One of the core causes of sexual assault and interpersonal violence is gender inequality. The premise of this perspective is that men’s sexualizing of women, coupled with the devaluing of women broadly leads individual men to act in abusive, harassing and assaultive ways. Furthermore, individuals exist in the Social Ecology (below), and their individual attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are reinforced in a number of ways at all levels of the social ecology. So the individuals who sexualize and devalue women and girls often have friends and family members that share these ideas; work, go to school and play in organizations where these kinds of attitudes are supported or encouraged; live in communities where women aren’t seen as equal persons; and live in states or countries where policies don’t value women and where they see a constant media messaging the promotes the sexualizing and devaluing of women and girls.
In short, sexism is one of the significant factors that drives men’s violence. Men who believe that men are more valuable than women, or that men have the right to be in a dominant role in their relationships with women are more likely to be abusive and tend to be more violent them men who don’t. They are also less likely to be engaged as allies. The Centers for Disease Control includes “hypermasculinity”, “adherence to traditional gender roles”, and “hostility to women” as three risk factors to perpetrating sexual violence.
Those environments that tolerate or promote that men are more valuable than women, and/or that women are objects, tend to be environments that have higher rates of, and more extreme forms, of violence, abuse and harassment against women and girls.
Men who are abusive tend to have peer groups that support male dominant attitudes and beliefs are less likely to support each other to be active allies. Organizations and communities that reinforce women’s subordinate position to men (either overtly or covertly) are environments in which men’s violence tends to be more frequent; and are environments that support men’s bystander attitudes and behaviors. And states that don’t take violence against women or gender equality seriously (which is evidenced by both laws and the conviction rates of rape and domestic violence) tend to be inadequate in holding men who do perpetrate violence accountable.
It’s critical to remember too that sexism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sexism, racism, homophobia and other biases exist in the same environment and reinforce each other. In this environment, men with white skin live in an environment where they are supported to sexualize and de-value women and girls, and in which they are encouraged to sexualize and de-value black and brown women and girls differently; and lesbian and bisexual women differently still. These differences also fuel men’s violences against women and girls. This, I argue, is one of the reasons that black and brown women face higher rates of violence than do white women, and trans women (especially trans black and brown women) face violence rates roughly 4 times the rate of cis-gender white women.
Since sexism drives men’s violence, promoting gender equality needs to be front and center as a part of efforts to prevent sexual and domestic violence.
The evidence from the global movement to engage men and boys reinforces that efforts to engage men and boys is most effective when it is a part of efforts that create environments that support men’s engagement in efforts to promote gender equality or justice. In other words, not only do we need to develop efforts to empower men and boys to promote gender equality, but if we have any hope of being successful, we also have to work to create environments (schools, businesses, places of worship, locker rooms, ball clubs, basketball courts, etc.) that support and encourage men to act as allies.
Regardless of how we describe what we’re doing, our work is doing both — preventing intimate partner and sexual violence and promoting gender equality.
I started RusFunk Consulting, to a large degree, because these services were not being offered and are minimally available. While there are efforts to help develop the confidence and skills of practitioners to engage and organize men and boys, few also work to develop their capacities to help create the environments (organizational culture, community social norms, administrative policies) that support men’s engagement. Recently, for example, I developed an organizational self-assessment tool for organizations to explore their readiness to engage men as allies; and am finalizing a community and campus version of these assessment tools. Based on these assessments, we can then work with organizations, campuses and communities to build on the strengths identified in the assessments in order to fine tune their capacities. And from here, develop a strategic plan that is grounded in the context of the organization, campus or community in order to best engage the men in that community to act as an ally in ways that make the most sense to that organization, campus or community.
I also provide my services in a way that is explicitly intersectional. My trainings and consultancy packages are designed to help community based organizations, campuses and state agencies and coalitions to develop their confidences and abilities to engage men to be able to act as allies for each other (racially, ethnically, sexually, faithfully, and more), in order to act in alliance of all women.
The ultimate goal of gender equality, by definition, means we’ll be doing things better to reduce and ultimately prevent men’s violence against all women and girls… and against each other.
© 2017 by Rus Ervin Funk
(A version of this article was originally published in the Aug 2015 issue of the Own It Newsletter)