16 Ways for Boys and Men to Take Action against Gender-based Violence in the Post-#MeToo World

We are pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from our partner, Breakthrough – a global human rights organisation working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Their cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilisation, agenda setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.

This year, Breakthrough India shares a list of 16 actions that men and boys can take against gender-based violence in the post-#MeToo world.

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Sexism and misogyny has existed for centuries and continues to survive. Even today, whenever there is a discussion about sexual harassment, we do not acknowledge the underlying mindsets that perpetuate discrimination and violence against women. Sexual harassment is still viewed as a perpetrator’s individual behavioural problem. In the wake of the global #MeToo movement, it was heartening to see how many women and men have found solidarity on social media while sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, many of whom had never even either been able to process or acknowledge these ugly experiences.

Unsurprisingly, on the other side, there has been backlash in abundance, with arguments invariably veering into standard Whataboutery like “Why is she speaking out now?” and “Does she want publicity?” when women come forward. We have witnessed arguments that focused on the graveness of sexual violations as the only deciding factors rather than challenging certain existing norms that allow the society to NOT believe a woman’s account of sexual harassment. #MeToo signifies a historic global moment when men are finally put under the microscope for their internalised behaviour towards women and other genders. However, very few genuine voices of reflection and acknowledgement have come forward, and even fewer confessions.

A year later, as India grapples with our own #MeToo reckoning, we continue to search for solutions towards which are beyond asking cis-hetero men not to assault women, or not to tell sexist jokes. Yet all is not lost and while there is still a long way to go, it is now time to dig deeper by asking: What can men and boys do to stop perpetuating gender biases, toxic masculinity and internalised misogyny? We need to take the movement to communities and move it beyond conversations and translate them to actions.

For this year’s 16 Days Of Activism, we present to boys and men a 16-step plan for you to end violence against women (VAW) and create a culture of gender equality:

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Actions For Boys and Men #1: Be an ally without hesitation

To many boys and men, being an ally may seem daunting even though there is an urgent need for you to be an ally to the anti-VAW movement and to the women and girls around you. If you are a beginner, find other male allies and join the fight together. If you are already an ally, you know that the benefits of gender diversity and equity are many for not just women but also men. However, it’s time to move away from the narrative of self-gain and focus on the greater good that your contribution can bring. Also make sure you understand the fine line between being a true ally and appropriating women’s voices. Oftentimes, being a silent ally who stands behind and provides support is actually much more beneficial than trying to play the saviour.

Actions For Boys and Men #2: Call out gender-based discrimination and violence

Your silence on the issues of gender-based discrimination and violence makes you complicit. Recognise that your privilege allows you to call out sexism and blatant misogyny around you. So call out other men for the use of problematic violent language against women, children, minorities or in general (eg: “What a fucking bitch”, “Man we just got raped in today’s game”, “Fucking cunts” etc). Furthermore, when you see your friends making sexist jokes and comments, call them out. You will probably be labeled as “the guy who takes these things too seriously” but embarrassing as that is, use it as a teachable moment for yourself because women have always been shut down by this kind of rebuke when they speak out.

Actions For Boys and Men #3: Do not be a silent bystander

When you stay silent while witnessing any form of gender-based discrimination and violence, sexist behaviour and problematic narrative-building, know that your silence is only going to harm the person suffering from it. Bystander intervention has shown to be one of the most effective deterrents of VAW. Call on other bystanders to intervene together. Your voice and support will have an impact.

Actions For Boys and Men #4: Talk to your sons, brothers, nephews and younger friends

Cis-hetero men and their relationships with other men and boys are often infected with a lack of emotional openness. This is your time to start talking to your sons, your younger brothers, nephews, friends, cousins and colleagues. Take the lead with having difficult conversations around gender discrimination, sexual assault, coercion, consent, masculinities, and sexualities and link it back to personal experiences and behaviours. Understand that you control your own circle of influence and that you can create an impact on younger or more impressionable men and boys around you.

Actions For Boys and Men #5:  Listen to survivors of gender-based violence

LISTEN to people who are survivors of gender-based violence (and discrimination). Just as importantly, BELIEVE them. Listen to girls and women if they tell you about their sexual harassment. Recognise that women’s fears are valid and do not treat them as hysterical. Involuntary gaslighting is emotional and mental abuse, stay away from it. The main reason why the #MeToo movement was a landmark moment is because women’s (and men’s) voices were heard, acknowledged and also at some level, believed.

Actions For Boys and Men #6: Learn to read micro-behaviours and signs of distress

In the larger context of violence against women and girls, we end up talking about issues like assault AFTER the victim/survivor has taken the courage to share. Do not wait for it to come out this way. Learn to read micro-behaviours or how someone’s behaviour is changing around you. The key is to notice changes in body language, patterns like absenteeism or irregularity of any kind, physical health issues, sudden reclusiveness or anger. Do not ignore these or any other signs of distress that women may show but not necessarily share in as many words.

