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September 27, 2006

Men Have to Take Responsibility

An interview with GĂ­sli Hrafn of the Feminist Association of Iceland

Issue 11 on Friday, July 28, 2006
by Steinunn JakobsdĂłttir

By emphasising the role men play in rape crimes in society, the NEI campaign points its finger at men as assailants. Now, for the third year in a row, the campaign is kicking off before the Verslunarmannahelgin weekend, the busiest travel weekend of the year, when thousands of locals get together to party at various locations across the country. The Grapevine talked to Gísli Hrafn, a member of the Feminist Association of Iceland and one of the organisers of the NEI campaign. Gísli and fellow associates, who all work pro bono, will not be partying this weekend but instead travelling to the Westman Islands to discuss rape, hand out badges and Frisbees with the slogan “Men Say No to Rape” and try to do all they can to prevent a weekend, which is supposed to be fun and entertaining for all festival-goers, from devastating the nation’s youths.

Usually the female has been the centre of rape discussions, but in your NEI campaign you only focus on men.
– Yes, above all we try to reach men because in almost all cases, men are the rapists. Rapes have for far too long been labelled as a woman’s problem but our stand on the issue is that if it is a gender problem, then it is above all a man’s concern, because they are the assailants. By putting the focus on men we are trying to make them feel responsible and getting them to work together to decrease these sex crimes. By pointing out that even though they are not necessarily the rapists themselves, if they witness a friend assaulting a woman and just sit by and watch instead of preventing it from happening, as has been the case more than once, they are just as guilty.

When did you start fighting this issue?
– Our first campaign was during Verslunarmannahelgin in the year 2003. Then we emphasised the fact that rapists are usually someone the victim knows, a friend or an acquaintance. The stereotypical picture people have had of rape is that the assault happens when someone attacks a random victim out on the street, with a knife even. The fact is though that in most cases the attacker knows the victim.

An even more stereotypical idea the public has had in our society is that in many cases the victim is somehow to blame for the assault. We have heard claims like: “She was too drunk,” “she dressed provocatively” or “hey, she was kissing him earlier the evening,” as though that should be an excuse for rape. Those issues don’t have anything to do with it and can’t be used to defend the crime. When talking about any other offences, like say if your car gets stolen, people don’t ask how you were dressed, what you were doing yesterday or if you are a bad driver, because that has nothing to do with the crime committed. By placing emphasis on how ridiculous it is to justify rape by blaming the victim we wanted to bring the reality out to the public and try to change the view.

How exactly do you do that?
– We have handed out badges and Frisbees and sold t-shirts with our logo on them in front of liquor stores and the public transportation stops like BSÍ and Reykjavík Airport. In the meantime we use the opportunity to talk to the men we meet and discuss these matters, which we find is the most important part. If we can get men of all ages to talk together and try to delete these stereotyped ideas from the public awareness we hope people realise how wrong these claims are.

This year you will not only be based in the city, but also go to Þjóðhátíð in the Westman Islands.
– Yes, we will go to the Westman Islands, hand out badges and make conversation like before. We chose to go during Verslunarmannahelgin because at that time, a lot of people come together for the outdoor festivals held all around the country and it is a sad fact that many assaults happen at that time. It will be my first time in the Westman Islands during the festival, but I remember when I lived in Denmark I went to the Roskilde festival a couple of times where 100,000 people were camping together to enjoy the outdoor concerts. One time, there was a reported rape and the Danish society went crazy. In the media there were even talks about cancelling the festival the year after.

The attitude in Iceland is totally different. The same summer I went to Iceland and after Verslunarmannahelgin the discussion in the media was that unusually few rapes had occurred, as only two or three were reported after the weekend. That is so typical of how the society accepts this issue. This we want to change. Unfortunately, we can’t visit all the festivals this time, but by going to the Westman Islands, which is the biggest outdoor festival of them all, we will try to make the men attending the festival aware of the issue.

How effective do you think campaigns like these are in reality?
– Well, we don’t think we can stop rapes from happening altogether, but we know these campaigns have been quite successful in changing the attitude towards the victim. Publicity campaigns like ours have to be done over and over again though because studies have shown they only work for a short period of time. The public has to be reminded on a regular basis, and we will try to do our best in doing so in the future.

Posted by Daniel at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2006

In support of International Men's Day

Following is a description of International Men's Day sent to us with an invitation to participate from our colleagues in Trinidad & Tobago -- specifically, Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh. As you can see, this annual observance has admirable goals and has created some positive momentum in the communities involved.

