With the rise of the #MeToo movement and greater recognition of the issue of gender-based violence, it is important for men to take action and fight against sexual violence. It makes sense that through the storytelling medium of #MeToo that the majority and most prominent voices are of female identified survivors. Yet, there is still a space for men to organize, fundraise, and demonstrate in the fight against gender-based violence. This fight comes with its own set of difficulties in attracting men that other social justice movements, like environmentalism or the animal rights movement, simply do not have. Sexism, traditional masculinity and gender norms all push men away from a cause that they may feel does not affect them. To be clear, while there are many male-identifying survivors of gender-based violence, this blog post focuses on male activists who may have not personally experienced sexual violence.
In understanding men’s roles in female-centered and dominated activist spaces like the #MeToo movement, it is important to look at the historical context of male activism around gender-based violence. According to historian Philippe De Wolf, in the “second wave” of feminism in the 1970s there was a small but evident group of male feminists who advocated for sexual violence survivors, organized for women’s right to control their own bodies, and worked on other women’s liberation causes.
De Wolf outlines that this small group of men were often brought into the fold of feminist activism from other leftist militant groups. Some men felt that feminist activism went hand-in-hand with their goal of breaking down traditional masculinity, “They criticised traditional models of virility for their sexist content and their detrimental consequences for women, but also because they felt themselves repressed in the construction of their own masculine identities” (De Wolf, 84). Furthermore, a number of male activists got involved because the “women they loved or admired were working in the same field” (De Wolf, 85). Today, these reasons still apply to a lot of men working as activists. Many men have been catalyzed to fight gender-based violence after hearing related experiences of their family and/or friends.
In the 1970’s, similarly to today, the inherently problematic nature of men’s involvement in feminist spaces was still apparent. French feminist Christine Delphy points out that the inclusion of men in feminist spaces represents them as the “good guys” (De Wolf, 80). Delphy says that this supposedly demonstrates that not all men are oppressors which downplays the role that all men play in patriarchy. Delphy therefore says that feminism should “mainly focused on appealing to women instead of men” (De Wolf, 80). On the other hand, De Wolf stresses the importance of feminism “reflect[ing] upon the construction of masculine identities and masculinity norms, and to debate about men’s lives and experiences instead of focusing only on women’s issues” (De Wolf, 80). In other words, it is important for men to be represented in most feminist spaces because masculinity should be discussed in feminist spaces and no one understands masculinity better than men themselves.
In my personal experiences working for organizations that combat gender-based violence and advocate for survivors, I have been the only or one of very few men. It has certainly been an interesting, challenging at times, space to maneuver. I have been able to use my privilege as a man to support survivors as best that I can. However, I understand the importance of listening and making sure that other voices are heard.
For me, I have appreciated male activism most clearly through my contribution to the Men Against Rape and Sexual Misconduct (MARS) initiative at NYU. Last fall, I was introduced to its founder and president, Khalil Hall, shortly after its inception. Since then, the group of male-identifying student activists in MARS have organized a launching event (pun slightly intended), created a photo campaign tackling gender-based violence, and coordinated a fundraiser for Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. At NYU, MARS is also planning a listening session, a discussion-based event, and other events for Denim Day and the engineering school.
It is crucial to have an organization on campus geared towards men fighting gender-based violence. This is especially true because of the underrepresentation of men in other similar organizations. In addition, I hope MARS and other organizations can attract more men to work on this issue. Men need to recognize the problem of gendered violence and men’s role in ending it.
- De Wolf, Philippe. “Male Feminism: Men's Participation in Women's Emancipation Movements and Debates. Case Studies from Belgium and France (1967-1984).” European Review of History: Revue Européenne d'Histoire, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, pp. 77–100., doi:10.1080/13507486.2014.983427.