Masculinities Mondays: 24th Feb 2014

This week I  want to draw your attention to an excellent campaign by the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and the  Women’s Centre for Health Matters in ACT, Australia.

The ‘What to Say‘ campaign is designed to help men recognise sexual violence and call it out. It gives practical and realistic advice on what to say and what to do when male friends are being abusive or harassing women. Of course, it’s always difficult to stand up to friends, and especially in a culture where male sexual control over women is encouraged and normalised, but this culture will only change if all of us take a stand and say something when we see or hear our friends disrespecting women.

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Let’s talk about sex(uality), baby.

Something that caught my eye this week was a refreshing video of kids’ reactions to gay marriage. Okay, they are all from the U.S. and their reactions are not representative of kids all around the world, but, in breaking “the issue” down into the basics, these children have some pretty wise advice that we could all learn from.

And, what, then, to do with this wisdom? For the development workers out there, The Guardian has compiled some useful, and applicable tips on how to view sexuality differently in development policy and practice

Still on the topic of sexuality, The New York Times brought forth an article this week suggesting that more gender-equitable marriages result in less sex. While I take issue with some of the points in the article, it does raise interesting questions about how we qualify ‘good’ sex lives and the value that we place on equality or personal satisfaction in relationships. 

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Masculinities Mondays: 17th Feb 2014

Making waves in the US news this past week was Michael Sam, likely prospect for the National Football League’s upcoming draft – if selected, he will become the first openly gay player in the NFL’s history. Sam’s coming out has sparked discussions in the States about masculinity and the frequent use of homophobic slurs in training. While the unbelievable amount of prejudiced comments on a YouTube clip of Sam’s interview with the New York Times left me with my head in my hands (a few highlights include: “No wonder why the black community is in disarray. There are no real men to be husbands, fathers and leaders anymore. How sad” and “Football is a very violent game, when the sodomite bleeds he might transfer HIV or Aids to his teammates…I know I wouldn’t play on a team with this sodomite on it. No chance.”), news anchor Dale Hansen thankfully hit the nail on the head with his straightforward coverage of the story.  Speaking about the double-standard of accepted masculinity in the NFL, Hansen says, “You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out at the roots – you’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft…Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes – we know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away…we’re comfortable with that. You love another man – well, now you’ve gone too far.”

I know nothing about American Football and I’ve never been particularly interested in it. But I am interested in masculinities and, with 111.5 million people watching the last Super Bowl, that’s a lot of people being fed messages about ‘acceptable’ ways of being a man.  No doubt Sam’s story will soon disappear from the news soon, regardless of if he is drafted or not, but I hope that some people out there keep the conversation going because, if YouTube comments are anything to judge by, it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

Celebrating love on Feb 14th

You could spend the 14th of February entwined in your lover’s arms, paying double the usual price for a candlelit dinner, playing drinking games with your single friends about how soon the couples in the restaurant are going to break up, eating copious amounts of chocolates and watching Sleepless in Seattlegetting married, or losing your virginity.

Or you could spend this Friday taking a stand against gender-based violence. One Billion Rising is a campaign that uses dance and music to raise awareness about violence against women. Today, all around the world, women, men, girls, and boys are meeting in public places – places where women deserve to feel safe but often don’t – to dance as a statement against violence.

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But how can dancing end violence, you may well ask. Sure, we’re not going to wake up tomorrow in a violence-free world. But bringing the issue of violence against women into the public sphere, making it a topic of public discussion, and illustrating that there is a critical mass of people who are willing to publicly renounce violence – all of these things help address the injustice, guilt, shame, and fear associated with experiencing violence. 

But why do this on Valentine’s Day? Well, if the whole point of Valentine’s Day (apart from the capitalist goal of hyper-consumerism) is to celebrate love, what better day to choose to encourage respect, communication, and non-violence – in my view, the very foundations of love. Furthermore, research illustrates that most violence against women is perpetrated by their intimate partners so, clearly, work needs to be done on how some men are treating their loved ones. Intimate parter rape is not even legally recognised as a crime in most countries and in Cambodia, for example, rates of violence against women increase on Valentine’s Day. And you know, when people start buying guns for Valentine’s Day something is very wrong. 

V-Day, as it’s now called, is not just about women. Police in Cambridge, U.K., for example are using the 14th of February to raise awareness about violence against men in intimate partnerships. The V-Men site also encourages discussions and reflections on men’s involvement in preventing violence against women. So far, it still seems to be mostly women who are taking part in the One Billion Rising events around the world but, hopefully, as we move towards an understanding of gender-based violence as EVERYONE’S issue, more men will join the movement.

So, whatever your plans are for February 14th, take a moment to think about, talk about, or dance about ensuring that love is safe, enjoyable, and respectful for all. 

