by Jeff Perera
As a community engagement manager with White Ribbon, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to regularly give talks, presentations and facilitate workshops on something I feel very passionately about: engaging men and boys to become part of the solution to ending violence against women and girls.
Our work is about addressing the root causes of gender-based violence, and looking critically at where violence against women and girls is coming from. In tackling men’s responsibility around this issue, we are interested in constructions of masculinity, in healthier ways of being a man and how, as men, we can be role models to men and boys.
This is not about men being a problem, but about how we can be a part of the solution. It’s about getting men and boys to be conscious of our realities and the impact we can make. It’s about spreading the understanding that these dynamics are at work all the time, and that conversations about masculinity need to be happening every day.
We don’t expect men to get on soapboxes, or hit the pavement. Rather, we work to increase awareness of the small ways and everyday moments where men have opportunities to positively influence their peers, and counter harmful language and ideas about women and girls.
When a man is in the locker room, for instance, if he hears a sexist joke, he can choose to speak up and say ‘that’s not ok,’ instead of remaining silent. If a man witnesses a friend catcalling a woman outside, he may speak up and say ‘that’s street harassment, and that’s not ok.’
Men have a critical role to play in the perceptions that other men hold about what is acceptable behaviour as a man, including what masculinity looks like, and how it’s ok to treat and talk about women. We have opportunities every day to take small, important stands in our own homes, with our friends, and in our places of work or worship.
WR also works to counter toxic ideas about manhood and masculinity; the social ‘formula’ for being a ‘real man’ seems to always come back to proving that you are not a woman, (because that would be bad, in the current dominant narrative). Don’t throw, run, or laugh ‘like a girl.’ Don’t show emotions or weakness, ‘like a girl would.’
This impacts men and boys in profound ways in their everyday lives. We place burdensome expectations on men to always be strong and tough that prevent them from fully embracing empathy, compassion and emotional intimacy in their lives. We need a more diverse understanding of what a man can be.
These can be difficult issues to get people to start talking about. One space we’ve created to encourage this conversation and make it accessible is the What Makes A Man White Ribbon Conference. Here, we have presenters from all walks of life and all ranges of background and education give brief presentations to break down these concepts and encourage active participation and dialogue. We use a lot of social media and real-time tweeting, including answering questions on our conference hashtag in presentations. This year’s conference recently took place on Nov. 22 and 23, 2013. Many tweets from the event capturing audience perceptions and participation can be found on the twitter hashtag #WMAM2013.
Redefining masculinity is urgent because of how severely this impacts the lives of women and girls, and men and boys, as well as LGBTQ people. In giving up the pursuit of being the alpha, dominant male, men can achieve the freedom to embrace their true selves as human beings; not only who they are can be according to social scripts defining gender. One expression we use that I like is: I don’t have to be THE man, in order to be A man.
This work is about all of us and how our lives are interconnected. Our vision is a world without violence against women, and where people of all genders can live free of violence and aggression.
Jeff Perera is Manager of Community Engagement for White Ribbon.
White Ribbon (WR) was founded in Toronto in 1991 by three volunteers: Ron Sluser, Michael Kaufman, and the late Jack Layton; two years following the tragedy of the École Polytechnique Massacre .The founders of WR knew that as devastating as the Polytechnique massacre was, it was far from an isolated incident, and was reflective of the reality of global violence against women. Today, White Ribbon activities happen around the world in over 60 countries, and all year round.
Each campaign is the result of people in those locations deciding to take action, and every organizer tailors this action appropriately to their local cultures and communities.
For more on White Ribbon and upcoming White Ribbon events: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/