The Pixel Project is pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from our partner MenChallenging, an organisation that challenges men to prevent gender-based violence and support its victims and survivors.
It is easy to miss the weight and importance of how much influence we can have over our friends and peers. It often goes unspoken, but it remains one of the most important ways that all of us can better do our part to challenge ourselves and other men to prevent the epidemic levels of gender-based violence that exist in our communities and societies. Here are 16 ways we can challenge the men in our lives to make a difference and change our culture, through talking with them and modeling accountability ourselves.
A Note from MenChallenging: Not sure how to do all this? Disagree or agree with something said below? Looking for some new peers to figure all this out with, or a partner for a campaign or action you have in mind? Check out www.menchallenging.org or email email@example.com. Thanks as always to Pixel Project for the incredible work you do!
Prompt for Peers #1: “How are you doing?”
Very often men ignore or are not aware of the pressures that trying to live up to what society says it means to “be a man” can place on ourselves and our peers. The subtle (and not so subtle) thread of masculinity and its effect on us and those around us can be hard to see unless you are really trying to look. Part of caring for your friends and loved ones – including the men in your life – can be checking in with them. Normalise showing care and concern; normalise talking a bit about how you feel. It can go a long way towards healthier, fuller lives, greater emotional intelligence, and greater empathy – all important things on their own, and all of which are factors in either promoting or preventing men’s violence.
Prompt for Peers #2: “I love you, man!”
Yup. Love. Building greater emotional intelligence is figuring out for yourself and the men in your life how you feel about love. What does it mean to you? What does society tell us love means? Do you agree or disagree with the definition? Is it important to you? Who and what do you love and why?
Prompt for Peers #3: Listen
Help encourage those around you to actively practice listening to and valuing the voices and experiences of girls, women, and LGBTQ folks. There are numerous ways that we all devalue women’s voices – in our daily lives, in society, at work, at play – everywhere. This is a problem in and of itself, but also lays a foundation for more easily ignoring or dismissing what are seen (often dismissively) as “women’s issues,” such as violence against women. Put in the time and effort to buck this trend and kick this habit! Try to slow down when interacting with women and girls and try to recognise if any reactions are coming up for you, especially when talking about gender-based violence. Catch yourself and your peers when they are dismissive of women’s voices and when they speak over or silence women.
Prompt for Peers #4: “Is this sexist?”
Yes. Yes it is. If you have to ask if something is sexist, it probably is. Same goes for if something is racist, homophobic, or transphobic, etc. Trust your gut! It obviously thinks something is up with what you are about to say. Now if you honestly can’t see how something might be messed up to say/ask/post/tweet/etc. then find someone you trust to ask, or go to the library, or use the interwebs (carefully!). I personally believe that we know deep in our gut when something we might say or hear is not okay, even if we can’t pinpoint why. And while everyone has different lines of what is problematic or harmful, we should all strive to do our best to cause as little harm as possible. It is also key to have these convos with our male peers instead of always putting the burden on women, folks of colour, and LGBTQ folks to teach the rest of us what is or isn’t ok and why. Let’s do our homework!
Prompt for Peers #5: “Um, say what now?”
Don’t automatically assume the best or the worst of your friends. If they say or do something you are not sure about or don’t feel comfortable with, ask them about it. Whether in person or online, in formal or informal settings, practise speaking up and asking clarifying questions. It doesn’t have to be a callout, it can be a question, just wondering what they meant. If something really messed up is going on, then you might want to intervene, but a seemingly simple question alone also has a lot of power to help our peers check themselves and look critically at what they say and do.
Prompt for Peers #6: “How am I doing?”
That’s right! Don’t forget to check in with yourself as well, especially if you are starting to build up your critical skills in challenging sexism and gender-based violence. It requires commitment, humility, being uncomfortable, and more, all of which can take a toll. Be aware of how you are feeling and reacting to those around you, and think about current and new resources you have in your life for support. I have a network of friends and family: some that I can vent to, some that help me with figuring out answers to problems, and some to eat ice cream and watch Golden Girls reruns with. But that’s me.
Prompt for Peers #7: “I’m not okay with that” at work
Letting someone know that you are not okay with certain language and behaviour is not always easy, but it gets more comfortable and better with practice. Framing it within how you feel about it can help a peer hear what you’re saying less defensively, and ensures you aren’t speaking for anyone else. Be aware of different resources in your workplace for how best to address different situations that arise – human resources, your manager, another manager, co-workers, someone outside of work, etc. Think about whether it is best to address something in the moment or to wait until later, about whether to comment publicly or privately.