Masculinities Mondays: 10th Feb 2014

Okay, so today is actually Tuesday but I intended to post this yesterday, so it still counts.

Doing the rounds this week is a touching and gritty graphic story of work inside one of Australia’s infamous detention centres. While obviously dealing with issues of human rights, I also found this story a fascinating – and often unseen – glimpse at the challenges and tensions with social expectations of masculinity in situations where men have lost their homes, freedom and dignity. 

Another interesting work making headlines this week is the French short film Majorité Opprimée (‘Oppressed Majority’) – a vision of an alternate, female-dominated universe, where it is men who primarily experience harassment and abuse. The film does not at all present this alternate reality in a positive light but, rather, encourages the audience to re-think what are currently seen as acceptable forms of masculine expression and behaviour and highlights how inequality is harmful to all of us. 

Also this week, The Guardian launched their ‘women’s rights and gender equality in focus‘ section, backed by the Ford Foundation and in association with Mama Cash and AWID. Sadly, in it’s first week, it already seems to have fallen into the ‘gender = women and girls’ fallacy…the men and boys are no where to be found. Indeed, the main Guardian website also has a specific ‘Women’ section. If we really want to see effective change, one way to start would be to lobby influential papers like the Guardian to present gender issues in a more nuanced and critical way. 

Have a good week, everyone!

On male nudity

I was recently watching Before Midnight – the latest collaborative film in the Before… series by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke – and I couldn’t help but notice the total lack of balance in the film’s nudity. Without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t seen it, in one sex scene Delpy spends a considerable amount of time topless while Hawke remains totally unexposed…and without a hint of an erection. Of course, this happens in hundreds of films but it particularly struck me in Before Midnight because it seemed so out of line with the series’ theme of presenting as raw and real a relationship as possible – laughter, arguments, awkward moments, and all.

Then today I came across Richard Senelick’s article in the Atlantic about how boys and men in the ‘West’ are given much less privacy over their nude bodies than girls and women are. The male author describes the extreme anxiety that he and other boys felt when being forced in school to swim naked with other boys, shower and get dressed without a cubicle, or use communal urinals. “Many men don’t speak up about their desire for privacy in fear that they will be mocked for not being ‘man enough’…Many men do not feel comfortable taking off their shirt to get into a hot tub or swimming pool, and, just like women, they may also feel uncomfortable sitting on the examination table without a shirt or gown. What’s more, a digital rectal exam can be just as unnerving to a man as a pelvic examination can be for a woman.”

I’m not a man, but I can attest that in most of my experiences in educational and medical institutions in Australia and the UK I have never been expected or made to be naked in front of other women against my will.  Holly Baxter’s response article in The Guardian argues that this female access to privacy is related to the social imposition of modesty for female bodies – a form of patriarchal control over women’s bodies and their sexuality. While I think that’s a solid analysis of the ‘Western’ context, however, public institutions, swimming pools and gyms in Asia seem to be less prudish about female nudity. Many of the public toilets I’ve used in China and in India have no partitions whatsoever; I’ve had a group of medical students sit in on a check-up I had with a doctor in Thailand, without anyone asking me if I was comfortable with that; and in the female changing rooms of gyms and pools in Beijing, most women happily walk around naked, even when cubicles are available. So I wonder if this pressure to prove your masculinity by being nude in front of other boys – and the anxiety and fear that can come with it – is less of an issue in other parts of the world. Or is it just as problematic and equally un-talked-about? It would be great to hear your experiences.

Returning to Hollywood films, though, I am intrigued and a bit perplexed about the almost total absence of male nudity – and, when there is male nudity, it causes headlines – in contrast to the social expectation, described in Senelick’s article, of ‘real men’ to have no qualms about being naked in public. As Michael Fassbender, star of the (in?)famous film, Shame, argues, “Half of us have a penis and the other half have probably seen one, and so why should it be more normal to, like, chop people’s heads off and shoot people? Does that mean that that’s more acceptable or closer to us as human beings?” I’m also equally intrigued about the reverse phenomenon when it comes to women’s bodies but the issue of male nudity brings up a lot of questions about the social control over, and expectations of, male bodies – something that is rarely discussed in the public sphere, especially compared to how often women’s body image – and the harmful effects of restrictive media representations of female bodies – is a matter of public debate.

Personally, I agree with Baxter’s conclusion that people of all ages and all genders should be taught to love, appreciate and respect their bodies and our societies need to start talking openly about bodies and nudity. This way, whether you’re a boy in school trying to hide in the corner of the changing room or an adult woman wondering why the clothing situation in movie sex is so different to real sex, at least a space will open up to discuss the anxiety or confusion that we’re feeling, without shame.