Male allies: what matters most is speaking up and holding other men accountable

February 9, 2011

In last week’s post, I talked briefly about the role “homosociality” (men’s need for other men’s approval) plays in enabling a culture of harassment. But homosociality can work in positive ways, particularly when it comes to combating that same culture.

It’s not easy. Of all of the rules of male homosocial culture, one stands above all others: the importance of silence. Men are raised not to call each other on their treatment of women, no matter how offensive or abusive it may be. To speak out, to “stand up”, is to risk being thrown out of the brotherhood.  (Brotherhood is an important subtext in the film.) To stand up against sexual harassment is to risk ostracism from a community of men whose acceptance is vital to most men’s self-concept.

The key goal of sexual harassment prevention, at least as I’ve been involved with it, is never just about reaching potential harassers. It’s about creating a climate where men feel emboldened to challenge each other. It’s about identifying the “alpha males” (not always the bosses or the presidents, just the guys with the highest degree of homosocial credibility) in the office, the fraternity, the factory, and getting them to “buy in” to the idea that men can and should hold each other accountable for how they treat the women with whom they share public and private space.

Effective sexual harassment prevention is about reaching young men, and empowering them to speak up when they see other boys or men engaging in abusive behavior.  Above all, effective harassment prevention is about undermining a culture of silence that allows so many men to imagine that they are “good guys”, even as they are complicit in the abuse and mistreatment of their coworkers, sisters, daughters, and female friends.

Let me be honest: in my work, I’ve found that nothing is more difficult than getting men to hold each other accountable for how they treat women. And yet, I’ve seen many guys start to do just that. The key, as always, is offering them role models whose masculinity is unimpeachable, but whose commitment to standing up against a culture that encourages harassment is unquestionable.

I’ve got no qualms about using the language and rhetoric of masculine culture to try and undermine the conspiracy of silence.  Though some of my feminist allies cringe when I use the phrase “real men”, I’ve found that the most successful way to reach guys is to make use of familiar concepts and ideals.   My friends at Men Can Stop Rape and the Good Men Project offer an alternative vision of what it means to be a powerful, authentically masculine man.

And what is the number one thing a man can do to be an ally?  What is the number one thing, perhaps, that separates a man from “one of the guys”?  The willingness to speak up and hold other men accountable.  Nothing matters more.

Hugo B. Schwyzer, Ph.D
Pasadena City College

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.

Thank you, male allies & survey results

December 17, 2009

Two weeks ago I asked male allies to anonymously let me know their thoughts on how best to educate men about street harassment, engage them in activism, and empower them to do something if they see harassment occurring. This was for a book I am writing on street harassment. The last four chapters of my book focus on multi-layered efforts to end it. Educating men and empowering bystanders are just two of many tactics, but they are very important ones.

Thank you to the 85 allies who took it (and to everyone who passed along the survey to male allies). I already have incorporated several people’s quotes in the sections on bystanders and educating men and the multiple choice responses were useful in helping me decide what to include as realistic initiatives.

I think the survey responses will be useful to others working on this issue, so here they are.

Male Allies

December 4, 2009

My male partner once asked if I could share more stories on this blog about men who don’t street harass women and who work to end it. I would like to, but I don’t have very many. So today I am happy to have this story, from a male ally, to share:

“A young woman was on a metro train and a couple of teenagers started to tell her in explicit and profane language what they wanted to do to her. I told them they needed to leave her alone and stop using profanities in my presence. They did and moved on. I was happy to see that a couple of other men surrounding us on the train told me that they had my back should things have gone violent.”

Fortunately, these harassers did stop. By-standers run the risk of having harassers turn on them, which can deter many people – men and women – from intervening. It makes it all the more inspiring to read about those who take that risk and intervene anyway. Men, have you ever intervened or done something to distract a harasser when you’ve seen a woman being harassed?

I am writing a book on street harassment. In the second half of the book, I focus on various ways that women and men can – and are – fighting this issue and working to stop all street harassment.

After attending a panel yesterday for work on organizations that are engaging men as allies in ending gender-based violence around the world, I was inspired to write a short, informal, anonymous survey for male allies where they can share their thoughts specifically on how best to reach men on this issue and engage them in ending it.

Male allies, please take a few minutes and share your thoughts on this topic:

Also, feel free to share any stories on by-stander intervention in the comments of this post or via an anonymous form.

