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Men as allies in preventing men’s violence against women: Principles and practices for promoting accountability.

The following is a summary of a paper by Bob Pease and Ann Carrington. The full paper can be accessed here.

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Men have not always been involved in efforts to prevent men’s violence against women. This work was pioneered by feminist women.

Over the last thirty years, men have become increasingly active in individual and collective campaigns and programs to prevent men’s violence against women. The White Ribbon Australia Ambassador Program is an example of this. These men are allies in the prevention of men’s violence against women, as opposed to leaders:

Being an ally means having a supporting role in relation to campaigns under women’s leadership rather than as leaders or equal partners. This is because of men’s dominance and the privilege and the structural gender inequalities within which men’s violence takes place. [i]

This is challenging work for men and for the organisations working with them. Allies, as members of the dominant gender, can reproduce the same inequalities that violence prevention campaigns attempt to deconstruct[ii], [iii]. For example, some male allies do not see the connection between themselves and the ‘bad’ men that perpetrate violence, when in fact all men benefit from dominant masculinity[iv]. These men may also receive a disproportionate amount of praise for the violence prevention work they do, known as the ‘pedestal effect’, which can contribute to the marginalisation and silencing of women[v].

This may happen because men have a limited understanding of the structural causes of men’s violence against women and the history of the women’s movement response to men’s violence against women:

Men need to understand their role in the reproduction of gender inequality and their shared responsibility for the continuation of the structural gender relations and the patriarchal culture which supports men’s violence against women.[vi]

What is accountability and how does it help?

Accountability processes help organisations and men to be alert to these and other consequences of men’s engagement in the prevention of men’s violence against women. There is no single, universally accepted definition of accountability, but there is a range of research and practice that men and organisations can draw from to start practicing accountability[vii]. It is important to note that men will need education in accountability regardless of the type of accountability process implemented[viii].

Pease[ix] outlines a number of strategies for men to promote accountability:

  • Learn about your privilege as a man and start to reflect on and reject traditional masculinity: ‘The more that men are reflective about their own privileged positioning, and take action to challenge it, the more likely that they can be effective allies (Curry-Stevens 2004).’[x]
  • Acknowledge what men have learnt from women and the decades of work that women have done in response to men’s violence against women: ‘It is important for men to realise that we are a ‘Johnny come lately’ to men’s violence prevention and that we have much to learn from women.’[xi].
  • Listen to women: see yourself as a woman sees you. Find ways to learn from women and hear about their experiences.
  • Develop trust with women doing violence prevention work: trust is earned, not given: ‘Men have to earn [women’s]…trust by building up a track record and by walking the walk’[xii].
  • Engage in alliances and create shared spaces that can illuminate and challenge oppressive relations when they arise[xiii].
  • Acknowledge when you make mistakes and don’t get defensive: ‘Women often report men becoming defensive in response to feedback; whereas, men should learn to receive such feedback as constructive criticism’[xiv].
  • Hold other men accountable to women: it is not easy for men to break social conventions and call other men out when they are being sexist, but this is critical to building trust with women and realising accountability[xv]. Carrington[xvi] identifies this as critical to accountability and argues that allied men’s collectives have a key role to play in holding individual men, organisations and institutions to account.

The challenges of accountability

Accountability raises a number of complex issues, despite being generally accepted as important. For example, which feminist perspective should a man align himself with? While there is no straightforward answer to this question, men should attempt to understand what feminist women are saying as a collective by educating themselves on the diversity of views and making what Pease calls an ‘informed, respectful and strategic choice’[xvii].

Other challenges identified by Pease[xviii] include: balancing the learning journey allies are on with the hurt allies can cause when they make mistakes; developing multiple forms of accountability to address multiple forms of social injustice and men’s moral responsibility to be active decision makers.

Carrington notes that accountability requires a reversal of power relations and that this is a fundamental challenge of accountability:

…this is in contradiction to the conventional model where those with less power are held to account by those with more power…In reality, what power does the subordinate or oppressed group have in holding the privileged or oppressor to account? [xix]

Learn more

To learn more about accountability, read the full paper by Pease and commentary by Carrington here.

[i] Pease, B. (2017). Men as allies in preventing men’s violence against women: Principles and practices for promoting accountability. Sydney: White Ribbon Australia, p. 12.

[ii] Carrington, A. (2017). Accountability: Whose responsibility is it? A commentary on ‘Men as allies in preventing men’s violence against women: Principles and practices for promoting accountability’.  Sydney: White Ribbon Australia, p. 31.

[iii] Pease, op. cit., p. 6.

[iv] ibid., pps. 6-7.

[v] ibid., p. 9.

[vi] ibid., p. 11.

[vii] ibid., p. 12-16.

[viii] ibid., p. 16.

[ix] ibid., pps. 21-24.

[x] ibid., p. 21.

[xi] ibid., p. 22.

[xii] ibid., p. 22.

[xiii] ibid., p. 23.

[xiv] ibid., p. 23.

[xv] ibid., p. 24.

[xvi] Carrington, op. cit., pps. 32-33.

[xvii] Pease, op. cit., p. 18.

[xviii] ibid., pps. 18-20.

[xix] Carrington, op. cit., p. 31.

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