January 30, 2014

Why are men needed in the feminist movement, and how will it help to end sexual violence?

Audre Lorde contends “women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs” (Lorde, 113). She claims that this is a tool whereby the oppressed become occupied by the oppressors concerns (Lorde, 113). This evidence has importance because it reveals that women cannot do the work of feminism by themselves. Men are needed in conversations surrounding feminist theory and thought in order to make feminism a task for people of all gender identities, rather than existing solely as a women’s movement.

Flood maintains that there is much value in men identifying with feminist scholarship (Flood, 136). The understanding that men gain from feminist thought will give them an awareness to comprehend gender inequality and male privilege, which will allow opportunity for a commitment to its eradication (Flood, 136). Further, Flood argues that cognitive awareness alone is no guarantee for effective commitment to the goals of feminism, however it is still necessary to promote behavioral change in regards to gender equality (Flood, 136). Moreover, as men gain feminist knowledge, it will foster men’s behaviors, attitudes and their engagement in social relations, which is vital in building gender equality and creating social change. 

Acknowledging and addressing environments that allow sexual violence to occur is important to recognize. There is a complex relationship between sexual violence and sexism, where rape culture is perpetrated in subtle and unintentional ways, which often involves men maintaining power over women (Barone et al. 585). Barone, Wolgemuth and Linder assert that sexual assault is a learned behavior that is acquired through social norms in the way that women and men behave in sexual relations. Further, these scholars have found strong correlations between belief in traditional gender roles and greater acceptance of rape myths and sexual assaults (Barone et al. 585). These findings are important to recognize because they illustrate that sexual assault is a cultural problem related to power imbalances between genders, and that it is a problem that must be addressed by entire communities, not just women. Moreover, men need to be a part of the solution.

Jackson Katz argues that now more than ever it is the responsibility of men and boys to amend harmful attitudes that permit men’s sexual violence against women to be acceptable, rather than focusing efforts on risk-reduction techniques that can be utilized by women and girls (Audo, 442). Historically, female feminists have dominated the discourse surrounding feminism and sexual assault. Even though female feminists have achieved admirable results in the struggle to end sexual violence, Katz argues for the urgency for men to participate in the prevention of gender based violence by becoming active bystanders and spreading the message that sexual violence will no longer be socially acceptable (Audo, 442).

Katz stresses the importance of using direct language that hold men accountable for sexual assault that would result in overall accountability of institutions (Audo, 443). Kats illustrates the connection between socialization of male masculine identities and traditional patriarchal ideologies in order to motivate men “to do something about the problem, in the form of education and organization other men in numbers great enough to prompt a real cultural shift (Audo, 443). Katz recognizes that the majority of men do not commit acts of violence against women, rather that most men inadvertently contribute to a broader sexist social climate by telling and laughing at sexist jokes, participating in behavior and purchasing products that objectify or belittle women (Audo, 433).

Further, Katz argues that men who are silent bystanders when witnessing other men’s harassment, sexist or abusive behaviors toward women are complicit to the same attitudes (Audo, 443). Moreover, Kats asserts that empowering men to become active bystanders in the case of sexist behavior will create proactive agents for social change in regards to sexual violence.

I would like to appeal to men’s self-interest to end sexism and men’s violence against women by briefly exposing the ways in which sexism affects men’s lives. Sabo contends that individuals “do gender” and that individuals are conditioned to work out, revamp and maintain gender identity while abiding by historically and socially constructed power relations (Sabo, 135). Further, the constructions of male identities are often associated with masculinity, which can lead to several unhealthy behaviors. Sabo argues, “a man who does gender correctly would be relatively unconcerned about his health and well-being in general. He would see himself as stronger, both physically and emotionally, than most women” (Sabo, 135). This evidence is important to recognize because it reveals that sexist thought and behavior adversely affects men. Moreover, feminism has a place for male allies, and can help to deconstruct sexism, which will benefit both men and women.

These findings are important to address because they reveal that including men in the discourse of feminist thought and sexual assault will encourage men to engage in everyday actions that when executed on a mass scale, can transform social norms and catalyze a paradigm change where both women and men are fully valued, and where men’s violence against women is socially condemned. 

Works Cited:

Audo, Elisa. “A Review of “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help” Katz, Jackson. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc. (2009): 442-446.

Barone, Ryan P., Jennifer R. Wolgemuth, and Chris Linder. “Preventing sexual assault through engaging college men.” Journal of College Student Development 48.5 (2007): 585-594.

Flood, Michael. “Men as Students and Teachers of Feminist Scholarship.” Men and Masculinities 14.2 (2011): 135-154.

Sabo, Don. “Men’s health studies: origins and trends.” Journal of American College Health 49.3 (2000): 133-142.

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