Thursday, 30 October 2008

Should men be allowed to march?

I think that Take Back the Night marches are great, irrespective of who gets to attend, and I don't for a minute want to criticise the organisers of the Auckland event to be held on November 1st. But a reader states, 'I think men should be allowed to march', and I feel sympathetic. This reader hasn't got the pip just because men have been excluded - he sees men as also being affected by violence.

Is there a place for men at events like Take Back the Night? It's a controversial question, and a good one for feminists to thrash out from time to time. I'm inclined to think yes, but I absolutely welcome disagreement and debate! At different times in the feminist movement, women-only environments have been crucial to women's ability to feel safe, engage in consciousness raising and plan collectively. Of course, there are still some events - domestic and sexual violence support groups, for example - where having men present is likely to be detrimental to women.

But should men be excluded from Take Back the Night? From my point of view, there are two good reasons to exclude men from events like this one. The first is to do with women's autonomy. There's nothing more annoying than having men tell you how best to run your own liberation movement, or try to take ownership of a women's issue. Secondly, there's the important issue of safety. Those who have been victims of violence may feel intimidated by the presence of men. An environment where they can express their feelings about violence without men present can be a chance for victims of violence to heal.

Balanced against these reasons for are, I think, some good reasons to include men. Males may more commonly be perpetrators of violence, but they are also victims. All three of my brothers, my father and my partner have been assaulted at different times. Of course, they've got a right to be safe, and I've got a right not to have to worry about them. (I'm not suggesting here that violence against men is the same as violence against women, or even as common - just emphasising the point that men, too, can experience fear and lack of safety. In the case of my male family members, each attack happened on the street - a form of violence with different characteristics than the kind that happens in the home, although likewise serious.) Changing a cultural view which equates masculinity with violence is a key task for feminists and our sympathisers - and you can only go so far in this task without the help of men. For this reason, I think it's valuable to have men speak out against violence, promoting a version of masculinity which rejects violence.

I personally feel comfortable with men attending events like Take Back the Night so long as they acknowledge that violence is a gendered phenomenon. That doesn't mean that violence doesn't happen to men, or that women aren't violent at times - but it does mean admitting the sad reality that some groups, including women, are more at risk of violence than others. Safety is a kind of wealth shared unequally amongst different groups in our society. Recognising this is, for me, the bottom line.

What do you lovely readers think?

I wish the organisers of the Auckland event good luck!


anna c said...

Thanks Anna - it's an important question and I'd tend to agree with you whilst also seeing the dilemna. I do think women and men should work together against violence, and if I was organising a march against (domestic)violence I'd want to make it open to men. (I wouldn't call it a "reclaim the night" march in that case, but that's splitting hairs.)

On the other hand, I just thing it's not the job of women to make a space for men to speak out about violence (though it's great when they do). I've seen men find ways of independently supporting Reclaim the Night marches, and generally opposing violence, and I think they can and should find ways to do that.

What really bothers me though, is the men who pop up to complain about this, but don't seem interested in actually doing anything. I appreciate that many do,and would also like to join the march, and that others don't know how to or (particularly having been on the recieving end of violence themselves) don't have the confidence to, and that's okay. But I've been very frustrated when I've been organising against violence against women, repeatedly emphasised that the organising is open to men too, and having no (or very very few) men bother to take part - and then popping up when women do something on their own.

I think the recognition of violence as a gendered issue is very important as well - I remember reading a blog post (no idea where) about a similr march where men were invited, and behaved appropriately, and came for the right reasons. Then at the end the women car pooled or went home in large groups or stayed with friends whilst the men strolled off alone or went to the pub.

Tui said...

I'm a bit conflicted. Violence does affect men, and (since most violence against women is committed by their partners) I woudn't be surprised if men were more likely to be victims of violence outside the home that women - no actual stats to back that up. But my feeling is that Take Back the Night, while it is about creating a violence-free space and campaigning for violence-free streets, it also, to me, is a response to the socialisation of women *not* to go out in the night, *not* to be independent. And that just doesn't happen for men. No-one warns men not to walk home because they might be raped or attacked. So, you know, I maybe wouldn't kick men out of Take Back the Night, but I think it actually does change a significant aspect of it.

