Last week, we announced that we were going to start selling our “I Like My Masculinity Non-Toxic” shirts to raise money for the Center for Women and Families, so this week I wanted to say more about why we chose that specific organization.

toxic masculinity shirtA central part of BlakeWrites’ mission is to address harmful ideas about masculinity, and as a part of that, I feel like it’s necessary to use this platform as a way of empowering those who are working toward the same mission. In my eyes, if BlakeWrites continues to focus on addressing unhealthy ideas about masculinity and can simultaneously support an organization that serves those who have been negatively affected by unhealthy ideas about masculinity, we’re in a better position to address the entire issue– both the root cause and the symptoms.

From the Center’s website:

The Center for Women and Families provides trauma-informed advocacy and support for individuals, families and communities affected by intimate partner violence and sexual assault. We mitigate the impact of trauma by building resiliency and reducing risk factors at all levels. We are guided by a strong grassroots feminist history, and a commitment to social and economic justice. We co-create violence free lives, families, and communities.

We don’t mean to imply that all men perpetrate intimate partner violence and sexual assault, but we do believe that all men have been exposed to ideas about what it means to be a man that do contribute to ongoing violence.

Masculinity Isn’t the Problem– But Harmful Ideas About it Are

One of the things I’ve noticed throughout the years of speaking about gender inequality is that many men feel attacked when we talk about toxic masculinity or men’s roles in gender-based violence. It’s incredibly easy to feel the need to go on the defensive when discussing the issue, especially since it often gets framed in an “us vs them” way. Conversations about gender-based violence– especially for men– have a tendency to slide into the territory of feeling like men are portrayed as the bad guys and women are either the good guys or the victims.

This, however, is an oversimplification of the issue, and isn’t really a productive way to frame these conversations.

Being male doesn’t innately make you a villain or a perpetrator of gender-based violence, but it is important to recognize that gender-based violence is disproportionately directed at women by male perpetrators. While there are, obviously, female and non-binary perpetrators, and their crimes are no less heinous than those committed by men, I want to focus specifically on the roles that we as men play in gender-based violence. Often, male victims are brought up as a way of deflecting responsibility rather than actually focusing on the well-being of a survivor of domestic violence, so it’s my belief that in order to help male, female, and non-binary survivors alike, we have to take a sincere look at masculinity’s role in violence.

Consider the Playing Field

As a good starting point for considering men’s roles in gender-based violence, think about the power dynamics at play in daily life in the United States:

And the list could go on, especially if we looked back a few decades and recognized the relative recency with which women have acquired such basic opportunities as the right to vote, access to educate, and even public employment.

In summary, though, our society is structured in a way that gives men a preferential status, even if individual men don’t actively choose or recognize the ways in which they’re granted privilege over their female counterparts. This plays out in ways that are so commonplace, we often don’t recognize them as being a discrepancy in the ways in which people are treated.

In the workplace, women who advocate for themselves and are efficient at executing their roles are often referred as “bitches” or “ball-busters.” Men who do the same thing? Strong leaders. Men often praise other men for their sexual escapades, but write off women who have sex frequently as “hoes” or “sluts.” In the public sector, high-profile figures like Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin are consistently criticized for their appearance or voices as much as, if not more than, their policy.

For all of these reasons and more, when we talk about men’s roles in gender-based violence, this is what we’re talking about: when men have the upperhand in most areas of daily life, they have the opportunity to either prevent or perpetuate inequality in those same areas. Again, it’s not that all men are inherently violent offenders, but all men are in a position to actively oppose violence.

How Can Men Prevent Gender-Based Violence?

Preventing gender-based violence starts with examining your own attitudes, and being able to recognize when you’re consciously or subconsciously using gender power dynamics to your benefit. From there, you can take steps to level the playing field and break the cycle. For example:

  • If a woman appears to be uncomfortable, don’t assume she’s playing hard to get.
  • If you’re tempted to call a woman a bitch for whatever reason, ask yourself if you’d feel the same way if you or one of your male friends did the same thing.
  • If you’re involved in a leadership meeting or committee that only consists of men, raise questions about why some of your female colleagues aren’t present. If you’re uncomfortable being as direct as saying “hey, there aren’t any women here,” at least be willing to say “I think Sharon would be a really great asset to this team,” or something along those lines.
  • Be on the lookout for instances in which men try to use their physicalities to control women. Men will often subconsciously block women’s paths, lean over them, or flex their muscles as way of controlling women in public.

For more ideas about ways you can prevent gender-based violence, check out this great resource by MAVAW (Men Against Violence Against Women).