One of the more challenging aspects of working to end domestic violence, sexual assault and other gender-based violence is that these issues are primarily considered women’s issues. This is a function of male privilege: because men are less likely to be impacted by gender-based violence, many do not view it as an important issue that is worthy of their time and attention. They may even deride other men who do get involved in the fight to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
Male privilege blinds many men to gender-based violence because they are less likely to be directly affected by it. As Jackson Katz has pointed out, when people hear the word “gender,” they think women — much like how they think “gay” whenever someone mentions “sexual orientation.” Male is considered the default or normal, so if you are talking about gender, it must be about women — and therefore it isn’t applicable to them.
But gender-based violence is not a women’s issue. Men are the primary (but not exclusive) perpetrators of these crimes, yet the burden of solving them largely falls upon women — who are more likely to be the victims. This is male privilege: because most men are not directly affected by gender-based violence, they often feel free to dismiss or ignore it. This puts the responsibility for fighting against these crimes squarely on the shoulders of the people who are most likely to be the victims of it.
So what can men do to change this dynamic? The first step is to stop viewing gender-based violence as a women’s issue. It is something that should concern all of us — and that we should all work together to end. Next, men have the unique ability to use their privilege for good in this realm. Men are more likely to hear comments or jokes from other men that degrade or objectify women. They can use their privilege to call out other men or to say that talking that way about women isn’t right. They can also speak up about gender-based violence and help to destroy the stereotype that these are women’s issues. Men can also use their privilege to advocate for change in concrete ways, advocating for laws that would increase punishments for crimes that disproportionately affect women or seeking justice for victims of these crimes.
Beyond simply speaking up on behalf of women, men can take concrete steps towards equality for women. This step will necessarily reduce male privilege, as when women gain more power, the advantages of being a man in our society will decrease correspondingly. How can men do this? They can advocate for pay equality (or closing the gender pay gap), supporting women in positions of leadership, and by refusing to consume media that objectifies or degrades women or to purchase products from companies that do the same in their advertising. By taking action in these ways, men can use their privilege for the ultimate goal: true gender equality.
Having male privilege — or being a man — is not a bad thing in and of itself. What is important is how you use that privilege. Men can and should be at the forefront of the movement to end gender-based violence, putting their privilege to work to be part of the solution. If you’re in Westmoreland County, you can start by joining our Men As Allies group, or participating in our Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event. Check out our website for more ways to get involved!