When talking to a friend of mine about volunteering for the Great Men Project, (to go into schools to talk to teenagers about gender equality) she had 2 questions for me: “Why are men getting involved and why only speak to teenage boys?” These are 2 very good questions, and actually get to the heart of why I’ve got involved; but first, a little backstory.
Debating theology and the Bible as I often do, the subject of women bishops is one that comes up fairly often. The resistance to women bishops came largely from men and I slowly began to realize that this was just one small problem in the greater issue of how women are seen and treated in this world. From all things pink to page 3 to porn, all give the message to women that they are to simply look pretty, play with dolls and when they get older, and be viewed by men as little more than objects. They’re just supposed to do what the men say and accept that they have their place (which is usually in the kitchen). Those views are demeaning enough, but when reports of women getting beaten and killed appear in the paper, the question that gets asked is “what did the woman do to provoke the man?”
But the fact that this goes on wasn’t the gut punch for me; the realization that I was oblivious to it being right in front of me and have joined in with it, was. The question became, “what do I do about it?” Social media can be a fantastic tool to raise awareness, but I wanted to do more than just join in with the latest hashtag that would soon be forgotten a week later. I wanted to help people talk about these things because discussing them helps with understanding, which I think is much more important. But having discussions with people already benefiting from the status quo is like putting flames out whilst the gas tap is still on fire. Prevention is better than a cure, so having these discussions with teenagers would seem to be the best approach.
I volunteered because I felt that if the problem is the way women are seen by men, then speaking to men about it would be part of the solution. It’s a mans problem which women suffer the consequences of. When I went to the training days for Great Men, I got hit with some facts that hit a bit close to home. The vast majority of assaults against women are carried out by men, the vast majority of assaults against men are carried out by men, and men in their 30s, 40s and 50s are more likely to commit suicide than women. Men are more likely to end up in jail. Again, the question became, “what can I do?”
It appears that there is a whole host of other issues that are mixed in; how can a man get help if he’s told that to be a man is to just “deal with it?” How can a man avoid committing rape if he doesn’t know what it is? The focus is on the men, not with a view to justify actions but to prevent them. This is not saying we don’t need women, this work cannot take place without them, now, in the future, or without the groundwork that’s been laid down by them, in their work and sacrifices. This is also not saying women shouldn’t be involved in discussions about the issues they face, but I have to start somewhere and this seems to be the most pressing need.
I’m going to be working things out as I go, which works great when encouraging people to ask questions and discuss issues, as I will be on the ride too.
The views expressed above are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Men Project