The theme for this year is “A World Without Prostitution and pornography”. It includes a focus on the effects of prostitution and pornography on the individual and family life. Some topics for discussion: Is it possible to ever eradicate prostitution and pornography? Do individuals who view porn experience psychological and emotional problems? Is the media assisting the porn and prostitution

---------------------------------------- INTERNATIONAL MEN'S DAY 19th November

The objectives of celebrating an International Men’s Day include improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, producing responsible males and highlighting positive role models.

The annual observance of International Men's Day on November 19th seeks to address problems and challenges facing men. These issues include the involvement of men in domestic violence, drug abuse, fathering, homicides, sports, media, power, sexuality, politics, religion, parenting, war, suicides and family life.

Some of the goals of Men’s Day – to promote unity, resolve disputes, cultivate greater understanding between men and women, increase tolerance and thus create a safer, better world.

This special day for men was initiated in November 1999 and received an overwhelming response from men's groups in North America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Europe. In public forums, discussion groups and conferences, attempts were made to address and seek
solutions for the problems facing males in today's society.

Individuals, international associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious bodies have been contacted to assist in the observance of this special day.

There is also a need for the regular hosting of international conferences on men to address issues and seek solutions.

Hopefully, in the long-term we can make International Men's Day on November 19th an annual worldwide event with beneficial results. It is hoped that men interested in improving themselves and reforming other males would be part of this ongoing "Men's Revolution" and annually celebrate International Men's Day.

At work, in our communities, schools and religious institutions, there should be dialogue between both sexes for greater understanding and tolerance. Thanks for your support and advice in this endeavour as we strive for gender equality and attempt to remove the negative images and the stigma associated with men in our society.

Posted by Daniel at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2006

International Men’s Day: An open letter of rejection

Following is an excerpt from on open letter written by Michael Flood in 2004, in response to one or more men's groups in Australia prosing to celebrate November 19 as International Men's Day to promote awareness of men’s issues. It was published along with many other related articles on (Look under "Men's politics, Activism, The men's movement(s).")

Michael's letter presents some very clear thinking and cogent arguments against the propagation of this day. However, there are other factions within men's movements with valid ideas in support of an International Men's Day. I hope our readers will use this letter to begin conversations about the underlying issues. (Comments anyone?)

International Men’s Day: An open letter of rejection

Michael Flood, 25 October 2004

This is an open letter concerning International Men’s Day. A men’s organisation in Canberra, Australia, is proposing to commemorate this day as part of its efforts to promote awareness of men’s issues. As someone who has been involved in men’s issues and men’s activism since the late 1980s, I am fully supportive of efforts to improve men’s health, encourage fathers’ positive involvement in families, prevent men’s use of and exposure to violence, and so on. However, I do not believe that an International Men’s Day is an appropriate or effective way to help achieve such goals.

There are a number of important problems with International Men’s Day. In summary;
* IMD offers a false parallel to International Women’s Day.
* IMD invites a conservative understanding of gender relations.
* IMD potentially alienates services and organisations that might otherwise support measures aimed at improving men’s wellbeing or service responses to men.
* There are better ways to achieve the same goals.
* IMD may be ineffective at engaging men.

...The most important problem lies in the very notion of an “International Men’s Day”. It offers a false parallel to International Women’s Day, false because the context and the meaning of the two days are fundamentally different.

International Women’s Day began in 1908 in New York as a protest by women against intolerable working conditions and lesser wages. It was taken up in the 1920s in Australia as part of a protest by women again
against unjust and unequal working conditions. International Women’s Day continues to be celebrated each year, on March 8th, as part of protests against the many forms of discrimination and injustice experienced by women.

The notion of an “International Men’s Day” implies that men, like women, are a group systematically disadvantaged or oppressed by gender inequalities. There is no denying that men do suffer limitations and
harms under the current gender order, e.g. poor physical and mental health. But it is simply false to claim that men as a group are disadvantaged by gender relations.

In response to some men’s question, “What about International Men’s Day?”, some women have responded that every other day is International Men’s Day. In other words, on every other day, gender inequalities are
taken for granted, the achievements of (privileged) men in politics and culture are routinely celebrated, and women’s lives and concerns are trivialised and marginalised. While this is simplistic, it does point to the ongoing gender inequalities that characterise our society.

Some advocates of IMD may believe that IMD can embody this recognition, i.e. that IMD can invite men to challenge the gender inequalities that disadvantage women and the gender norms that limit men. But even if the actual agendas of IMD are not based on anti-feminist and conservative understandings, the notion of an
“International Men’s Day” itself invites this reading. ...

[The letter continues to elaborate on the main points outlined above, and concludes with the following statement.]

“International Men’s Day” is at best misguided and political naive, and at worst hostile and anti-feminist. Men’s organisations should not promote nor support an International Men’s Day. Nor should other organisations offer their support to such an event.

Read the full letter here.

