Sunday, April 1, 2018

Impacting on women’s space 8/9

It has been demonstrated that the presence of even a small number of men in women’s organisations and campaigns has an impact on group dynamics (Schacht and Ewing 2004). Castelino (2012) has explored the issue of how the role of the family violence sector changes when men become engaged in the prevention of violence against women. She is concerned with how men’s involvement influences the ways in which violence against women is understood and how it shapes strategies of violence prevention. She argues that men’s involvement shifts the focus from addressing structural analyses of violence against women to developing new forms of masculinity. Linder and Johnson (2015) also interviewed feminist women who were working with men in violence prevention programs. They found that many of the feminists they interviewed regarded many of the men as operating through a framework of ‘enlightened sexism’. In their view, many men in violence prevention programs perpetuated sexism through both their own behaviour and through their failure to challenge the sexist practices of other men.
It has been widely reported that the presence of men in mixed-gender activism leads women to be very careful about what they say (Baily 2012; Castelino 2012). Women report that they modify their speech and behaviour so that men won’t get upset. This reflects the gendered expectation that women should care about men’s feelings and avoid upsetting them (McMahon 1999). Phylis Frank (cited in Messner et al. 2015) sees women’s praise of men as part of the process of women’s socialisation into supporting men and making them feel good. It should also be noted that women are often strongly sanctioned if they do not support and affirm men.

There is evidence that when men get involved in feminist campaigns, they often dominate in meetings. Linder and Johnson (2015) refer to ‘micro-aggressions’ as the form of men’s dominating and abusive behaviours, where they talk over women in meetings, assume a sense of superiority in relation to strategies and campaigns and use their male privilege to further their views. Such concerns expressed by women activists include the following: interrupting women when they are talking, dominating discussions and taking up the majority of time in meetings, presuming to have more expertise and knowledge than they do, receiving more praise than women activists, gaining greater status and money for the work that they do and in some instances, sexually objectifying women colleagues (Macomber 2014). This is not an argument against mixed-sex groups organising against men’s violence. However, the concerns raised in this paper need to be addressed if the potential harms of aspiring allies are to be mitigated in such groups.
Further, women are sometimes challenged about why they want women only spaces when men are interested in being involved (Castelino 2012; Goldrick-Jones 2002; Ruby 2001). In the work of engaging men, it is important to support the continuation of women-only campaigns in challenging men’s violence.

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