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Men's Voices, Men as Allies

Promoting A New Masculinity

By Rob Okun

More than a thousand men have begun to gathering this spring in Rio de Janeiro, Washington, and New York to say yes to a new day for masculinity, yes to new possibilities for men. Activists, educators, policy makers, researchers—a veritable peace corps of committed men (augmented by equally committed women allies)—are doing much more than sharing ideas, information and best practices to prevent men’s violence against women and promote healthy masculinity and fatherhood (as vitally important as those efforts are). They are also sharing a vision: a vision of men reaching deep within ourselves to uncover ways to grow personally and to play a part in directing a societal shift in how we comport ourselves out in the world—in our families, workplaces, communities and governments. Central to that vision is listening to, and learning from, women. And that means acting responsibly and being accountable for our actions.

Since visionaries in the modern-day women’s movement first pushed open the portal to personal growth and social transformation for themselves, their mothers, sisters and daughters, tens of millions have streamed through on a quest for justice. There was no sign at the entrance saying men weren’t allowed. It has only been our fear, our resistance, our unwillingness to acknowledge our privilege—and our vulnerability—that held some of us back.

And now our time has come. Over the past quarter century more men have stepped from the sidelines of silence onto the playing field of change. This spring’s conferences and symposia in Rio de Janeiro (March 30-April 3), Washington (April 14-15) and New York City (May 21-22)—as well as other vital gatherings elsewhere around the U.S. and the world—are the culmination of years of work building a movement that not only rejects men’s violence against women but simultaneously supports men’s roles in crafting peaceful alternatives.

The Rio conference, “Engaging Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality”, brought together 450 men and women from nearly 80 countries (www.engagingmen2009.org); in Washington, the title is “Men and Women as Allies in the Primary Prevention of Men’s Violence Against Women” (www.mencanstoprape.org); and in New York, it is called “Stand Up and Speak Out to End Violence Against Women” (www.acalltomen.org). Whatever the name, the goal is the same—preventing violence against women and promoting healthy masculinity. Representing Voice Male at the conferences included providing magazines for participants at Rio’s “Global Village”, sharing ideas about new masculinity in Washington and as a panelist in New York.

As men have organized among ourselves, particularly these last two decades, developing programs and organizations to address the twin aims of challenging our violence and supporting our growth, women allies have welcomed us. Today, new strategies for reaching men are being successfully tested in the marketplace of social change. Even in these economically treacherous times our “market share” is growing.

Men from around the world have created—and are creating—powerful programs to engage men and boys. Mexico, Canada, Brazil, the United States, Norway, South Africa, India, Norway, and Sweden are among the countries where men are promoting gender equality and working to prevent violence against women and girls. Out of their endeavors have come calls to action for this year and beyond, calls that are centered around ratcheting up men’s efforts to prevent violence and that encourage forging new alliances with women’s and men’s groups working worldwide. We have a lot to teach one another.

The overarching theme of the four-day Engaging Men Symposium in Brazil offers a helpful framework for the week in, week out work men are doing around the world. “Men and Violence” includes addressing men’s use of physical violence against women, sexual violence, and the gendered dimensions of violence between men; “Men and Health” involves paying attention to sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, substance use, maternal and child health, and mental health; and “Men, Caregiving and Fatherhood” suggests focusing on the critical need for work-life balance and engaging men to more equally participate in caregiving. All those involved in men’s work today will be well served by exploring these themes.

Meanwhile, for anyone interested in seeing healthy masculinity promoted in the United States, the trio of major gatherings offers a connection to the changing culture in Washington. As President Obama charts a new course for the U.S. in its relations with the rest of the world—recasting the country as collaborative, thoughtful, and sensitive, and choosing negotiating over bullying—there is an opportunity for men of conscience to move our agenda of positive masculinity more squarely onto the international stage. The Obama-Biden brand of manhood seems more open to our message than any other administration in U.S. history (see “A New Brand of Maculinity Comes to Washington” in the Winter 2009 Voice Male).

Among those with a significant global reach promoting the message of positive masculinity is MenEngage (www.menengage.org), the umbrella organization for the global network encouraging men and boys’ involvement in gender equality. Its mission—to reduce gender inequalities and promote the health and well-being of women, men and children—is the foundation of the collective work of all the organizations and all the projects that Voice Male is committed to regularly chronicling.

As more men articulate a desire to balance inner growth and outer (social) action, new opportunities to connect will present themselves. Gatherings in places such as Rio, Washington, and New York remind us how far we’ve come from the old male buzz words of isolation and individualism. The watchwords for men today are collaboration and connection. In addition to fostering ongoing collaborations with women, to create a new masculinity today means our letting go of flying solo in favor of taking the hand of another man. For men reading these words look around; he may be right beside you ready to join you in taking the next step.

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine (www.voicemalemagazine.org), a profeminist print and online publication he’s been editing for more than a dozen years. He is also former executive director of the Men’s Resource Center for Change and now chair of its national advisory board. A version of this article appears in the Spring issue of Voice Male. To learn more about the magazine or to subscribe or make a tax-deductible gift, visit its website or write [email protected].




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