We Are Man campaign: tackling violence against women by playing on machismo?

// 25 June 2011

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weareman300.jpg

Contains description of misogynistic language (also in video clip)

EVAW‘s We are Man, an online film aimed at young men, has been released to accompany the launch of their A Different World is Possible report. (The Disorder of Things blog uses this film as a way in to a more thorough examination of the use of hegemonic masculinity in anti-rape politics. I would highly recommend this piece if you want to read a detailed analysis of how campaigns seek to recast ideas of appropriate manliness.)

To summarise, the film begins with a man standing in a mock-macho pose and jokily exclaiming “We are man!” to introduce a sequence showing men engaged in a variety of amusing “Jackass” activities such as jumping off roofs, streaking and falling over. This is followed (about a minute in) by a group of men in a skate park observing a woman walk by and one of the men saying “I tell you what, she could do with a good raping.” The other men look shocked and it is clear his statement is unacceptable to the group. A voiceover then states that “every 9 minutes, a woman is raped in Britain”, adding (as a variety of the men from the previous scene are shown, one at a time) “that’s not who I am.” The voiceover then says “we are man- are you?” just before the logo comes onto the screen with a single stamping sound-effect. Details of the website are shown underneath it.

Those of you on Facebook will be aware that Jess recently flagged this piece up on our page there, asking for thoughts. Overall, responses were positive and I can appreciate why because the aim to address misogynistic attitudes is obviously a good one. There is also an argument that attempting to reach men through apparently “male” culture is pragmatic but isn’t it somewhat problematic to stereotype men in such a way? After all, not all men are into Jackass-style antics and there’s surely nothing, in this day and age, to say women shouldn’t be. What is the implication if men are shown having a good time and the fun and games end when one of them makes a socially unacceptable comment about a woman? Is such a juxtaposition liable to be misunderstood by some viewers as a nod to chivalry and the othering of women into a sphere that is inevitably more serious?

I’d also like to think there are better ways of educating than glorifying the rules of the peer group (a standard anyone with any sense of rebellion surely ought to be questioning anyway) and I also wonder who the film is likely to influence. I suspect it will be neither here nor there to men who would seriously make similar statements to the persona non grata in the film and could, instead, end up inadvertently targeting a subversive Jackass culture and proving counter-productive by just encouraging more rape jokes. It seems to me that it could end up speaking to the kind of guys who perhaps don’t need to be told not to rape but who do find the idea of saying the unsayable appealing and don’t appreciate being preached at.

To be fair, I realise this particular film is not necessarily among the worst offenders when it comes to the upholding of the dreadful “real men” standard that is often resorted to in attempts to morally influence men. However, the message to men watching is surely clear. These men who won’t engage in misogynistic talk are collectively considered “Man” and whether any guy watching can be included in the club is dependent on whether he makes a similar stand. For me, such reductive posturing distracts from the good intentions (i.e. not going along with misogyny) by upholding a needless gender binary. After all, who cares whether someone is considered a man? Surely, that’s not the point? Also, what does it mean for women when we accept traditional stereotypes for the sake of results and safety? Aren’t we then simply striking the deal Andrea Dworkin was talking about in Right Wing Women? Is this a case of practical short-term gain for long-term pain and true equality never really being achieved?

NB: I will be away for the rest of the weekend and, though I will do my best to publish pending comments as soon as I can, any replies from me may be delayed.

Comments From You

Rowan // Posted 25 June 2011 at 8:22 pm

In my opinion, the problem is that the majority of rapists don’t really see it as rape. There’s still an image of “real actual rape” as being sinister bloke lurks in bushes, leaps out on unsuspecting (soberly dressed, obviously) woman and drags her away. So if you asked the average guy on the street if he’d do that, of course he’d say no. But if he was at a party, and she was drunk and dressed seductively, and if she’d been flirting, and he’d had a few… blah blah etc – ask him again and I bet it wouldn’t be so clear-cut. In the same way, a lot of guys may not see the way they behave as harrassment – but IF IT IS CAUSING DISCOMFORT TO THE WOMAN THEN IT IS. If she says no, or stop, or go away, then do it. It’s not rocket science.