Hugh said...

One thing I find interesting is that male children are welcome.

Nikki said...

Hrmmm... I don't know. I'll leave it to you guys to come up with some intelligent analysis.

All I know is that I would like to see more and more pro-feminist men out in the public arena.

Trouble said...

I seem to recall some statistics (might have been presented by a feminist Criminal Law lecturer) on victims of violence and gender. My memory is fuzzy, I don't know whether the data relates to assaults or homicides. In either case, by far and away, men are both the primary perpetrators and victims of violence - male assaults/kills male is the most common. Male assaults/kills female is a smaller category, and female assaults/kills female or male much smaller in turn.

In that sense, public place violence against women is disproportionally represented as a problem. Men are more likely to benefit from a reduction in late night assaults, especially when violence against women is far more likely to be in the home than out on the town.

The problem is one of perception rather than reality - if people perceive being out alone at night as dangerous for women, then women's freedom to go out alone is curtailed, and sympathy for them on the rare occasions where they do get attacked can run dry. But if your point is to stop as much violence against women as you can, you need to reclaim the living room rather than the night.

Anita said...

A march made up of women is different from a mixed march, is different from a march of women, children and transgendered and intersex. They feel different, the experience of being part of them is different, the perception of onlookers is different.

Which of the three should organisers choose? The one that best creates the feeling, experience and perception they want.

I know that sounds like a complete cop-out; but what I'm trying to say is that the make up of the march is a personal and political statement, it is part of what is created, what is expressed and what is heard. By telling the organisers who they should invite to be part of their march you are telling them what they should and should not be expressing.

If you feel that any of the three would create an unacceptable message then say that. But it's impossible to critique the make-up of the march without critique-ing the message – are we really telling them what message we think they should have?

If I were to organise a march about violence I might have a different message, and make different decisions about who to invite. But that's because I would be trying to acheive something different.

I think it would be great if there were more public statements about the unacceptability of violence in our communities; violence against women, violence against children, violence against men, violence against GLBT people, violence against immigrants... . Maybe the answer is to have more marches, maybe the answer is to create the event that expresses the message you want to express, to invite the mix of people you want to express it with.

Caroline said...

Anonymous Anita said...

"A march made up of women is different from a mixed march, is different from a march of women, children and transgendered and intersex."

as an intersex woman, I'm rather intrigued by this statement. Do you mean to imply that intersex women might be excluded from 'women reclaim the night' marches?

Brett Dale said...

In the field that I work, most my colleagues are female, and throughout the years it has surprised me about the horror stories they have told me.

I personally have had both male and female friends attacked, its very scary, but I can kinda understand how this should be a female only march, in saying this there are a heck of a lot of males who want the streets back also.

lauredhel said...

I've seen a few RTN events this year advertised as explicitly including transwomen and intersex people in the marches, and none excluding them. I'm not sure if there is any central policy.

Anita said...


I don't mean that intersex women would or should be excluded from RTN marches; simply that the marches would be different if they were excluded (or not explicitly invited).

IMHO one of the critical issues around intersex and transpeople in this kind of context is whether they are explicitly invited, and whether the invitation implicitly or explicitly requires conformed to normative gender stereotypes.

For example a RTN march could invite
a) Women
b) Women (including intersex women and transwomen)
c) Women, intersex and transpeople.

Those invitations would be very different things, while intersex women and transwomen would (presumably) be allowed to attend all three the extent of their welcomed-ness and the extent of the requirement to conform would be very different. Many may feel equally comfortable in all three situations, but not everyone would.

Each would also present to the rest of the participants and the audience a slightly different message about both gender and the experience of gendered violence.

P.S. I'm not quite sure what you mean about being Anonymous. Like many here I choose to use my first name when posting, as it happens it's convention not an attempt to hide my identity.

caroline said...