Musings from a 21-year-old male ally

March 9, 2011

I am 21, male, and very grateful to have many strong female influences in my life. They have taught me so much about what it is to be a woman and go through the day-to-day experiences of verbal assault, unwelcome advances, and other explicit perverse behavior. My heart goes out to all of you that have had to suffer the immature, uncivilized conduct of what I hope is a minority of men. That said, I am still a man, and understand first hand the biological and societal conventions of men.

My story is short, and rantings long. I have devoted much time to educating myself about the differences of men and women in an effort to understand and improve my own social capabilities.

Riding with my aunt and female cousin in a cab in NYC one afternoon, we came to a stop light somewhere in SOHO. A group of men in their early twenties were waiting to cross. They were clearly staring at my female companions and my mind painted an image of a group of apes puffing out and beating their chests, making loud screeches, and throwing grass around (a la Tarzan) in a sort of primal routine meant to attract a mate. I positioned myself to block their view of my family and gave them a look that said, eloquently enough, “fuck off.”

Unfortunately this seems to be as far as a lot of “civilized” people have psychologically evolved. Our long evolved biological inclinations for mate selection and reproduction are so influential that our recently developed social structuring cannot compete. Some of the problems I have witnessed or experienced include:

Men are inevitably rejected at some point when first exploring intimate interactions, and without proper coping mechanisms, cognitive dissonance leads to justifications such as “she doesn’t like me, so she must just be a bitch” and other thoughts that can build up and lead to self loathing and increasingly more damaging interactions (abuse, rape etc.)

Women have a much greater investment in child bearing than the man, they carry the child, breast feed, etc. They have to be much more selective, and may have to reject so many advances that their rejections become reflexive and callous. It may appear rude to a shy nice guy that gets up the courage to talk to her but has no social intuition.*

Many men are so starved for physical intimacy that they try force a romantic relationship with a woman they are attracted to without bothering to look for things that really matter in a relationship, like compatibility, shared interests, good conversation, or what is often vaguely described as “chemistry.”

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of aspects, techniques, and rules of social interactions that need to become mainstream knowledge so that women can feel safe, men can experience more positive relationships, and society as a whole can function better.

– Nick W.

*[Editor’s Note: Or the women have faced so much harassment that it’s hard to distinguish “nice guys” from harassers. Too many seemingly nice guys turn into harassers, stalkers, or even abusers later.]

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.

A male ally in New Delhi, India, speaks out – part 3

February 25, 2011

[Editor’s Note: This is part 3 in in a 3 part series. Here is part 1 and 2]

For Men:

Each time you don’t have to fight back the guys who harass women on the street or hit them with your cars. I agree what I did back them in the rain was reckless and some serious damage could have been done too. But is sitting quietly in your car with the windows rolled up and the stereo on load the answer to everything?

You don’t have to be super human to fight street harassment too. At times, a simple task like moving in front of the girl and shielding her from the view of those guys is also good enough. We don’t essentially need to pick up a fight each time some guy harasses someone on the street. At times, you could do what I did, go behind the counter and help someone throw groceries in the sack so she doesn’t need to bend down.

Little things, and little efforts at times go a long way in making a woman feel a little more secure. Men need to make a genuine effort to stop street harassment too. This is not a women’s only issue. This is an issue that needs collective effort by both men and women.

Please talk to the woman in front of you, not to her chest. We all understand that you’re fascinated by breasts, but that doesn’t mean you need to talk to a woman looking at her breasts. Check your own actions. Are you making someone feel uncomfortable? Are you standing too close to someone? Is your bag touching anyone while you’re on a public transport? Do some retrospection and decide for yourself how you can make woman feel more comfortable in the office, on the streets, in the markets, on the train, on the bus.

Don’t fight each time or raise a hue and cry each time you’re on the street and you see a women being harassed. We don’t really expect that from men either. That would never work. It would only lead to fights and then that would lead to more fights. But do move a little bit to the left, or to the right, or to the center, if moving a little bit helps a random woman on the train feel a little better from the roving eyes of some ogler.

Small things often go a long way in making someone feel nicer. So do it. Watch out for Street Harassment and devise your own little ways to combat it. We don’t need to fight a world war to solve this issue. Men all by themselves can solve this if they all come together and make a small effort, a small step at a time.



This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.