Men and mens' services working to end mens' violence against women
It is vital that men be involved and work with women's organisations to end violence against women. It is important, however, that in doing so they recognise the importance of not 'colonising' this space.
This blog post, by Rodney Vlais from No To Violence, discusses the importance of working in a truly collaborative way to end violence against women.
When the main title of this article first passed through my fingertips onto the keyboard, my immediate reaction was to dismiss it and come up with something different. It’s a clunky title, and contains the word “men”/”men’s” three times.
It dawned on me, however, that the repetition of this word was quite symbolic of some of the tensions involved in men and women working together in this social justice struggle. It was poignant how in my first, almost stream-of-consciousness attempt to create a title, the word “men” appeared three times, and the word “women”, only once.
The word “men” does need to be there, it needs to be in the picture. It is men who cause the vast majority of intimate partner violence, interpersonal violence, family and domestic violence against women. It is men who need to take individual and collective responsibility to work hard towards ending our violence. It is men who need to identify the ways that we (writing as a male) benefit from unearned gender-based privilege and entitlement, who need to re-shape our visions and practices of masculinity, and uproot structural and cultural processes that render women as objects, or as creatures, or as something to offload invisible burdens of responsibility onto.
If as men we are to truly join this struggle, and accept the double helix of ‘out there’ social justice work and ‘in here’ personal transformation, we need to do more than be at the periphery. Ethically, we can’t just wait for women to identify the patriarchy in our ways of being and doing, to take the risk to speak up (only to often not be listened to, or not be listened to in the same way as if the same words were being spoken by a man). As men, we need to be attentive, discerning, noticing, and ‘out there’ with other men about our collective responsibilities to re-weave gender-based power, to transform what masculinities mean to us. To proactively invite other men to consider what caring, intimacy, relationship, community and belonging might mean for us and for those we love.
This means taking initiative. It means men speaking up at White Ribbon Day events, taking some public centre stage. It means men taking the lead in increasing our involvement in the early childhood education sector, in doing more of the primary caring in our families, in attending to the internal, relational aspects of the organisations and networks we have influence over. It means spotting opportunities to express our dissent at a sexist joke or comment. It means men becoming trained to work passionately, sensitively and intelligently as family violence practitioners, including as men’s behaviour change program facilitators.
Yet, in men stepping up, taking centre stage, taking initiative, working hard … something that far, far too few of us men actually do … we face a challenge, a struggle to do this in ways that doesn’t make our contribution to patriarchy worse. Just like the title of this article, there is the danger that women and children, including those who have struggled against men’s violence and gender inequality for decades, becoming displaced. In the space of just a few years of men (necessarily and vitally) entering this struggle, the very hard-fought gains that women have achieved to have a voice, to be heard, to be seen to have legitimate needs for safety and dignity … can abruptly become re-marginalised. The danger, yet again, is of men entering and colonising another space that does not ‘belong’ to us as our ‘property’. A space that men might see as vacant, empty, terra nullius.
How we enter this space of attempting to prevent, or respond (for example, through men’s behaviour change program work) to men’s violence against women, and how we work with women colleagues, is crucial to our efforts to transform patriarchy. Violence against women prevention consultant Tracy Castelino, a strong advocate for men to be involved in this work, talks and writes about the problems with superficial notions of ‘partnership’ between women’s and men’s services, as part of family violence service system integration reforms. She invites us to consider what it might mean to erroneously assume a level playing field between men’s and women’s services, and the consequences this might have for women’s voices and preparedness to speak up when they are concerned about the use of gender-based entitlement or privilege by male colleagues. Tracy encourages male family violence workers to understand the history of women’s struggles to be heard in the family violence space, and how the experience of men and women doing this work is not the same.
No To Violence runs workshops such as Superman? Really? to humorously (and seriously) invite men to consider the superhero capes that we might wear when doing this (or any social justice or human services) work – the Capes of Goodness, Privilege, Benefits, Hyper-masculinity and Secrecy. What might it mean, for example, in our relationships with women colleagues, if our image of being “a good man” prevents the women we work with from speaking up when we (invariably, at least from time to time), operate out of a blind spot to our own or other men’s patriarchy? What might it mean if women do all the behind-the-scenes, ‘invisible’ logistical work to organise an event where our role is to provide the high profile, public speaking?
Becoming aware of our privilege in our working relationships with women colleagues, of the ways in which men’s family violence services might benefit from something other than a level playing field, is not all navel-gazing gloom. It’s an opportunity for us men to become more alive, to evolve and grow – not in ways that re/colonise women’s spaces and bodies – but rather, towards more intimacy, interdependence, depth, meaning and adventure in our lives. How we attune to and develop partnerships with women and women’s services, how we pay attention to context and physical and relational space, has a substantial bearing on our efforts to be both alive and impactful in this work. To become different, or ‘better’ men, for all the women, children, men, creatures and ecosystems that do not share our privilege, and for how we experience the precious opportunity of life.
 See ntv.org.au or mrs.org.au for information about these programs and how they operate.
 See ntv.org.au/conference/workshops/nov-14-s1-2/#s1-1f for a transcript of a 2012 workshop that Tracy presented on these issues, or go to ntv.org.au/conference/responses/practitioner/
 See ntv.org.au/conference/workshops/nov-15-s6-2/#s6-6j, or go to ntv.org.au/conference/responses/practitioner/
Posted by Tanya Corrie