Bo Novak // Posted 25 June 2011 at 8:39 pm

Its heart is in the right place, but the video is rather clunky. I think there is mileage, though, in promoting the notion that men can ‘man up’ – to coin a phrase – by respecting women and standing up for decent human behaviour. Make it something that men feel proud of and confident in expressing. Men talking directly to other men has to be a helpful way to go, but I agree there’s a risk that this particular effort seems preachy (which can be offputting) or preaching to the converted (which is a waste of energy).

Jason // Posted 26 June 2011 at 6:29 pm

I think that you have over-analysed this video & forgotten who it’s intended audience is. If we want to engage young men on this issue, then a nod to chivalry or the peer group isn’t such a bad move in my opinion. I strongly believe that such an approach could work.

Holly Combe // Posted 26 June 2011 at 9:44 pm

Fair enough if you reckon the approach might work but why shouldn’t it be analysed? I think there’s a wider message and impact to be considered here and would suggest it’s hardly excessive to raise some questions about that on a feminist website.

I haven’t forgotten who the film’s intended audience is (as I said, I appreciate there’s an argument that attempting to reach men through apparently “male” culture is pragmatic) but what does it say about perceptions of manhood if nods to chivalry and peer pressure are selected as the best way to engage men? Isn’t that rather reductive? And what does it mean for gender relations?

Victoria O'Keefe // Posted 27 June 2011 at 2:18 am

Most men that need to change won’t listen to women, only other men – that’s the reality. It’s wishful thinking to think that a campaign full of Germaine Greers and Andrea Dworkins would actually work.

Holly Combe // Posted 27 June 2011 at 6:49 pm

I don’t think for a second that a campaign “full of Germaine Greers and Andrea Dworkins” would actually work but does acknowledging this mean we have to resort to using methods that may actually do nothing for gender equality in the long run? Again, I’m not saying this film is one of the worst offenders for relying on the “Real Men” standard and -to be fair- the link to chivalry is fairly subtle in this case. Nonetheless, the peer pressure element is problematic, IMO.

If this film is shown to get results, that will obviously be a good thing. I just suspect it won’t have much impact on men who more urgently need to change and simply annoy/alienate the men for whom the picture is more complex. Still, even if it does work, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask “at what price?”

KRITIQUE // Posted 27 June 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’m not convinced that the film will make any difference, sadly. I feel uneasy with the idea of playing up to the stereotype of men, particularly young men as reckless, irresponsible jerks. For starters, not all guys will identify with this concept of “being a man.” For those that perhaps do, the message seems to be “hey, carry on being a dick, but just don’t rape women,” which I doubt they’ll take seriously for a minute. As has been said, the men who force or coerce women to have sex don’t actually see what they are doing as rape. They won’t “get” the point of the advert.

I think this is also likely to generate a negative response from critics of feminism, who will site the depictions of men as incompetent idiots as just more evidence that feminists and anti-rape campaigners despise men as a class.

makomk // Posted 29 June 2011 at 10:34 pm

Noticed this before on multiple occasions. There’s no incentive not to use “nods to chivalry and peer pressure” as a way to engage men, and it’s fairly effective because it makes use of an old, powerful and deeply-rooted way of exerting social control over them. Any attempt to question this can simply be dismissed as derailing the discussion away from women towards men, probably as a result of male privilege. What’s more, everyone involved can still claim they’re helping men escape problematic gender roles, because dealing with women’s issues is widely seen as the most effective way of doing this.

There’s a very similar campaign in the US called Man Up that’s been going on unquestioned for years.

Oh, and as for “upholding a needless gender binary” – from what I can tell very few people that claim to be fighting the gender binary actually are, and all forms of feminism rely heavily on it. Take a good look at the usual transphobic feminist arguments sometime; there’s no other explanation for them. (There are some people and communities that are strongly against the gender binary, but they’re not usually the ones you’d expect.)

Holly Combe // Posted 30 June 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’d say there’s plenty of incentive -from a feminist point of view- not to resort to glorifying chivalry and peer pressure as apt ways to engage men. The first is blatantly patriarchal and ultimately relies on women having to concede to men (alongside the superficial but strict insistence that men must appear to concede to women as conspicuously as possible). The second is oppressive, regardless of the gender of the people expected to surrender to domination from the group. In my opinion, this means it is surely a problematic method for any social justice movement to endorse. It’s a last resort, at best, as far as I’m concerned.

