Sunday, June 24, 2018

Strategies for men in promoting accountability

The following strategies for promoting accountability are targeted specifically at men who are engaged in violence prevention work in both single sex and mixed sex organisations. As men are at different stages of development when it comes to understanding patriarchy and men’s violence against women, the practices involved in enacting these strategies require knowledge, skills and personal reflexivity. They cannot be simply presented as a set of axioms for men to follow. Rather, it is proposed that they should form the basis of a curriculum for men who are new to the movement against men’s violence. They should be the starting point for readings, exercises, presentations and discussions.
Learning about your own privilege as a man
A number of writers on accountability talk about the importance of men being reflective and cognisant about their male privilege (Schacht and Ewing 1997; Macomber 2014; Pease 2010). Schacht and Ewing (1997: 169) make the point that while violence against women is a structural issue, it is not only structural and that men need to work on changing their lives as part of the struggle against patriarchy. Any male ally should adopt four basic practices:
•  Through the reading of feminist works and actually listening to women, he should try and learn about the depth and unjust nature of women’s oppression.
•  He should consider asking himself in what ways does he personally and as a man in general (structurally) oppress women.
•  He should consider ways to reject traditional notions of masculinity that are oppressive to others.
• He should consider ways to put women’s needs as equal or even greater than his own.
The more that men are reflective about their own privileged positioning, and take action to challenge it, the more likely that they can be effective allies (Curry-Stevens 2004). Bojin (2012) argues that men’s capacity to interrogate their own privilege is fundamental for developing effective alliances with feminist women. It has been noted by many feminist activists, that true allies were cognisant of their privilege and also had an understanding of the history of women’s activism against men’s violence (Macomber 2012). Such men were less likely to present themselves as experts and were more willing to take a secondary role in support of women’s work.

Acknowledging what men have learnt from women
It is important when men talk about their work in challenging men’s violence that they acknowledge their debt to feminism and to women who have been working in this area for many years (Messner et al. 2015). When I introduce a workshop on engaging men, I always start by saying that I would not be doing this work if it was not for feminist women in my life who have taken the time to challenge me about my privilege as a man. I acknowledge that almost everything that I have learnt about feminist understandings of gender, I have learnt from women. It is important for male allies to recognise that we are a ‘Johnny come lately’ to men’s violence prevention and that we have much to learn from women.

Listening to women
Members of privileged groups are not used to being in dialogues where their privilege and power is the focus of the conversation (Allen 2002). Men need to adopt a position of moral humility and learn to see themselves as women see them. Men need to find ways in which they can learn to hear the experiences of women. This means allowing themselves to feel in their hearts the pain and suffering of others (Pease 2010).

Engaging in dialogue
Groups to promote dialogue between members of privileged groups and those who are marginalised have been promoted by some commentators (Curry-Stevens 2004). Dialogue between men and women seems to be an essential element of effective alliances. However, we need to know more about how to promote the conditions upon which dialogues can best be developed and to understand how inequalities in power and privilege between men and women create barriers to effective communication (Singh 2001). Men need to demonstrate an understanding that their knowledge and perception of the world is socially situated and only partial, if they are going to avoid oppressive practices in their encounters. Men need also to problematise their own dominant position (Pease 2010).

Developing trust
The issue of men’s accountability to women is connected with trust (Goldrick Jones 2002).  Many women are understandably suspicious and cautious of men who express solidarity with them. Because they have had bad experiences of men in the past, they are not going to offer unconditional support to men. Trust between men and women in violence prevention work has to be achieved; it is not given (Pease 2008). Men have to earn their trust by building up a track record and by walking the walk. Women often complain about the energy and resources they expend in educating men. However, when trusting relationships are established, women are more likely to be committed to working with men (Barone 2007).
Engaging in alliances
Temporary alliances between men and women are an important strategy of developing accountability (Goldrick-Jones 2002). Bystydzienski and Schacht (2001) emphasise the importance of creating shared spaces that can assist participants to engage in alliances without domination. They identify three stages for effective alliances:
1.  An acknowledgement of the impact that social identities have on participants.
2.  A recognition of how privilege is played out in their relationships.
3.  The goodwill to find common ground by honouring perspectives that are different from their own.
In effective coalitions, men are likely to feel threatened some of the time. If they do not, it is unlikely that they are emotionally committed. Alliances between men and women are specific sites where oppressive relations are likely to be enacted. When illuminated and challenged, they become microcosms of the larger struggle against men’s dominance (Pease 2010).

Acknowledging when you make mistakes
One key issue is how men respond when they receive critical feedback from women about their practice. Women often report men becoming defensive in response to feedback; whereas, men should learn to receive such feedback as constructive criticism. Linder and Johnson (2015) refer to feedback from women as a gift to men because it provides an opportunity for the capacity for men to learn.
Often when men are challenged by women about their sexism, they say that it was not their intent to cause harm. Their apologies, if they offer them at all, are framed in terms of being sorry if the person chose to take offense. This lets them off the hook and validates their experiences over those they have offended. Stoltenberg (2013) offers advice to men when their actions have aggrieved feminist women.
• Figure out exactly what you did. Hear what you did from the person that you did it to.
• Acknowledge that you know what you did.
• Apologise without qualification and without rationalisation.
• Make amends.
Thus when men do slip up, it is important for them to acknowledge their missteps without defensiveness.

Holding other men accountable to women
A critical step towards accountability is to for men to hold other men accountable to women, rather than relying on women to call men out when they are being sexist. Challenging other men’s sexism is often difficult for men because it undermines male solidarity upon which men’s relationships are often based.  It is easier for men to walk the walk with women in relation to gender equality than to do so with other men. It is often men’s reluctance to challenge other men that leads women to mistrust male allies (Macomber 2014; Linder and Johnson 2015). When men do challenge other men, they break the bonds that hold men to patriarchal manhood. However, as noted earlier, class and race differences between men complicate this practice. When white middle-class straight men challenge other men, they need to be cognizant of their own positioning within class, race and sexuality hierarchies and well as the positioning of the men they are criticising.


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