Well meaning men

29 Mar

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By Wanjala Wafula

 

 

This piece is dedicated to comrade George Somo, a childhood friend who celebrated twelve years of marriage to cheerful Marie Munge. During the ceremony, Marie described George as “a remarkably good guy. Not one of these who would assault a woman. He openly abhors any form of violence against women and continues to oppose customs and traditions that define him as so. He has never smacked me neither has he been aggressive to me at any given time. We occasionally have our differences but amicably settle them. He is an excellent companion everywhere (she giggles). I would settle for him a million more times if I have to. He takes time to listen to me and lets me have my way. He keeps no secrets to himself and his troubles and distress are our joint burden. You are a well meaning man George and I love you so much” she concludes as the diminutive gathering applauses in esteem.

A well meaning man is a man who believes women should be respected, including his wife, girlfriend and other women in his life. A well-meaning man does not assault a woman neither does he use his potency to hurt others including women and girls. A well-meaning man believes in equality for women, that women should be treated fairly and justly. A well-meaning man, for all practical purposes, is a nice guy, a good man and a friend. Well meaning men are not the ‘know it all type’.

My work, my vision, is not to “bash” well-meaning men. An assault on men is not going to end the assault on women. I seek to help men understand, through a process of re-education and accountability that, despite all our goodness, we men have been socialized to continue a system of domination, dehumanization and oppression of women. I seek not to see things from the outside but continually examine myself and work with thousands of men and boys around the world.

At first I felt insulted, thinking (and sometimes verbalizing) “I’m a good guy, I’m no sexist, and can’t even hurt a fly” This remained my mindset for quite some time. Only through a series of events that challenged me did I begin to dismantle my cherished belief. I immersed myself in learning, owning and addressing my sexism, as well as the collective sexism of men. I began to understand, to see that what emerged in my consciousness was that domestic violence, sexual assault and all other forms of violence against women are rooted in a sexist, male dominating society enshrined in patriarchy and manifested through negative masculinity.

As well-meaning men, through our inaction, have allowed violence against women to be seen as a “women’s issue.” We spend little, if any, time addressing this epidemic. We look at violence against women through our own lens, a male socialized perspective that leaves little room for any true accountability for men. We don’t mean to harm women; many of us have no idea what we’re doing. Rather, we are just going with the flow, doing things as we always have. This approach has limited our ability or willingness to be concerned with how we affect women or how women experience us. One of the key things we have not done, and continue not to do is listening to women and giving them space to realize self-actualization.

Profoundly entrenched in the socialization of all men, well-meaning men included, is the conscious and unconscious ability (and sometimes desire) to tune women out, to silence them, to take away their voice, to not listen. Many men justify this action by saying that women talk too much, or they nag. We make no connection to the reality that if men would listen, women would not need to repeat themselves or be so detailed. As men, well-meaning men, if we choose to listen to women and take their direction, we could actually end violence against women as we know it here in Africa.

Three key aspects of male socialization that create, normalize and maintain violence against women are: Men viewing women as “less than”; men treating women as “property”, and men seeing women as “objects.” All three are major contributors to violence against women, perpetuated consciously or not by all men, including well-meaning men. We must begin to examine the ways in which male socialization fosters violence against women. We must begin to examine the ways we separate ourselves from men who assault and abuse women, while simultaneously (through our inaction) giving them permission to do so. We make monsters out of them as a means of supporting our position that we’re different from them. We remain focused on fixing the issue, amplifying their violence, blaming family history, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, or an inability to manage their anger, while for the most part, these are not the reasons men abuse women.

It makes sense that we would expend the energy to “fix” them in order to maintain and even strengthen our status as “good guys.” In doing so, we squeeze out the space needed to understand and acknowledge that violence against women is a manifestation of sexism. Once we can admit that violence against women springs from sexism, we have to acknowledge that all men are part of the problem and that all men have a collective duty and responsibility to end violence against women.

The men we identify as “the bad guys,” who assault and abuse women, largely do so by choice. Through our silence, these men receive a kind of permission to behave this way from those of us well-meaning men. We give men who abuse and assault permission in several ways: We stay quiet, “mind our own business”; we minimize the consequences and have limited means to hold these men accountable. We historically hold the view that violence is actually only physical abuse or sexual assault. Taking this position allows us to leave ourselves out of the equation and puts distance between the abuse and us.

Okay, some of you may be saying, “Slow down you’re throwing too much at men too fast.” All right, I will slow down. I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned, step-by-step at any given chance. We’ll do it together as I continue to do with men all over the continent. I will share with you many of my personal experiences, some that are so pitiful. It is critically important to note that what I’m sharing is based on the teaching of women. If there is any contribution that I have to offer it is that I am finally starting to listen.

What I’m sharing also grew partly out of a series of discussion I have had with men over the last seven years; men of all ages, ethnic groups, levels of education and family backgrounds. What did they all have in common? They were all “well-meaning men”. I invite you to join in and examine your own role as a well-meaning man in society. I invite you to begin to challenge other well-meaning men to join you.

Together we can create the social change that will help to create a world that is more respectful of and safer for women and girls.

 

This work is long overdue. It’s time to get started.

 

The author is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative which a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

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