Having said all that, I agree with you that those methods “make use of an old, powerful and deeply-rooted way of exerting social control” over men. I suppose this is precisely what makes it attractive to some people who want to influence a group and get quick results but it seems to me such methods don’t really help gender relations in the long run.

I find it hard to believe the Man Up campaign you mention has gone entirely unquestioned, as the idea that the phrase “Man Up” is problematic is nothing new.

Re: transphobia. I agree this is obviously an ongoing problem but we do have a policy on this site not to give a platform to transphobic arguments so I’d suggest it’s a little unfair to refer to views expressed by other people elsewhere to cast doubt on my own comment about “upholding a needless gender binary.” However, on a different and more general note, I do appreciate that efforts to challenge traditional ideas can sometimes end up inadvertently reinforcing them. After all, you have to be able to talk about a problem (in this case, patriarchy) to adequately challenge it and create change. Feminism is a lens for doing that. The trouble is that being embroiled in such action can sometimes mean that very necessary lens ends up being applied in a way that is actually counter-productive. Activists sometimes get (understandably) so bogged down in having to prove there’s a problem to doubters that that we lose sight of the times when the problem we’re focused on tackling may not actually be the problem in question.

spicy // Posted 30 June 2011 at 5:20 pm

I’d say there’s plenty of incentive -from a feminist point of view – not to resort to … peer pressure as apt ways to engage men.

Even though research shows that peer approval is one of the major causes of violence against women? You don’t see a role in subverting this?

And I think we are all in danger of forgetting that such campaigns are not attempting to speak to the majority of readers on this blog. I’m not saying that makes such campaigns above analysis but it is worth remembering that feminists are not the target audience and that what might pass the feminist purity test has little to no effect on the intended audience.

Do you really think that EVAW didn’t test ideas with groups of men they want to influence? It’s not as if EVAW are likely to have deliberately decided to use tactics which don’t stand up to feminist analysis for no reason at all given that EVAW members include most feminist organisations in the UK active on this issue.

Holly Combe // Posted 30 June 2011 at 5:41 pm

It’s not as if EVAW are likely to have deliberately decided to use tactics which don’t stand up to feminist analysis for no reason at all given that EVAW members include most feminist organisations in the UK active on this issue.

I appreciate that (as I think the post and some of my comments here indicate). With regard to testing audiences, I’d be interested to see the results of such an exercise so if anyone has a link, do please post it in a comment here.

I’ve always argued with anti-feminists who claim feminists are actually just calling for chivalry so it does make me quite depressed when I see campaigns that seem to back such thinking up. If we don’t really believe there’s another way and that it’s possible for women and men to break free of the stereotypes that constrain us, what hope do we have?

Holly Combe // Posted 30 June 2011 at 5:47 pm

PS (@spicy): To be fair, I can see you’ve focused on the matter of peer pressure rather than chivalry specifically. With regard to that, I’m more ambivalent but -as I said- my instinctive reaction is to be uncomfortable with any domination of individuals by groups, even if it’s employed as a final and arguably necessary resort.

Added: I’ve clarified the above and removed the word “distasteful.”

makomk // Posted 1 July 2011 at 12:22 am

Holly: Firstly, I really didn’t mean to cast doubt on your comment about “upholding a needless gender binary” and see no reason why you weren’t being entirely sincere – my apologies. The problem is more that an awful lot of other people who claim to be against the gender binary won’t actually stop using it as a weapon, and arguments that something is upholding the gender binary don’t seem to work on them.

Secondly, perhaps there ought to be an incentive not to resort to glorifying chivalry and peer pressure, but a lot of the time it doesn’t seem to work that way. For a start, this new form of chivalry is at least superficially female-controlled, and not just in the sense of men appearing to concede to women: as far as I can tell they’ve set the priorities and come up with the arguments and the men involved have followed behind some time later.

Of course, this does rely on gendered notions of strength and protection and dangerousness that cement male power in the long run, but it’s not like anyone involved in domestic violence activism wants to challenge those anyway – they seem to be almost the bedrock of the movement! (For example, take a look at the arguments in almost any rebuttal of Conflict Tactics Scale-based statistics on gender and domestic violence, or consider how police policies that assume male victims of female-perpetrated violence are the abuser are justified and why putting up barriers to said victims seeking help doesn’t make most people uncomfortable.)

