Skip Navigation
By on April 18, 2014

Engaging men to do what? The glass escalator effect and the movement to end violence against women

escalatorThese 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.



7 responses to “Engaging men to do what? The glass escalator effect and the movement to end violence against women”

  1. Kudos for calling out this important issue. I really appreciate the question about what we think about women’s ability to lead groups of boys or men. I’m culpable of thinking that males need to hear stuff from their peers and people they can easily identify with. While there is some known truth in that, that people are very influenced by their peer groups, we also know that men and women influence each other all the time. Maybe we are doing ourselves a big disservice to think we have to have a man leading other men. We are certainly inadvertently undermining the leadership of women. Lots of food for more thought.

  2. Nice essay Ashley! I am pretty sure I am the colleague you are referring to, since I wrote about the glass escalator effect in my dissertation on men’s involvemen in anti-violence work. I am currently working on an article about it now. If anyone is interested in reading more about this issue, I’d he happy to hear from you and discuss it! -Kris Macomber

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful post. These issues are critical ones. And yes, the ‘glass escalator’ shapes men’s rise to prominence in violence prevention work just as it does in other domains. (And just as elsewhere, this ‘glass escalator’ effect is likely to be structured by inequalities and privileges associated with race/ethnicity and class and not just gender, as e.g. Adia Wingfield (2009) documented.)
    There are a few places where these issues have been aired. In a book chapter I wrote 11 years ago, I wrote:
    “The public reception of men’s anti-violence work also is shaped by patriarchal privilege. First, men’s groups receive greater media attention and interest than similar groups of women (Luxton, 1993: 368). This is partly the result of the former’s novelty, but it is also a function of the status and cultural legitimacy granted to men’s voices in general. Second, men acting for gender justice receive praise and credit (especially from women) that is often out of proportion to their efforts. Any positive action by men may be seen as gratifying in the face of other men’s apathy about and complicity in violence against women. Third, men are able to draw on their and other men’s institutional privilege to attract levels of support and funding rarely granted to women (Landsberg, 2000: 15). This can of course be turned to strategic advantage in pursuing an end to men’s violence.”
    Source: Flood, Michael (2003) Men’s Collective Struggles for Gender Justice: The Case of Anti-Violence Activism. In The Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities. Eds Michael Kimmel, Jeff Hearn, and R.W. Connell. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (Available at:,%20Men%27s%20collective%20struggles.pdf)
    Ben Atherton-Zeman has a valuable discussion of these issues here:
    Atherton-Zeman, Ben. (2009). Minimizing the Damage – Male Accountability in Stopping Men’s Violence Against Women. Voice (Newsletter of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Spring 2009. (Available at
    Michael Murphy raises critical questions about the movement’s reliance on hegemonically successful men in this piece:
    Murphy, M.J. (2010). An open letter to the organizers, presenters and attendees of the First National Conference for Campus Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-Violence Groups (St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, November 2009). The Journal of Men’s Studies, 18(1).
    He writes, for example:
    “WHO HAS AUTHORITY TO SPEAK? Several conference participants asserted the importance of enlisting the “bell cows”: male leaders in athletics, fraternities, and other campus activities who might influence their male peers around issues of violence. Unspoken was the understanding that the credibility of these “leaders” is grounded in their conformity to gender norms; i.e., they are males who, in the eyes of their peers, excel at heterosexual masculinity. Gender non-conforming males are rarely elevated to positions of leadership by their more-conventionally gendered peers. We ask: what contradictions are involved when males who already do masculinity “normally” ask other males to do masculinity “differently” (i.e., embrace non-violent masculinity)? What message is subtly conveyed about gender variance when only gender-normative males are deemed competent to persuade other males to transgress gender norms? What incentive is there to do gender differently if we continue to reward, celebrate, and affirm only the gender conforming? What real-life lessons, practical tools, and survival skills do gender-normative males have to offer on the topic of gender variance? Why would we expect this strategy to survive the well honed “bullshit detector” of today’s cynical and media-savvy youth? The hypocrisy here seems self-evident and is likely apparent to males already at risk with their male cohort for taking a stand against violence. Worse, such an approach sidesteps honest discussion of the hard personal and political work required to bring about gender justice and the very real costs some pay for taking a stand against violent masculinity: broken friendships; social ostracization; violent retribution, etc. Perhaps instead of the “bell cows” we need to look to the “belle bulls”—feminine males, masculine females, and transfolk—for models of courage and resilience in the face of oppressive gender norms.” (p. 106)
    Finally, in a speech I gave at a national White Ribbon conference late last year, I said:
    “Men’s violence against women is sustained by rigid gender codes, the policing of manhood, and by rigid constructions of a gender binary between masculinity and femininity, men and women, and male and female. Social marketing efforts engaging men in violence prevention often rely on ‘real men’ who are good at performing some of the dominant codes of masculinity, e.g. as sporting heroes or corporate leaders. But we also need to affirm and promote men who don’t fit dominant codes of masculinity: girly men, gay men, sissy men, and transgender men. In other words, part of our work should be to break down narrow constructions of manhood and powerful gender binaries.”
    (The full text is here:
    I look forward to this conversation continuing.
    Michael Flood

  4. Outstanding piece, Ashley! I agree with you and Bethany – we assume that the best “engagers” of men are other men. I would argue the opposite – it is women who generally have more experience in understanding gender-based violence, and more experience in engaging men to challenge that violence.

    Engaging men has been something that women have been doing for decades, simply as part of their jobs in local programs and state coalitions. When looking for “experts” on engaging men, look to women first.

  5. I’m sorry, Ashley! I mistakenly thought I sent you my dissertation back in January. I realize now that I did not. My apologies for the presumption.

  6. Missed this the first time around, but it’s going around again! Bless!

    I don’t know that there is a best “gender” or whatever to engage men with. Social location, life experience, and cultural context matter. That’s basic marketing stuff.

    What’s interesting to me, is that engaging men work tends to be skill building, and engaging women work now is taboo because of the rape-prevention tips sin of the past.

    In a way, if we look at funding and who it goes to… if we’re building skills around healthy sexuality, and focusing it only on (hetero, cisgender) dudes, then who is left out? A lot of folks. Like. Everybody.

    Women. Young women. Queers. Young queers. Trans folks. Young trans folks.

    I feel like the funding and analysis is kinda stuck. But, this is an outsider speaking, so take it for what it’s worth.

  7. Ashley, a great piece and loved the follow-on comments. I am of the same opinion as Ben in that I truly believe that it is not necessarily men engaging men on the issue but rather the collaboration of men & women together will not only engage but also demonstrate a shared responsibility. I have seen that some men can be just as suspicious of men as they can be of women when discussing the issue of violence against women. We have a lot of work to do….

Leave a Reply