Posted by Daniel at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2006

Education = Safer Sex, Less HIV for Girls in Africa

Via: Feminist Daily News Wire
September 6, 2006

More Education Leads to Safer Sex and Less HIV for Girls in Africa

A recent report by Action Aid International finds that girls who are better educated begin having sex later, are more likely to use condoms, and have a decreased chance of contracting HIV. The report, "Girl Power: The Impact of Girls' Education on HIV and Sexual Behavior," finds that girls who have completed secondary school have less risky behavior than those who have only completed primary school. The report also finds that better educated boys are more likely to have safer sex and protect themselves against HIV than less educated boys.

The authors of the report stress the special need of girls to be educated, as "Young women receiving higher levels of education are likely to wait longer before having sex for the first time, and are less likely to be coerced into sex." Women are hurt by the structure of the education systems in most African countries, which charge fees for schooling that increase with grade level, leaving many girls without the opportunity to finish primary school, let alone secondary school.

The report recommends that schools stop charging students for primary school to increase education rates for both girls and boys. It also recommends that comprehensive sexual education be taught in primary school, with condom use heavily promoted, according to Population Action International.

Subscribe to the Feminist Daily News Wire Your daily source for the feminist perspective on national and global events.
Media Resources: Girl Power: The Impact of Girls' Education on HIV and Sexual Behavior, Action Aid International 8/06, Population Action International 9/5/2006

Posted by Daniel at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2006

Connecting Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS

This is one of the items from the September eNewsletter distributed by Global Violence Prevention Advocacy. The blurb below introduces a comprehensive and compelling report substanitating the link between violence against women and children and the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is incredibly thorough and well documented. To downoad a copy of the report, click here.

A Report on Violence Against Women and Children and HIV AIDs


Global Aids Alliance, a group based in Washington, D.C., has spearheaded a report on the link between the transmission of HIV and violence against women and children. The report calls for attention and a comprehensive response to violence against women. If societies do not prevent violence, the rates of infection will not decrease and many millions more will suffer.

More than twenty million women and children worldwide have the HIV virus. Women who experience violence may be nearly three times more likely to acquire it. Sub Saharan Africa has an acute crisis of infection and violence against women and children. The complete report compels us to care and to act. Share this report widely.

Posted by Daniel at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2006

The High Cost of Manliness

Following is a wonderful article by Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of, most recently, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights Books).

The article is via AlterNet, an award-winning news magazine and online community that aims is to inspire citizen action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, and health care issues.

The High Cost of Manliness

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet. Posted September 8, 2006.

Society's toxic view of masculinity isn't just harmful to men. Everyone pays the price.

It's hard to be a man; hard to live up to the demands that come with the dominant conception of masculinity, of the tough guy.

So, guys, I have an idea -- maybe it's time we stop trying. Maybe this masculinity thing is a bad deal, not just for women but for us.

We need to get rid of the whole idea of masculinity. It's time to abandon the claim that there are certain psychological or social traits that inherently come with being biologically male. If we can get past that, we have a chance to create a better world for men and women.

That dominant conception of masculinity in U.S. culture is easily summarized: Men are assumed to be naturally competitive and aggressive, and being a real man is therefore marked by the struggle for control, conquest and domination. A man looks at the world, sees what he wants and takes it. Men who don't measure up are wimps, sissies, fags, girls. The worst insult one man can hurl at another -- whether it's boys on the playground or CEOs in the boardroom -- is the accusation that a man is like a woman. Although the culture acknowledges that men can in some situations have traits traditionally associated with women (caring, compassion, tenderness), in the end it is men's strength-expressed-as-toughness that defines us and must trump any female-like softness. Those aspects of masculinity must prevail for a man to be a "real man."

That's not to suggest, of course, that every man adopts that view of masculinity. But it is endorsed in key institutions and activities -- most notably in business, the military and athletics -- and is reinforced through the mass media. It is particularly expressed in the way men -- straight and gay alike -- talk about sexuality and act sexually. And our culture's male heroes reflect those characteristics: They most often are men who take charge rather than seek consensus, seize power rather than look for ways to share it and are willing to be violent to achieve their goals.

That view of masculinity is dangerous for women. It leads men to seek to control "their" women and define their own pleasure in that control, which leads to epidemic levels of rape and battery. But this view of masculinity is toxic for men as well.

If masculinity is defined as conquest, it means that men will always struggle with each other for dominance. In a system premised on hierarchy and power, there can be only one king of the hill. Every other man must in some way be subordinated to the king, and the king has to always be nervous about who is coming up that hill to get him. A friend who once worked on Wall Street -- one of the preeminent sites of masculine competition -- described coming to work as like walking into a knife fight when all the good spots along the wall were taken. Masculinity like this is life lived as endless competition and threat.

