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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s