To combat gender violence, women have a natural ally: men

Most men agree that gender-based violence is wrong. But many also mistakenly think it is rare.

In fact, most men “probably know and love women who have been victimized, and men who have perpetrated,” said Rus Funk, Coordinator of Male Engagement at The Center for Women and Families.

Funk and Ben Atherton-Zeman, a spokesman for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, have traveled extensively to get men to question male and female stereotypes and urge them to take a stand against abuse wherever they find it.

Understanding gender-based violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) can harm men or women, but women are most often victims. “[It] cannot exist without a culture that favors my gender, my race, heterosexuals, etc.,” Atherton-Zeman said. “If we work to end the pressure to ‘be a man’ or ‘act like a lady’ in certain rigid ways,” he said, “then we will see a day when gender-based violence is a thing of the past.” He notes that younger people increasingly reject the male and female stereotypes that can underpin gender-based violence.

He himself has learned a lot by listening to women. “What I hear them say is: a) GBV cuts across all races, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, etc.; b) most GBV is perpetrated by men; and c) not enough men are speaking out against it.”

Funk teaches men to recognize that they may regularly receive messages that conflict with each other. First, their cultures may tolerate or even encourage male dominance. At the same time, their cultures expect men to value women and girls. He holds workshops in which he challenges men to realize that dominant behavior can and does get in the way of a man’s being a “good and healthy dating partner.”

Participants in the workshops come up with ways that men can create social environments that encourage a man to be the kind of person someone would want to date and put being that person ahead of any code of dominant behavior.

Atherton-Zeman uses humor to get the message through. His 36-minute play “Voices of Men” includes celebrity impressions such as James Bond and Austin Powers to help men realize their own role in perpetuating violence or abuse.

“The humor helps to reduce audience defensiveness and victim-blaming — they are so busy laughing, they learn things without even realizing it,” he said.

Approximately one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. Learn about what you can do in your own community at yali.state.gov/16days.

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