Of Masculinities and Gender

"Men are not a homogenized blob," noted Alan Greig, US-based expert on gender, violence and HIV/AIDS. "Too often the policy discourse invisible-ises men, stereotyping them as an undifferentiated mass, all perpetrators of crime. In fact, men's lives are marked by complex issues of race, class, nationality, gender and sexuality."

Greig was speaking at a panel discussion on 'What Policies Can Inspire Men to End Gender-based Violence?' held in New Delhi, recently. The discussion hoped to begin a dialogue on masculinities by bringing into the public sphere the idea of men partnering with women and girls on issues of gender equality.

The event was part of the formal launch of a four-year UNDP-UNFPA-UNIFEM programme for the Asia-Pacific region - 'Working with Boys and Men to Prevent Gender-based Violence'. Having worked on issues of gender, violence and masculinity in the US and Africa, Greig emphasized that work with boys and men must emphatically support women's empowerment and should have a clear pro-feminist engagement. Although the notion of men as bearers of solutions to violence against women is riddled with contradictions, it does help to examine diverse male possibilities, beyond the one-dimensional image of batterers and "domestic terrorists".

Greig criticized the increasingly fashionable discourse on 'men and masculinities', as frequently tending to reinforce demarcations between women and men, whereas what is needed is to highlight the overlaps in human experience.

In order to understand themselves, perhaps men need to undertake some "good old-fashioned consciousness-raising". Feminist movements discovered the potential of consciousness-raising - intensive sharing of experiences and self-analysis within small groups - as a method to transform personal identities. "We need a non-violent masculinity" and, as men, "to be in touch with our own femininity," felt Greig. Men need to reflect on privilege, and voluntarily give up many privileges. In the absence of this effort, the masculinities discourse can become part of an anti-feminist backlash. Some men, resentful of loss of privileges, can react. The privileges they enjoy can obstruct any change they try to bring about. "Each of us is a part of the structures and mindsets that we try to transform yet may often end up replicating," he said.

Quoting radical thinker Angela Davis, Greig pointed out that the state itself might be infused with racism, classism, homophobia and sexism. The men and masculinities discourse has yet to come to grips with this kind of institutionalized violence. It tends, instead, to be moralistic or pseudo-psychological: "The 'all men aren't bad' kind of talk - which is not terribly helpful in helping us look at structures."

Can such a state actually work to bring about an end to violence against women? There has been some positive policy response in the US around these issues, but at the same time they have also got depoliticized. State policies should aim at ending impunity around interpersonal and public violence, including issues such as domestic violence, violence by the police and proliferation of small arms. A slew of policies is needed. And, a much more critical engagement with men, who should be held accountable
for their actions, is needed.

Dean Peacock, Co-Director of the Sonke Gender Justice Network in Cape Town, South Africa, related further problems in the work for ending violence against women. He revealed that in a recent rape case his organization followed up, the police did not respond to repeated phone calls. Finally, when they got through to a woman police officer, she pleaded inability to investigate the case because she already had charge of over 100 cases of rape and abuse, with no investigation machinery.

Given such an overburdened and under-funded criminal justice system in South Africa, it is impossible to get justice for women. Peacock confessed that this indicates not only a failure of policies, but also of civil society organizations' work for justice. He introspected, "While we have some notable achievements, I think our network of men as partners is not doing enough for the women's rights movement. Our work is not always aligned with women's movement priorities, or realities."

Peacock highlighted the importance of working for structural change, in the face of cuts in public health, education and social welfare budgets. The overall policy environment in South Africa is neo-liberal. Economic growth is iniquitous. In this
scenario, grassroots work is all-important. Work with boys and men, even though it is visionary work, is frequently quite technocratic and elite driven. 'Gender mainstreaming' should, instead, support, not draw attention away from, grassroots work.

James Lang, Program Advisor, Gender, UNDP Asia-Pacific Region, noted that the more time men spend caring for children, the less they spend being violent. Recent research conclusively proves the benefits of men undertaking a range of caring tasks. The Asia-Pacific programme seeks to replicate such 'good practices'. At the policy level, this would necessitate changes like
paternity leave, flexible work-schedules, and on-site child care centers. The vision for such work should be long term.

The audience included a cross-section of seasoned activists and academicians such as Indira Jaisingh of Lawyer's Collective, Gouri Choudhry of Action India, Dr Neera Chandoke of Delhi University's political science department, Varsha Das, Director of Gandhi Museum and writer Anna Sujata Mathai.


More by :  Deepti Priya Mehrotra

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