landsberg, 2000: 15). This can of course be turned to strategic advantage.

Men have a critical role to play in achieving equality. Their involvement must be guided by gender justice and gender partnership, as these principles are integral to men's ability to work with women in cultivating a lasting legacy of equality.


References cited

Cameron, Margaret (2000) 'Young men and Violence Prevention', Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 154, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Connell, R.W. (1995) Masculinities. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Flood, Michael (1993-94) '3 principles for men', XY.. Men, sex, politics 3.4, Summer

Flood, Michael (1997) 'Responding to Men's Rights', XY.. Men, sex, politics 7.2, Spring.

Flood, Michael (1998) 'Men's Movements', Community Quarterly No. 46, June.

Funk, Rus Ervin (1993) Stopping Rape: A challenge for men. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

Hayward, Ruth F. (1999) 'Needed: A new model of masculinity to stop violence against girls and women', WHO Global Symposium on Violence and Health, 12-15 October, Kobe, Japan.

John, Angela V. and Eustance, Claire (1997) (eds) The Men's Share?: Masculinities, male support and Women's Suffrage in Britain, 1890-1920. London: Routledge.

Kimmel, Michael S. (1993) 'Clarence, William, Iron Mike, Tailhook, Senator Packwood, Spur Posse, Magic... and us', in Buchwald, Emilie, Fletcher, Pamela and Roth, Martha (eds) Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.

Kimmel, Michael S. and Mosmiller, Thomas E. (1992) Against the Tide: Pro-feminist men in the United States, 1776-1990. Boston: Beacon Press.

Landsberg, Michele (2000) 'Canadian Feminists' Uneasy Alliance with Men Challenging Violence', Voice Male Spring (Men's Resource Centre of Western Massachusetts).

Luxton, Meg (1993) 'Dreams and Dilemmas: Feminist musings on 'The Man Question', in Haddad, Tony (ed) Men and Masculinities: A critical anthology. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press.

Messner, Michael A. (1997) Politics of Masculinities: Men in movements. University of Southern California: Sage Publications.

Stoltenberg, John (1990) Refusing To Be a Man: Essays on sex and justice. CA & Suffolk: Fontana/Collins.

Strauss, Sylvia (1982) 'Traitors to the Masculine Cause": The men's campaigns for women's rights. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Further reading on...
Note: Also see the references above. All pieces by Michael Flood are available from him directly. See XY magazine's website (below) for copies of any pieces from XY. See The Men's Bibliography (below) for a comprehensive list of works on men, masculinities and sexualities.)

Pro-feminist men and men's relation to feminism

Digby, Tom (ed) 1998 Men doing feminism, New York & London: Routledge

Flood, Michael 1999 'Introducing pro-feminism"

Pease, Bob 2000 Recreating Men: Post-modern masculinity politics, London: Sage

Men's anti-violence activism

Flood, Michael 2001 (forthcoming) "Men Stopping Violence: Men's collective anti-violence activism and the struggle for gender justice", Development, Special Issue: 'Violence against Women and the Culture of Masculinity, Vol. 44 No. 3

Fuller, Bob and Fisher, Stephen (1998) 'A Decade of Pro-feminist Activism: A brief history of Men Against Sexual Assault', Community Quarterly No. 46, June.

Kaufman, Michael (1997) 'Working With Men and Boys to Challenge Sexism and End Men's Violence', UNESCO Expert Group Meeting 'Male Roles and Masculinities in the Perspective of a Culture of Peace', Oslo, Norway, 24-28 September.

Pease, Bob (1997) Men and sexual politics: Towards a pro-feminist practice, Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications

Pringle, Keith 1995 Men, masculinities and social welfare, London: UCL Press

Men, men's issues and masculinities

The Men's Bibliography and
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