Anita wrote: P.S. I'm not quite sure what you mean about being Anonymous. Like many here I choose to use my first name when posting, as it happens it's convention not an attempt to hide my identity.

I didn't mean anything by the word 'anonymous'. I don't remember typing it, and I was surprised to see it come up in my post. So if there's anything you should read into it, it's that I don't get computers

Samuel said...

Hmm. As a man I agree that men ought to be taking independent steps to organise against violence (of any sort), and I think it's great that men be encouraged to do so. I'm not sure, however, that this goal is going to be reached by essentially requesting that men stay away from an organised march to take a good look at themselves, rather than coming along, interacting positively with other marchers, and perhaps gaining the kind of understanding that would allow them to begin organising against violence independently.

I realise the need to think about what I can do as a man to combat violence and discrimination against women and other marginalised groups. It's the awareness that I don't really possess the appropriate knowledge or mental tools to do this by myself which leads me to regularly read this blog and others. I acknowledge my ignorance and want to correct it by interacting with feminists and feminist ideas. As such, it seems a bit weird to me to be requested to put something together independently with other men, when I *know* that a public march - organised by people with experience of violence/discrimination, with the knowledge and skills to organise effectively, and whose aims I completely agree with - is already happening somewhere else.

That said, I respect the decision of the organisers, having read the rationale in several blog posts and comments here. Deliberately showing up against the request of the organisers would hardly be in the spirit of things, even if I had known about the event a bit earlier...

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that for many organisers it's about violence against women. They don't think it's about violence so much as it's about women - most violence is irrelevant to them. So I'm not involved.

As far as organising against violence in general I pretty much limit myself to wowserism - trying to restrict drug availability and use by writing letters to politicians (since much violence is directly related to drug use); and similarly campaigning for more less violence in the media, more education (general, not anti-violence) and so on. I believe the most effective anti-violence organisation in NZ is The Plunket Society (but maybe that's just me).


the Scarlet Manuka said...

While it would be convenient to join in something that somebody else has organised, I think that men would benefit from doing our own events. It could provide an unmistakable message that men are involved in this work, drawing in more men (and hopefully encouraging women) and helping to change the dialog amongst men. Mostly, for myself at least, crossing the threshold of doing something yourself can activate you more thoroughly than tagging along on somebody else's event. I slightly fear that it might become obvious how lacklustre many of us men are, but there is an increasing presence of male voices which give me hope.

As for RTN, the most recent of which is already past, are there roles in which men might support the event but not participate? Playing an unobtrusive and deferential role with respect to women is good practise for many of us. Perhaps we could set up / tear down, or drop off some baking?

Hugh said...

They don't think it's about violence so much as it's about women - most violence is irrelevant to them. So I'm not involved.

So you think it's illegitimate for women to focus on issues that effect women disproportionately? Or you just don't participate in protests that don't address issues that directly affect you?

Anna said...

Thanks to the blokes who've had some input on this thread - I find it really interesting to hear from men who sympathise with the aims of RTN and can discuss it without resorting to a 'why can't we have what the girls have got' type of argument.

There are still blokes about who support anti-violence against women actions, but more out of the rather conservative idea that you shouldn't hit things weaker than yourself - girls and nerds with glasses. So hearing views from men which are more aligned with feminist goals is great!

Heine said...

While I understand my views may be rubbished on this I will add my opinion to this.

I support the idea of RTN and if they don't want men involved them that it their choice. I have been at RTN events over in London where many participants are still wary of males and want events to be 100% female. Sure we must work together on this - but there are other ways men can get involved. The blokes I've seen getting involved in this cause are 100% sympathetic to the issue and so none have felt left out of the marches either.

One step at a time I think.

Anna said...

I don't think that's a view which particularly deserves to be rubbished. How exactly feminists and supportive men work together against violence is obviously important (and changes depending on the context), but more important is that they share the same goals. Although my personal preference is to work alongside men, I acknowledge there are very good reasons why women might want to stage women-only events. Men who are genuinely supportive will be sympathetic to this, I think.