Oh, and as for peer pressure – past evidence suggests that people who are very strongly against a particular form of oppression when they’re on the receiving end don’t usually perceive it as such when they’re the ones carrying it out. Combine that with large chunks of the feminist community that outright reject comparisons between things done to men and things done to women, and well…

Holly Combe // Posted 1 July 2011 at 10:59 am

Much as it frustrates me, I do see why some women end up pushing for forms of chivalry. It seems to come from a sense of pessimism and the idea that men will not treat women well unless their strength and status is reinforced. I strongly believe men are as diverse as women and that this underestimates them. However, there are obviously some violent guys out there who may have been so heavily indoctrinated into traditional ideas about manhood that attempting to redirect that may seem like the only hope. Being in the thick of domestic violence activism means often seeing the worst of these cases so I’d say it’s hardly surprising if some people get jaded and think the worst of men. I just think resorting to appeals to old-fashioned notions of manhood glorifies the possible root of the problem in those particular cases and also puts out sexist messages to any men who have behaved violently but for whom the reasons are more complex than simply being unable to respect women and needing this lack of respect to be sugar-coated into something more socially acceptable.

I’d like to hear more from people more directly involved in domestic violence prevention at this point but have to say it makes sense to me that domestic violence activism is currently mainly focused on women victims (i.e. a general truth about the profile of a typical victim, stemming from patriarchy). However, I agree dismissing men as possible victims is unhelpful when it’s clearly due to nothing more than people being unable to believe a man could ever “let” a woman be violent towards him and seeing it as laughable if this happens.

Deborrah // Posted 25 July 2011 at 6:06 am

I think such an approach is brilliant. What most people here seem to want to forget is the “pack animal” mentality that young men have. It is of the utmost importance to them that they be viewed as part of the group, not different, the same, and that they get the approval and acceptance of their peers. Young men seem to NEED that, especially those that grew up without the positive influence of a loving, supportive father to guide them into manhood. If a father gives his approval of his son’s actions and behavior, the son will meet and model those expectations. If he has none he adopts those from his group.

This need to belong and be “one of the boys” is what drives gang rapes and other group criminal activities. There is always one instigator, one ringleader and the others buy in to be accepted as part of the group. Men will whoop each other up into a frenzy with jeers, elbows into the ribs, “yeah yeah!” and these types of behaviors. Males are sadly primarily followers, though they don’t seem to want to believe that either. However, the proof is irrefutable.

It takes an exceptionally strong and confident young man to say “no, this is not me and I’m not going to do that and shame my family!” to his group of friends. It takes an exceptionally strong and confident young man to stand alone and to walk away from a situation that will ultimately result in criminal behavior, or that hurts others in any way.

I think a focus on the guy that has the courage to be different is another approach. There must be a perceived benefit to him standing alone. If a man is provided ego food for his behavior, he will do that behavior.

Perhaps a video which showed such a male walking away after saying “this isn’t me!” with one other friend getting up and following him, juxtaposed with an ambulance (assuming the girl), and the other friends under arrest while the first two look on with their families beside them might be a stronger message.

Holly Combe // Posted 25 July 2011 at 11:43 am

I agree men are under immense pressure to conform and fit in but, as I said, I’d hope there are better ways of educating than glorifying the rules of the peer group. Just like women, men are obviously capable of higher moral reasoning than simply being indoctrinated to conform to superficial conventional codes based on stereotypes. I’d suggest taking the road less travelled might even give more lasting results.

It also seems to me that the burden to appear “normal” and part of a group is not something specific to men. Indeed, there are equivalent oppressive constraints placed on women and I think we’d quite rightly question those. Stereotyping men as irrefutable “followers” and “pack animals” seems rather dehumanising to me.

Laurel // Posted 25 July 2011 at 4:55 pm

i think the important thing is to have a multi-faceted approach. the beauty of feminism is its diversity. some of us can focus on working on sexism from men from inside patriarchy and tradition or liberalism, some can make those institutions more open to other genders, whilst others of us fight the constructs which create the separation in the first place. it allows us to be both pragmatic and idealistic so long as we are clear (which i think is a problem with the chivalry aspect. muddies what we are trying to achieve) about what we are telling them about women and gender and this sort of violence. we can reach more men this way. a lot of men may be converted to more radical types of feminism and gender politics outside of the box after they are reached in a way they will listen to and learn from. some are not reachable by women, nor by radical politics.

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