These days, sexual and domestic violence prevention is the place for engaging men. It has been for several years. But something I’ve noticed recently is a new focus on just how we are engaging men. A few months ago, for an academic paper I’m writing, I put out a call on the PreventConnect email group for research and articles about women’s experiences working with men in the movement. I didn’t find much, but I can’t tell you how many people were thrilled that I was writing about that topic and how many stories came from women in the group (and I promise a summary of the paper just as soon as it is complete). This is an issue we have barely addressed, but everyday I see and hear more and more people taking it on.
We’ve likely all heard of the glass ceiling – referring to the barrier that keeps women from rising to the top levels of leadership. But what about the glass escalator? The other day, a colleague in the movement brought up the concept in relation to men in the movement to end violence against women. She meant, as the glass escalator implies, that men in the movement tend to advance to leadership positions much earlier and much faster than women in the movement, and without doing the same amount of work to get there. This is consistent with data that shows this tendency in most “female-dominated” professions, and I think it is particularly important to consider in light of the strong focus on engaging men in the movement to end violence against women.
How are we engaging men? It is important to remember that, even despite our best efforts, we are doing this work in a sexist culture, a culture that values male power and leadership over women. A big piece of engaging men is working to ensure that men value and respect women’s perspectives, experiences, and leadership. What do we think about women’s ability to lead groups of boys and men? How do we expect boys and men to relate to women? What’s the role of women and girls in prevention? Of course men should be engaged, should facilitate work with other men and boys, and we need to ask these questions as we are doing the work. Just what does engaging men mean? Engaging men to do what? If we cannot answer that question, then we, frankly, may very well end up perpetuating the very social norms we’re trying to change.
How are we engaging men? And how might that play out in our organizations and agencies? In our movement? In some cases, I agree with my colleague that we may have a glass escalator effect. And it is not the end of the world or something to avoid addressing – it happens everywhere. But it doesn’t happen everywhere in our movement, so if we ask the question, if we authentically and courageously analyze our work, then we can replicated the healthy, positive norms we work so hard to promote.