Hey Bic, how about less thinking like a man, more thinking about what it means to be a man

Bic, the pen company that was previously lambasted for the ridiculous sexism of its ‘For Her,’ pen range was at it again this week, after posting then apologising for an ad it released for Women’s Day in South Africa, which encouraged women to “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss”. (Um, Bic, might we suggest you hire some new ad guys? Considering the obsolescence of your product in the digital age, you might like to take a different tact than insulting 51% of the market. Just a thought).

It’s enough to make you lament. How do we even start to untangle this web of sexist attitudes and stereotypes that are so embedded that some ad guy thinks they’re selling points? But then, another article popped out, that gave me hope. Stonybrook University will soon become the first to offer a Masters in Masculinities. Yes! Less thinking like a man; more thinking about what it means to be a man!

The course will be offered by Dr Michael Kimmel, founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, and will encourage students to reflect upon, and build more academic work around what, and how, men are taught to think about themselves, and the way they’re supposed to act in order to gain respect in the world.

In the same way that women are given a thousand cultural messages every day from the time they are born, telling them to be pretty, sweet, quiet; men are also fed prescriptive messages that tell them they have to be tough, physically strong, competitive to a point of being combative and generally domineering if they are to pass muster as a man.

Aside from the fact that it’s all very limiting and restrictive to being human – do this, don’t do that, NEVER SHOW YOU HAVE FEELINGS! – it’s also important for us to really start deconstructing what and where these messages on manhood come from, in order to unravel why some men think it is good to dominate others, and justifiable to use force if needed, to take anything they want, including women’s bodies.

The study of masculinities isn’t new, and Stonybrook isn’t the first university to offer it as an academic course – it is in fact a growing field of academic inquiry – but it is still a contentious area of work within the gender field. What the Bic fiasco demonstrates, is how easy it is for the masculine perspective to dominate and co-opt a conversation – even when it’s an ad supposed to sell to women, on women’s day. And so, there is an understandable hesitancy around work with men and boys, out of concern that it may derail the conversation on violence against women and girls and distract attention away from women’s experiences of violence in favour of, again, spotlighting the male experience.

It’s a concern that warrants ample consideration – let’s not forget the UN conference on violence against women, which women weren’t invited to.

So, with this in mind, how do we do ‘engaging men and boys’ work well? Sonke Gender Justice’s One Man Can campaign provides an example of a project that is doing it right. First and foremost, it is grounded in a feminist understanding and practice – participants acknowledge and recognise that the purpose of their participation is to prevent and stop violence and discrimination against women and girls.

The approaches taken aren’t about coming up with quick-fix solutions. A common strategy in men and boys work is to establish champions or role modelling programmes. Implemented quickly, or poorly, it’s a shallow exercise in men getting an opportunity to pat themselves on the back, without ever having to change much – or worse. But implemented well, in a prolonged way, that provides ample opportunity for men to reflect on their own histories, and understanding of what it means to be a man, and tactics to challenge those ideas, has the potential to change things.

Most importantly though, the programmes that engage men that are most effective, don’t just work with men, they work with women and girls and entire communities. They establish mechanisms – in the case of Sonke’s One Man Can campaign, via peer-to-peer education network – that involve entire communities in a conversation about manhood and the use of violence.

What Works will support Sonke Gender Justice’s One Man Can campaign over the next 5 years, to expand its work, and develop research that articulates the elements of the programme that are successful, that could be of interest and use to similar programmes.

What Works will support Sonke Gender Justice’s One Man Can campaign over the next 5 years, to expand its work, and develop research that articulates the elements of the programme that are successful, that could be of interest and use to similar programmes.


The South African AIDS Conference: bringing researchers and activists together

The seventh South African AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa in June 2015, drew together South African and southern African researchers, academics, policy makers and programmers to discuss the state of the response to HIV in South Africa and more widely. Team members Andrew Gibbs and Smanatha Willan, from Project Empower – a WWs supported programme that works with young people to reduce their risk of contracting HIV, or of experiencing violence – presented, and provide some thoughts from the event.

A conference to bring researchers and activists together
The conference was upbeat, with presentations showing a growing evidence base of ‘what works’ to prevent HIV-transmission. Dr Lucie Cluver’s presentation on cash and care highlighted the importance of broad-based cash-transfer interventions for reducing HIV-risk, specifically through child-targeted social grants. While Dr Chris Beyer spoke widely about the highly supportive evidence around Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (Prep) from recent trials.

SW: While these discussions were happening in the plenary the Global Village was hosting some exciting discussions with civil society. Ibis Reproductive Health held a critically important and lively session on reducing unplanned teenage pregnancy, and I caught the tail-end of a session debating the washable sanitary pad and how we can bring it to every women in Africa. And as every seasoned HIV and AIDS conference go’er knows when you are exhausted head to the Global Village and the Women’s’ Networking Zone, they will have some comfortable cushions to sit on while you chat to great Feminists and re-charge for the next session – thank you women’s networking zone!!

What Works about combining approaches to prevent HIV and violence against women and girls
The session we ran got off to an interesting start, first a number of our discussants got lost and then having found everyone the previous session ran over with loud debates and an impromptu march for improved health care. While we were happy to wait while the debates continued, holding a discussion session after a Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) meeting is always tricky, an impromptu march is a hard act to follow. Nonetheless we had a very exciting discussion, and following the panellists input we had good discussion with the audience, we had a teacher in the audience who shared her experiences of school based interventions, and called for greater involvement of teachers and heard from the organisation coordinating the review of South Africa’s Life Orientation in schools cirriculum.

AG: Key issues that emerged from the discussion included, the lack of a South African national strategic plan for GBV, the challenges for facilitators of having to implement interventions in settings that are often not conducive to learning and reflection, the lack of political will at multiple-levels to transform gender relationships and reduce IPV, and the ongoing challenges of implementing interventions in school settings.

While there is increasing evidence of ‘what works’ to prevent HIV-acquisition and intimate partner violence (IPV) there is often less discussion of translating this into realities, especially for young women. Dr Sinead Delany-Moretlwe – in her review of evidence on interventions to prevent HIV in young women, highlighted that while microbicide and Prep trials have been successful amongst adult women, for younger women, with highly constrained social circumstances, including experiences of gender inequalities and Intimate Partner Violence, they have been less successful. In particular the FACTS trial failed to show an effect on reducing HIV-incidence, primarily because women struggled to use the product given their highly challenging life circumstances. As Delany-Moretlwe emphasised, without tackling women’s experiences of violence, biomedical interventions are likely to always remain less than successful.

Where we need to go from here
As increasing evidence emerges from research around what works to prevent violence against women and girls there needs to be simultaneous work around understanding how interventions work, the challenges of implementing interventions and how to scale-interventions up. Moreover, there needs to be a significant focus on engaging policy makers and politicians around research programmes to ensure that positive findings are engaged with and lead to meaningful change at the national level. It will not be enough to demonstrate that interventions work, rather there needs to be as much work on ensuring that this evidence is taken up by those who have the power to influence national budgets and policies.

What Works is building evidence on how to design, implement and scale-up promising violence prevention programmes, through its Impact and Evaluations Fund. Through this fund, projects such as Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, will be assessed using RCTs. This will build a global body of evidence, on programmatic elements that could be replicated or adapted.