Click here to view the original blog post at PreventConnect.org.
For over 18 months, we have heard women sharing their stories about sexual harassment and violence through #MeToo. For most of that time, men have been largely silent, with periodic comments or displays of support.
This has been true in Louisville, Kentucky as well. In the midst of the national #MeToo movement, we have had a local Metro Council member ousted for sexual harassment, and another round of accusations of sexual harassment in our state capital. As a result, we’ve had multiple speak-outs and other kinds of public displays by and for women – with men being primarily there (when we were) in solidarity.
As a consultant and activist, I felt it critical to add to the conversation by engaging men’s voices into this dialogue – with a particular focus of what we see as our role in responding to and preventing the harassment and violence that women and some men face. For the panel, we included representatives from various sectors of our community including Metro Council and School Board member. We also added the Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator from one of our universities, an Evangelical Southern Baptist minister, and a professor who focuses on Masculinities.
The panel focused on men’s responsibility to respond to #MeToo and our collective experience, as men, to #MeToo. The base for our conversation was that the #MeToo movement has which reminded us that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the threat of sexual violence is so prevalent that it has become normal for women. Since men make up half (roughly) of any community, if sexual harassment and violence is normal for women, it must also be normal for men. And so what does it mean for men that men’s sexual harassment and violence is normal?
This led to a very rich conversation with the following key points:
- Men’s response to #MeToo needs to be informed by intersectional theory and practice.
- We need to create more points of entrée and participation for men to feel like they have a way to become active.
- We need to invite and mobilize men from a position that doesn’t focus on shaming men, but which also supports men to experience the range of emotional responses to this issue and their involvement in it.
- The focus of these kinds of efforts is more on the environment’s that allow men to choose to perpetrate harassment or assault, then on the individual men who choose to perpetrate. This frame makes it easier for men to see roles for themselves.
- Efforts to mobilize men to respond to and prevent sexual harassment and violence must be accountable to local women’s leadership.
This panel was never intended to be a one-off event. I am quite skeptical of one-off educational or so-called “public awareness” events, as I have never seen any evidence that these kinds of events actually raise anyone’s awareness. Rather, this event was designed as a kick off. We originally planned to use this as a model and then replicate these kinds of men’s panel discussions (with some of the same and some other panelists) in various communities within Louisville. While that is also happening, we realized a more potentially impactful process. We used this panel to launch a series of community conversations exploring men’s role(s) in responding to and preventing sexual harassment and violence. The main points that emerge from these community conversations will be incorporated into a community-wide strategic plan to prevent sexual violence by 2025, which is currently being developed and which we aim to publish in late 2018 or early 2019.
We were also able to work with a mayoral candidate and have him develop a plank of his campaign platform on preventing sexual violence (so far as we can tell, the first time in Louisville history that preventing sexual violence has been a part of any campaign for city-wide office). His position is below:
“Ending gender-based violence will be a priority for the administration. I will install a coordinator in the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods to focus on the unique circumstances surrounding violence targeted at a person because of their gender. The city should use a strategy with a particular focus on mobilizing and organizing men in our community to prevent gender based violence. We should focus on ending human trafficking to make sure we are not bringing in more trafficked men and women along with our increased tourism. We also have to prioritizing funding our Office for Women to make sure we are building a city that is a great place for women to live and work.”
Beginning with just one panel conversation, we’ve been able to generate a much broader community conversation that appears to be leading to some opportunities for more permanent change – or at least some longer and sustained efforts.