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Thoughts on Engagement

Male Sexual Violence

The feminist call to make sexual violence culpable is the lone voice articulating such a demand in an overall culture which is repeatedly telling men that being manly means being ready to be violent; it means forcibly putting women "in their place". The male gender role generates violence by castigating men if they are not violent, and rewarding them with honour when they are. The existence of laws which criminalise men's sexual assault on women have not deterred male violence because it has become merely another ground on which men can prove their masculinity.

The sharp increase in media reportage of male sexual violence against women in India, particularly since December 2012, has brought unprecedented attention to questions of masculinity and the importance of addressing these in feminist struggles towards gender justice. If, in the past, women’s rights groups suspected calls to deal with masculinities in social work practice to be a patriarchal ruse to siphon already scarce resources allotted to women’s concerns, the present moment is witnessing a near-consensus among women’s groups that involving men is the way forward for feminist movements. Even women’s studies, as an academic enterprise, seems to be moving from misgivings about the political commitments of masculinity studies to a growing recognition of its potential to contribute to feminist research. In this new climate which seems favourably disposed to thinking about the linkages between patriarchy and masculinities, I want to underline a few aspects of men’s lives, which I consider important to think about if we are to deepen feminist insights into gender-based violence in the domains of activism and social work practice.

Since the early 1990s, a number of pro-feminist men’s organisations across the country have tried to recast masculinity in accordance with feminist goals. Almost all these organisations have been concerned centrally with how to enlist men to end violence against women. This focus on violence in social work with men has, of course, been impelled by feminist critiques of patriarchy. However, it is also a response to funding patterns, particularly those of the United Nations (UN) agencies, which have emerged from the UN’s emphasis on “working with men and boys to end gender disparities”. Largely under the aegis of the south Asia chapter of UN Women, networks such as Forum to Engage Men, South Asian Network to Address Masculinity, and Partners for Prevention have been established to link pro-feminist men’s organisations in India, and more generally in Asia, that are interacting with men and boys for the cause of gender justice.

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