Content warning: this blog post discusses gender-based violence and oppression.
Everyone has a role to play in ending violence against women, including men. Violence against women (“VAW”) is a type of gender-based violence, (“GBV”), an umbrella term for the types of abuse that women, girls, and Two-Spirit, transgender and non-binary people are at higher risk of experiencing. Violence and abuse can be made up of a range of different harms, including threats and actual physical harm, emotional harm, sexual assault, stalking, control and manipulation. GBV is not limited to people within a romantic relationship, and can occur within families, the workplace, between friends, and strangers. While anyone can be abused, women and gender-diverse individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing violence; this risk only increases for those experiencing multiple forms of oppression, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or poverty.
Everyone has a role - what can men do?
So where do men come in? Statistics indicate that women and gender-diverse people experience violence at higher rates than men; for gender-based violence in particular, women self-report violent victimization almost twice as much as men. Women are at a much higher risk of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and violence within the family. No one “cause” of GBV can be easily identified, since gender-based oppression shows up in all aspects of our lives. However, the reason this oppression continues is because we are taught sexist messages that make it seem natural for men to have more power than women and gender-diverse individuals. These messages are reinforced by the “patriarchy”, the social system where men hold power and privilege through the domination and exploitation of women and minorities. Given that men have more power, influence, and privilege in our patriarchal society, the role of men in ending GBV and VAW is crucial. We all suffer from a sexist culture that perpetuates gender-based harm. Here are some ways men can help prevent GBV and VAW.
Actions men can take to end violence against women
The first action men can take is to listen to survivors of harassment and violence. By listening to and believing the experiences of survivors you affirm that their stories have value. The process of listening should always center the experiences of those most vulnerable to oppression: it’s not about you! Accept and take responsibility for the role men play in perpetuating GBV and VAW, even unknowingly.
Next, support the experiences of survivors by speaking out. Use your voice and privilege to uplift the voices of survivors who might otherwise go unheard. Using your voice might involve calling out a friend or colleague who makes a sexist joke or intervening when witnessing a potential act of GBV. Using your voice also means engaging in education, for both yourself and the future generation. Do your research and learn about the relationship between toxic masculinity, patriarchy, gender inequality, and other forms of discrimination to gender-based violence. It takes work to unlearn social norms informing toxic masculinity––but the good news is that we can learn new behaviours centered around care, consent, and mutual respect, and break the cycle of abuse.
Another action men can take is to self-reflect about unconscious attitudes that contribute to the problem of GBV. For example, think about how your own actions might perpetuate sexism and violence, then work on changing them. Being able to identify abusive behaviour is key to the process of unlearning GBV because a lot of harmful gender-norms are reinforced through patriarchal systems such as the media. Reflect on how the mainstream expression of masculinity can lead to GBV, then share what you’ve learned to friends, family, and community members. Abuse thrives in a culture of silence; by calling out harmful behaviours we can lay the groundwork for healthy and safe relationships.
Men have a role in creating societal change
While it’s important to engage in self-reflection as to how individual actions result in GBV and VAW, structural change requires the creation of accountability mechanisms and collective community action. Enduring forms of oppression are upheld by our social, political, legal, and economic institutions, and reproduced in our daily interpersonal interactions. What does this mean? We all need to work together to create a safer and more equitable future for all. What does this look like? Support anti-violence campaigns in your community and organizations working to end violence and oppression. Volunteer your time and, if possible, donate financially to community resources such as safe houses, rape crisis centers, counselling services, legal aid clinics, and advocacy groups. These are essential services that those fleeing violence depend on. Support political candidates committed to the social, economic, and political equality for all women––especially Indigenous, racialized, poor, queer, or disabled women––and hold those in power accountable by mobilizing for systemic change.
We all have a role to play, together, in ending gender-based violence. Shelter Movers is committed to ending the cycle of violence in Canada by providing free move and storage services to families leaving abusive households. If you are interested in joining our dedicated network of volunteers, check out our volunteer page for more information.