(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 23 June 2012)
Lately I have noticed a common grievance among certain men concerning gender equality. These men recognise the progress being made by women in this area; however, they believe there can be no real discussion on gender rights if men are not included in the discourse.
I saw a comment on Facebook this week where one man said men “must also carry the torch with women if the walls of the existing patriarchy are to be broken down. Anything less is ineffective…any discussion on gender must be inclusive or it is a complete waste of time. All men are not the enemy.”
Another gentleman expressed similar sentiments to me when he said, “Any decent-minded human being would /should see the seriousness and try to help curb the senseless taking of lives. I’m saying that the more men are involved with you Sisters in this fight [the] more in-road[s] will be made.”
Although I get what these caring men are saying, one certainly cannot blame women for feeling like men do not understand or even care about the problems women face. After all, most of those problems were created and continue to be perpetuated by men on a daily basis.
Yet still, I willingly and happily agree that there are some men who want to fight for gender equality. These men truly understand the issues and are genuinely moved to action. But let us be honest and acknowledge that they are few in number.
The rest of these good-hearted men believe in the idea of gender equity in theory because the words sound good and they know it is the right thing to do, but they still continue objectify women and continue with the old habits that are at the very core of what propagates domestic violence and gender inequity.
For example, I posted this statement on my Facebook page; “You shouldn’t slut shame, after all every normal healthy person likes sex.” My purpose was simply to state that it is wrong to make a woman feel guilty for enjoying sex, a natural biological function, by calling her a slut. There were several male friends who were emphatic in their affirmation of my point.
One respected male friend responded thus, “Have you observed how you’re getting all these male responses Sis. Stella Ramsaroop? Keep dangling this approach like a ‘carrot stick’ [and] you would surely get more male support and contribution in your advocacy against domestic violence and abuse. You Sisters can’t fight it alone. We’re in this together. Right Brothers?”
I responded like this: “No offense, Bro, but why should the brothers need a ‘carrot stick’ to support our fight against domestic violence. I don’t do this for a reward. I do it because people are dying. Shouldn’t that be enough reason alone?”
This is the problem I see when it comes to men who want to join women in the quest for gender equality. First of all, there does not need to be a special invitation for men to join the fight for against domestic violence or gender equality. Secondly, men should not require a reward for joining the fight if they are sincere in their objective in supporting women.Moreover, what are the men waiting for? Where are the men who are standing up and demanding the government do something about the scourge of domestic violence? Where are the men who are outraged at the constant maternal deaths? I hear crickets chirping and nothing else.
While women continue to be murdered, why are these good-hearted men waiting for the women to invite them to put an end to the murders at the hand of men? Shouldn’t it be a natural reaction to step up and do something? Do these men even have what it takes to join women in this struggle?
Women have been waiting for thousands of years for men to do the right thing and end the violence, which has not happened. At this point, if the men want to join the gender equity struggle, of course they are most welcome. But women simply cannot wait around for men to do the right thing any more. If men cannot or will not join the struggle because it is the right thing to do, then women are ready to do it alone.
My apprehension about including men in my work with domestic violence victims extends to a practical level as well. I have asked men to help me with small errands when dealing with domestic abuse victims only to have them make sexual advances toward the victim! A woman who has just escaped an abusive relationship where she was also raped almost every day of the week does not want or need a man who is supposed to be helping her to victimise her even more.
Imagine that I cannot even trust a man to deliver a cooking pot to an abused victim without him causing her even more psychological harm! It was a lesson learned and I have not repeated that mistake again.
It is not that I doubt the concern that some good men have for women. I know there are men who are disgusted by the incessant violence against women. However, if men truly want to do something about the violence, then do it. Stop just talking about it. Stop just saying you’re disgusted. Stop making excuses. Do something! And don’t expect a reward for doing what you should have been doing all along.
Yes, men do have a part to play in the struggle for gender equality. So what are they waiting for? If there are men who are ready to stop the violence and see women in their rightful place in global leadership, it is upon those men to step up and do their part to make it happen. Otherwise, all of those big words about being a man who believes in gender equality are nothing but hot air.