The Role of Men in the Struggle Against Gender-Based Violence by Nick Catalano

Struggling to end gender-based violence (GBV) is a huge fight, and one that everyone needs to participate in. Particularly men, because it’s something that impacts men, myself included, far less overtly than it does women. Most men don’t think of how critical our support is to the cause. The other barrier is how difficult it can seem to take an active hand in that struggle, especially when in a male-dominated environment, where calling someone out can cause discomfort.

There are a number of ways we can contribute though, both small-scale and large. On the smaller scale of things is all the stuff you hear about regularly: calling people out, teaching our kids, being more self-aware. Let’s talk about calling out first. By this I don’t mean some huge gesture, causing an enormous commotion. It includes innocuous things. When you spot a guy being a bit too forceful with someone, you can say something like: “Hey man, stop being a creep.” It’s a really quick and easy thing to do, doesn’t grab tons of attention, but it is effective. Letting him know that his behaviour is not okay and letting her know that she has support in the area, should she need it. He may need you to be more direct, but it is a start. After he leaves, make sure to ask if there’s anything else she needs to be safe. Now here is where self-awareness comes in. This is the most critical step: do not expect thanks, and do not take this opportunity to hit on her or ask for her number or anything of the like. If you do this, you’ve just replaced one kind of violence with another and add betrayal on top of it.

There are other circumstances where small callouts can be effective: in the face of a sexist joke don’t laugh, or say that you didn’t find it funny. If you want to go further, explain why and how harmful those jokes are. Just not giving the positive feedback, making him feel a little uncomfortable making the joke is a way to start creating change. In meetings or gatherings when you notice a woman being interrupted say: “Oh sorry, (woman’s name) was not done speaking, and I’d like to hear the rest of what she has to say.” You’re not being rude, you’re not even telling someone not to speak, you’re just calling attention to interruption. In that same vein, be careful not to interrupt people yourself. This is creating and protecting space. Many people will dismiss these kinds of actions, but they’re important. More directly they’re ways of starting to be a support.

The other thing I mentioned was teaching our kids. I don’t mean that this is only for fathers, I mean if there are children in your life who will look to you for information. First, model the appropriate behaviour. Don’t be scared to stop an activity to address gender-based issues you see or hear; it is more effective to talk about this stuff when it is fresh in the minds of children. Most importantly though, talk to your kids about consent and Gender-Based Violence more broadly. Note that I did not say talk to exclusively boys about it. Boys need to hear it, especially from their male role-models, and girls need to hear it too. Girls are discouraged from standing up for their rights, make it explicit to them that they can, that they will have your support if they do, and that it is a team effort. Explicitly outline what consent is and that all genders need to respect it. Tell boys that it is important that they do the small callouts above, and that you’ll support them if, and when, they do. Knowing what the adults in their lives believe and where they stand is hugely important for what behaviour children choose to emulate.

The other small, albeit sometimes uncomfortable thing you can do is talk to your friends. This is specifically not calling out, but in private, one-on-one if possible, talking to your problematic friends. Don’t be accusatory; recognize that you are also a man and have likely done some of these super problematic things, but emphasize that their behaviour needs to change. Your specific wording and tact will change but knowing that you don’t support the problematic behaviour will have an effect. This becomes more important if you believe your friend doesn’t even see women as full people. Then they likely won’t ever listen to women trying to assert their humanity.

It is also important to note that while I am speaking about Gender-Based Violence specifically, if you happen to be the privileged person in any identity category (white, cis, straight, able, etc), your support is equally important in those areas as well, because they aren’t separate fights. We are struggling for equality, and that should extend in every direction.

On the larger scale are more overt things. One of the scariest is professional: call out your boss or organization, have meetings with H.R., report inappropriate behaviour (after asking the person experiencing it if they’re okay with you doing so), keep hammering in that inequality exists and you won’t stop until it is addressed. You are far less likely to be punished for this behaviour than a woman would be for the same thing. This is how you can use your privilege to support those around you.

Other options are more a question of time. Join women’s rights organizations, go to protests, donate once you can to gender equality organizations. Speak to the people around you, identify yourself openly as a feminist. By calling yourself a feminist you open the conversations with others about misconceptions or fears they may have of the feminist movement. Oftentimes peoples may be unaware of how media has played a role in the harmful portrayal of feminism. Educate yourself and recognize that no matter how informed you may be, how much you may support the cause: you enjoy the privilege of patriarchy. You will never be flawless or perfect in your activism and support, you will make mistakes and you will cause harm. It is inevitable. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying. Trying and occasionally failing does far more good than turning away entirely. Remember, if you are called out for the harm you caused to listen, reflect, and make amends. Callouts are simply a way of educating someone to progress and be a better support.

Lastly, in support of the cause of ending Gender-Based Violence consider taking the following actions: take the White Ribbon pledge, take the Moose Hide Campaign Pledge, share your pledge online to open the conversation. Check out the great resources listed below about how to support those around you and how to engage and teach healthy masculinity. If you have questions about how to further engage, ask people who know, and if it is someone from the impacted community, be sure to get their consent, and if you can offer to pay them for the labour of educating you, and invest in education, follow educators online, go to events, just to listen and learn. Women have been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for gender equality, it’s time for us to take our share of that weight and do the emotional labour for the outcome we all should want.

Nick Catalano is an Advocacy Committee member and is completing his Bachelors in the Anthropology of Human Rights at the University of Manitoba.

To take action be sure to take the pledges and share your commitment online. Be sure to buy a White Ribbon or get a Moose Hide pin (available at all IIWR-MB events) and wear them year round to show your commitment to ending VAW. The White Ribbon Campaign and Moose Hide Campaign have many great resources including: The White Ribbon Consent Quiz, WR Being an Ally; WR Boys Don’t Cry; WR How to be an Ally; and MH Men’s Programming. Finally, we ask that if you receive a Moose Hide pin that you Donate to support the work Moose Hide is doing.