No one man created this system, and perhaps none of us, if given a choice, would choose it. But we live our lives in that system, and it deforms men, narrowing our emotional range and depth. It keeps us from the rich connections with others -- not just with women and children, but other men -- that make life meaningful but require vulnerability.

This doesn't mean that the negative consequences of this toxic masculinity are equally dangerous for men and women. As feminists have long pointed out, there's a big difference between women dealing with the possibility of being raped, beaten and killed by the men in their lives, and men not being able to cry. But we can see that the short-term material gains that men get are not adequate compensation for what we men give up in the long haul -- which is to surrender part of our humanity to the project of dominance.

Of course there are obvious physical differences between men and women -- average body size, hormones, reproductive organs. There may be other differences rooted in our biology that we don't yet understand. Yet it's also true that men and women are more similar than we are different, and that given the pernicious effects of centuries of patriarchy and its relentless devaluing of things female, we should be skeptical of the perceived differences.

What we know is simple: In any human population, there is wide individual variation. While there's no doubt that a large part of our behavior is rooted in our DNA, there's also no doubt that our genetic endowment is highly influenced by culture. Beyond that, it's difficult to say much with any certainty. It's true that only women can bear children and breastfeed. That fact likely has some bearing on aspects of men's and women's personalities. But we don't know much about what the effect is, and given the limits of our tools to understand human behavior, it's possible we may never know much.

At the moment, the culture seems obsessed with gender differences, in the context of a recurring intellectual fad (called "evolutionary psychology" this time around, and "sociobiology" in a previous incarnation) that wants to explain all complex behaviors as simple evolutionary adaptations -- if a pattern of human behavior exists, it must be because it's adaptive in some ways. In the long run, that's true by definition. But in the short-term it's hardly a convincing argument to say, "Look at how men and women behave so differently; it must be because men and women are fundamentally different" when a political system has been creating differences between men and women.

From there, the argument that we need to scrap masculinity is fairly simple. To illustrate it, remember back to right after 9/11. A number of commentators argued that criticisms of masculinity should be rethought. Cannot we now see -- recognizing that male firefighters raced into burning buildings, risking and sometimes sacrificing their lives to save others -- that masculinity can encompass a kind of strength that is rooted in caring and sacrifice? Of course men often exhibit such strength, just as do women. So, the obvious question arises: What makes these distinctly masculine characteristics? Are they not simply human characteristics?

We identify masculine tendencies toward competition, domination and violence because we see patterns of differential behavior; men are more prone to such behavior in our culture. We can go on to observe and analyze the ways in which men are socialized to behave in those ways, toward the goal of changing those destructive behaviors. That analysis is different than saying that admirable human qualities present in both men and women are somehow primarily the domain of one gender. To assign them to a gender is misguided and demeaning to the gender that is then assumed not to possess them to the same degree. Once we start saying "strength and courage are masculine traits," it leads to the conclusion that woman are not as strong or courageous.

Of course, if we are going to jettison masculinity, we have to scrap femininity along with it. We have to stop trying to define what men and women are going to be in the world based on extrapolations from physical sex differences. That doesn't mean we ignore those differences when they matter, but we have to stop assuming they matter everywhere.

I don't think the planet can long survive if the current conception of masculinity endures. We face political and ecological challenges that can't be met with this old model of what it means to be a man. At the more intimate level, the stakes are just as high. For those of us who are biologically male, we have a simple choice: We men can settle for being men, or we can strive to be human beings.

Posted by Daniel at 11:54 AM | Comments (1)

September 05, 2006

Is it un-African to be gay?

The latest topic open for discussion on "Have Your Say," the BBC News Website's news section devoted to Africa asks the following questions:

Is it un-African to be gay?

Do African countries need to change the way they deal with homosexuality?

Ghana's government has banned a conference for gay men and lesbians due to take place in the country later this month. Information Minister Kwamena Bartels said the gathering could not be allowed because homosexuality was illegal in Ghana.

In much of Africa society is conservative and same-sex relationships are frowned upon, but it is an open secret that homosexuality is alive, and South Africa has some of the most liberal gay rights in the world.

Should homosexuality be accepted in Africa or should the view of wider society hold sway? What's it like being gay or lesbian in Africa? Should governments take a lead on gay rights or should they follow public opinion?

There are over 40 comments already posted expressing a wide range of opinions. However, it seems that a majority of posts from Africa fiercly condemn homosexuality. The hatred, righteousness, and ignorance expressed in some of the comments is difficult for me to sit with. And yet, I know this does not represent the full spectrum of opinion of Africans.

I'm interested in your reactions and encourage Uncommon Man readers to check out the discussion and comment (here and/or there).

Posted by Daniel at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

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