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Men Can Be Allies in the Movement to End Violence Against Women

03/12/2014 01:06 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Given the recent incidents involving male students from the University of Ottawa, and other incidents of sexual violence that have happened in universities across the country over the last few months, several commentators have raised concerns regarding the rape culture on university campuses. Drawing upon a feminist perspective, female students and faculties have initiated diverse actions to end violence towards women, but we now ought to consider how men can act as allies in this movement.

Men's reactions

It is not unusual that men get angry when someone talks or writes about men's violence towards women, refusing to consider male violence as a major social issue. Those men tend to minimize, justify and legitimize other men's violent behaviours, and some men even position themselves (and the other men) as victims. According to them, men are victimized by women, as well as by feminism, which is about women's supremacy over men. It is unlikely that those men, who refuse to question their privileges, attitudes and behaviours, can be allies in the movement to end violence towards women.

However, not all men react in the same way. In this regard, several men do not relate to the concerns raised by their female counterparts -- "I'm not a rapist, I'm not one of those crazy guys who assault women." For them, men's violence towards women is a distant problem, which is perpetuated by a small number of sexually deviant men -- the"rapist", the "pedophile", etc. Those men are not necessarily hostile to a feminist perspective, but they do not quite understand how they contribute to this phenomenon, or how they could help to prevent violence towards women. I believe that those men are the ones who could be convinced to act as allies in the movement to end violence towards women.

In contrast, some men seem to be more aware of the issue, and therefore believe that they should act as allies in this movement. I think this is possible, but under certain conditions.

Some conditions

As men, we should take the following elements into account in order to act as allies in the movement to end violence towards women:

1. We need to recognize the contribution of feminists, as well their role as leaders, in the struggle to eliminate violence towards women.

2. We need to learn to deal with the mistrust or reluctance that some women might express towards us concerning our participation in the movement to end violence towards women. Considering how several men react when someone talks or writes about men's violence, and the persistent power imbalance between women and men in society, it is easy to understand the women's mistrust and reluctance when a man wants to get involved this movement.

3. We should not expect that women will thank us or that they will see us as "exceptional" because we have been involved in the movement to end violence towards women.

4. We need to take full responsibility for our actions as well as for the role we play within the patriarchal system. As men, we must recognize that our position in society confers certain privileges on us, and that we can contribute to reproducing inequality between men and women and legitimizing male violence -- even though we are not "rapists."

5. In all aspects of our lives, we need to take a stand, clearly and explicitly, against any form of violence against women. That is to say, our words must lead to concrete action in the struggle to end violence towards women.

A collective responsibility

Women should not rely on men to end violence towards women. Indeed, a historical perspective reveals that, without the work of feminist activists, men would not have recognized sexual and domestic violence as major social issues. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that, as men, we must act as allies in the movement to end violence towards women, and try to convince other men to do the same.

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