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Men As Allies – Resisting Defensive Impulses
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Posted 10 September 2021

The following article, authored by Maddie Brockbank, offers a viewpoint on men as allies and resisting defensive impulses.

“In the current sociopolitical context, we are often inundated with news coverage of and public commentary on the prevalence of gender-based violence, where all this information is often right at our fingertips. In the wake of broader dialogues around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, femicide, domestic violence, and sexual violence, many feminist activists and profeminist organizations have called attention to the need for men to be readily involved in redressing and preventing gender-based violence based on their overrepresentation as perpetrators and as people in positions of power with the ability to enact community-informed solutions to these issues.

However, viral hashtags like “#NotAllMen” and burgeoning men’s rights movements have emerged as a vehement rejection to acknowledging men’s roles in violence perpetration and prevention. Some men may be active in these movements, while others may remain silent without challenging what these movements are predicated on. While most men do not commit violence or see themselves as potential perpetrators, we must also recognize that men disproportionately commit gender-based violence and have a unique role in challenging the dynamics and structures that facilitate this violence. In other words, men must be a part of the conversation.

When we lean into defensive responses, we often prioritize our own feelings, vulnerabilities, discomfort, and fears to distance ourselves from potentially being characterized as violent, ‘bad,’ or complicit in violence. It’s often a quick shift to innocence that impedes our ability to reflect on the ways in which we may have caused harm or how we can – and must – do better when we witness harm happening. For men, in particular, conversations about gender-based violence can evoke feelings of uneasiness and concern that certain words, actions, behaviours, and beliefs that they have witnessed or enacted have sat somewhere on the spectrum of violence.

While these discussions are not in any way easy or comfortable, we can learn a lot from defensive impulses and responses as they might indicate our own values, what we believe is important, and how we might have been conditioned to avoid accountability. In this way, defensive responses can actually be an entry point into these conversations: why do I feel defensive/nervous/upset when people talk about men’s roles in gender-based violence? Where might my perspectives on these issues come from, and how can they be challenged? What are some ways that I can challenge my own defensive reactions and those of my peers?

MentorAction, and other organizations seeking to involve men in these discussions, can support men confronting these impulses and who are interested in gender-based violence prevention and allyship. While it’s a lifelong commitment, this is a great first step.”

Author: Maddie Brockbank BSW, MSW, RSW, PhD Student

The Steel City Allies is an online call-to-action campaign to end gender-based violence. Take your #firststepfirstchange and Become a Steel City Ally