Prompt for Peers #8: “I’m not okay with that” at school
School can be both a very challenging place to challenge harmful gender norms and behaviours and also a resource-rich environment to do so. In such a tight-knit community there can be unique consequences to speaking out but you are also more likely to find other men and boys who feel as you do. Most men and boys are not okay with sexist language and behaviour, but most of us fear we are the only ones who feel so. It isn’t true!! There are undoubtedly allies among your peers at school, among teachers and other staff, and among outside resources as well. Find them before something happens and maybe you can address problematic and harmful stuff before it starts!
Prompt for Peers #9: “I’m not okay with that” at home
Challenging sexism with family can often be difficult. It is an intimate setting, and a lot of gendered violence happens within the home or family, such as sexual violence or domestic violence. That is why it is so important to have these conversations with your male family members as often as possible. Just as important as challenging actual violence which may occur, is challenging those beliefs and norms that lay a foundation for so much violence to occur, inside or outside the home. Beliefs about masculinity and what it means to be a man, about the lesser value women and girls often have in society, and others can and must be challenged in families because so much of it is passed on from generation to generation there. That is why I am so proud of my family and the conversations we are having there – not perfect but a good start, and you can see a conversation between me, my dad, and my brother that we were honoured to take part in for the Pixel Project!
Prompt for Peers #10: “I’m not okay with that” in public
Some people are more comfortable challenging their peers in public than others. But there is a lot you can do in a public setting to let those around you know that what is happening is not okay. One concrete example is street harassment or cat-calling of women and girls. Let your friends know that it isn’t okay and isn’t a joke. In my experience, street harassment is more about showing off your masculinity than it is about actually trying to connect with someone, and therefore, there is a lot of power in letting your buddies know you are not okay with it, and why.
Prompt for Peers #11: “I’m not okay with that” online
Whether through online gaming, Reddit comments, or on social media, challenging ourselves as men and our peers to do better is hugely important. We must call out crappy language and behaviour when we see it, but also let our online friends and communities know what we are and are not okay with. Be intentional with your language and how you go about doing so, as it is easy for things to escalate in some not-so-fun ways online. Ask questions, share links for more info about what you are trying to address, try to avoid attempts to troll you or distract from the conversation. Know what resources exist as well to help address harassment or violence online.
Prompt for Peers #12: Model checking yourself and accountability
Do not be afraid to own up to times when you have been sexist or homophobic. If you are able to catch it in the moment it happens, all the better. This takes practice and courage, and you can’t do it every time. That is the nature of how oppression works: those of us with relative privilege are often blind to it (or at least we often close our eyes to it.) Practise loving accountability of ourselves and others. The more you learn about these issues, the more you might realise how you have in the past and present enabled, supported, and even potentially committed different acts of violence, or at least perpetuated the beliefs behind them. It can be a difficult pill to swallow and hard to face, but know that you are not alone, and that it is the most important step in making real change. Take it from me, it can get easier with practice. Never comfortable, but easier. Apologise and own when you have done harm, work to be even a little better every day, slow down and listen when you feel yourself getting defensive. This is critical for societal change but also for our lives as full human freaking beings!
Prompt for Peers #13: Find your allies.
I promise you, though it may not always feel like it, there are men around you who are also not okay with the sexism and harmful masculinity that exists. There are! So find them. When you speak out to challenge something, see who agrees with you, even if they do it quietly. Watch out for that slight nod of a head at what you are saying. And ask the men in your life, your friends and family, coworkers, and teammates what they feel about these issues. Find those peers who will have your back when calling something out and when you need to talk something out.
Prompt for Peers #14: Build your network
Or better yet, use networks that already exist. We don’t necessarily need more professional male feminists, we need more feminist men in our own circles and lives, connecting with our male peers on these issues. Having like-minded men to hash all this out with can make this life-long process of change easier, and even fun at times. The more the merrier!
Prompt for Peers #15: Celebrate….
Own your mistakes and when you mess up, but also own when you do well. And celebrate the same with your peers! It is a fine line to walk between acknowledging your success and resting on your laurels. The deck is very much stacked when it comes to men receiving accolades and proverbial cookies for doing the bare minimum when it comes to feminism. I experience that all the time, literally daily. And while that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate when we get something right, when we make even small changes in the world around us with our peers, it does mean we must transform those wins and celebrations into bigger wins tomorrow and the day after, and remain vigilant with ourselves and each other.
Prompt for Peers #16: But also, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
The catch of all this is that until there is major change in our communities and society as a whole, we will need to keep learning and taking action to challenge gender violence. And so we have to watch out for feelings of “I made it!”. Once we stop asking questions of ourselves and others, there is potential for backsliding and doing harm. I frame this as always trying to be at least a half step better every day. They don’t always have to be huge steps, although those are fun too. Instead, each day I’m really trying to realise at least one way I can be better as a dude, either by recognising something I’ve done well, finding an area I need to know more about, or coming up with a creative way to address a seemingly unfixable problem. I challenge you to do the same.
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