Actions For Boys and Men #7: Know that consent is complicated and make sure you have it

We now realise that consent isn’t a mere “yes” or “no” in any given situation. Think about the many situations where consent may be implied but you are not sure, since no two situations are the same. Stop. Think. Ask. Listen. Analyse. Consent is complicated like all human behaviour. Create an open space with your partner/s to be able to comfortably have a dialogue. Do not make assumptions on the other person’s behalf.

Actions For Boys and Men #8: Check your personal behaviour

In trying to create a gender equal society, it is also important to self-reflect on issues like class, caste, gender, race, sexuality, identity, power, and economic status. People’s identities intersect in any given situation. Recognise your own privilege and conditioned problematic behaviour like mansplaining, toxic masculinity, lack of consent, etc. This exercise will, more often than not, be painful for your ego but the idea is to become a person with whom women feel safe, heard, respected and valued as equals.

Actions For Boys and Men #9: JUST STOP SAYING #NOTALLMEN

This is a no-brainer. Yet this wretched hashtag and response fails to leave our social consciousness. Instead of getting defensive when you hear the phrase “all men” and retaliating with “not all men’”, shift your anger onto those men that have given all men a bad name. Call them out on their violent behaviour, and hold them accountable. Change the narrative – Not All Men use the hashtag #NotAllMen.

Actions For Boys and Men #10: Shun hypermasculine pop culture icons

When you ask a young boy ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ His response would usually be along the lines of a ‘tough macho man’. This is what young boys see and pick up from popular media – TV, movies, YouTube videos, music videos etc. Popular culture commonly throws up visuals of the buffed-up male body flashing big guns to create violent demigod-like role models that other men aspire to be. Eg: THE ENTIRE CAST OF THE FILM THE EXPENDABLES. Don’t buy into the pop culture’s idea of ‘might is right’. Rethink these icons, reexamine your own idols.

Actions For Boys and Men #11: Bid goodbye to victim-blaming

While it may seem cool, don’t judge women just because they ARE women. It does NOT matter what she was wearing, or where she was, or who she was with. Like all bad habits, cut out all victim-blaming from your life altogether. Even if she was prancing around buck naked in the middle of the street at midnight, she still wasn’t asking for it. We say this with complete confidence – NO WOMAN asks for violence. You don’t need research for this.

Actions For Boys and Men #12: Be prepared for some hard decisions

This is a tough one. If a woman approaches you regarding uncomfortable behaviour from other men who may be friends/compatriots/colleagues/family, do not immediately dismiss her or get defensive about the man’s intentions right away. Hear her out and then take action if necessary. Apply the same strategy even when boys or men seek your help in this way.

Actions For Boys and Men #13: Cut out toxic friendships and relationships from your own life

Let’s recognise that abusive relationships affect men’s mental health and life as well. These relationships come in different forms, from intimate partners to family and friends. Learn to pick up on signs of abuse in relationships and friendships that leave you mentally and emotionally drained. All forms of abuse are cyclical and this is how you can to break the chain.

Actions For Boys and Men #14: You are vulnerable, it’s okay to acknowledge it

To date, there has been limited conversation around the burdens of masculinity on men. Hypermasculinity in particular affects men’s emotional capacities as well as mental health because a man’s vulnerability is seen as a sign of weakness. This narrative needs to change. There needs to be a cultural push to address the fact that men are vulnerable and it is okay to show emotion. Cry, sing, dance, and express yourself in healthy ways to help bring about acceptance of newer ways for society to define its ‘desirable men’.

Actions For Boys and Men #15: Compassion and empathy aren’t ‘girlie’ things

First of all, there is nothing wrong in being associated with anything deemed ‘girlie’. Secondly, values like compassion, care, nurturing, and empathy are neither gender-specific nor do they have to be. Turn up your empathy levels and challenge the world to not view and treat different genders unequally. Apathy and indifference by men only add to the culture of violence. Challenge this silent kind of abuse by imbuing compassion into your everyday dealings with people.

Actions For Boys and Men #16: Know that it is a journey and you don’t have all the answers but do not stop

While we acknowledge that patriarchy affects men adversely, let’s also acknowledge that patriarchy benefits men in a multitude of ways, which in turn victimises other genders. It is, after all, a system created by men to benefit men. To date, patriarchy is very slowly being chipped away and it is important to remember that none of the progress made to date happened overnight. You may not have all the answers today but it is okay. The fight towards a gender inclusive world free of violence, discrimination and access for all is a journey. Use your male privilege for the cause because men need to be a part of the solution for everyone to prosper together.

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