Typically, women are the ones who talk about sexual violence, whether it’s to speak out against it, to bring about change, or for the purposes of prevention. However, it would be more than necessary to have men participate in this conversation, too. That is why we are offering you five strategies to draw the attention of male-dominated spaces in regards to sexual violence prevention.
After many struggles, spaces have been forged for survivors to share their experiences of sexual violence, in order to speak out against violence with one voice. This has helped open a discussion about the issue. But what about men? Very few rise up against sexual violence.
What can be done to get men involved in gender-based violence prevention? We don’t want them to feel trapped and shut down in conversations about the topic. We would rather raise their awareness of the culture that leads to violence so that we can work together to change it.
With this in mind, we believe that the following five strategies can facilitate your interventions among male-dominated groups. At the very least, they should equip you to open up the dialogue on issues related to sexual violence.
1. Including men in discussions about sexual violence
A good way to involve men in discussions about sexual violence is to have male representation.
“A majority of sexual violence against women and men is perpetrated by men. And yet their voices are sorely underrepresented in this discussion.”Thordis Elva, Our story of rape and reconciliation, TEDWomen 2016
We understand that it can be difficult to find men to do the work of sexual violence prevention. But bear in mind that anyone who shows an understanding of the specifics of their situation can contribute. Here are a few different resources we have found that could help you overcome the lack of male participation.
Hosted by a man and using a humorous approach, the informative videos Vérités et conséquences avec Louis T. address rape culture and the crisis of masculinity (in French only). Even if it is not possible to interact directly with Louis T., this is still a good starting point for sexual violence prevention in a male-dominated space. The relaxed atmosphere certainly makes group discussion easier.
In the video conference Our story of rape and reconciliation, there is a male role model taking responsibility, which could help promote awareness among men. The talk moves back and forth between the testimonies of two people involved in a situation of sexual assault. Hearing their statements in parallel helps us gain a better understanding of the impacts, protective mechanisms, and transfer of responsibilities after a situation of sexual violence. We bear witness to a man who takes responsibility for his actions and the entire process needed to get there.
2. Having safe formal structures to address notions of gender
People need to feel safe in order to address the effects of gender on their life in a way that is honest and vulnerable. That is why the use of more formal structures could help create the climate of trust necessary for a discussion about sexual violence. More specifically, this means offering courses on feminism or social issues, setting up discussion groups, or organizing awareness-raising activities on the topic in the male-dominated spaces where you wish to engage in prevention. The following resources might inspire you :
With its formal structure, this questionnaire on gender socialization created by CAPACS Abitibi-Ouest could be a good starting point for a discussion. It could be a good catalyst for reflections and discussions on society’s expectations for girls and boys. It will also raise awareness of the ways in which society conveys these expectations.
The video Quatre hommes victimes de viol brisent le tabou et acceptent de parler (in French only) provides us with a visual example of a safe, structured group. We see excerpts of discussions between men in which they talk about social pressures, their fears and successes in connection with the situations of sexual violence they’ve experienced.
3. Talking about the effects of gender in a broader sense
Looking at statistics on sexual violence is a good way to address gender in a broader sense and help prevent people from getting defensive. If we target masculinity at the individual level, men could feel as though their personal identity is being attacked, and they might refuse to get involved in the discussion.
In addition to Louis T.’s video on the crisis of masculinity mentioned above, here are two relevant thought-provoking activities to help engage people in a discussion on the broader effects of gender.
The ManBox activity
This simple, visual activity inspired by the Let’s redefine Masculinity project allows us to address certain effects of toxic masculinity, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia.
- On a sheet of paper, draw a square.
- Inside the square, write down what defines a “real man.”
- Outside of the box, write down the words used to talk about men who do not meet these criteria.
- Based on these terms, discuss gender stereotypes or how men are presented in society.
For one-on-one or informal meetings, there is a shorter option.
- Ask what a “good man” is.
- Ask what it means to be a “real man.”
- Reflect on the differences between the two answers as they pertain to gender expectations.
4. Making connections between gender stereotypes and daily life or the news
To address the effects of gender and social norms without having to disclose personal details, a good strategy is to start with a news story. This could be a good icebreaker, helping to bring theoretical conversations to a more concrete level. Here are a few helpful resources:
The first testimony in the video Quatre hommes victimes de viol brisent le tabou et acceptent de parler (in French only) could help facilitate a discussion on the effects of gender stereotypes on young men’s intimate lives, in addition to promoting empathy towards survivors of sexual violence. The interviewee discusses the pressures experienced by men in sexual situations and how his experiences of past violence are still affecting him years later.
Tom’s testimony in Our story of rape and reconciliation could motivate a male-dominated group to change and engage in introspection. He reveals the inner dialogue, defence mechanisms and avoidance strategies he used, sometimes despite himself, following his act of aggression.
5. Celebrating what has already been done and providing positive examples to follow to reduce sexual violence
Remind men of what they are already doing to reduce sexual violence, as this will encourage them to continue. The closer the examples are to their own lives, the greater the effect will be. Therefore, don’t hesitate to highlight key people in your circle to help men identify more easily with them. Here are a few more resources that will give you some practical ideas:
Infographic The ConSENSUAL Sex Guide, by Carleton University Sexual Assault Support Centre
The ConSENSUAL Sex Guide infographic is excellent for simple and down-to-earth examples relating to consent. Several people may already use one or more of these expressions to make sure that their partner is also enthusiastic. Don’t hesitate to praise them!
Here’s a practical tip by author Liz Plank to put an end to a “joke” and raise awareness of its sexist (or racist, homophobic, etc.) nature without putting the person who told the joke on the defensive: Simply tell the person that you don’t understand their “joke.” They will then have to explain what makes it so funny to them, and might end up realizing that it conveys stereotypes.
Work that plays out over time
There you go! Using these five strategies will certainly make your intervention efforts in a male-dominated space easier. However, don’t forget that changing mentalities and questioning rape culture is work that plays out over time. Listen to the experiences of the people in your group, adapt these strategies to your environment and focus on the things that work best!