Group of men in DiEM25 discuss masculinity and gender-based violence

Following the recent month of activity around sex and gender-based violence, several of the men in the DiEM Gender DSC [thematic group] got together to talk about how men could do more in the struggle against gender-based violence.

Mike: I think men are emotionally split when we think about opposing male violence towards women. When I was very small, my father taught me to deal with physical or emotional hurt with suppression, aggression and anger. He didn’t want me to suffer the consequences of being seen as a “sissy” or an easy target for bullies. But as an adult, I realise the things I invested in to “become a man” are part of the dynamic that drives violence against women. It’s uncomfortable!

Nicholas: And so many institutions – and I’d include marriage, and having a family – will tend to push us unconsciously into that role. We are led to do exactly the opposite of what we want. I found myself in the “male” role of wage-earner while my wife became a full-time mother. It was profoundly uncomfortable, so I shut my eyes and got on with it.

Alexander: It has to be reinforced all the time. I often hear that girls dressing in a short skirt are basically calling for being fucked, or I see the romanticising of men’s ownership of women, as “jealousy”. When we get a female lead in a TV show, she ends up being stalked and terrorised by a man – vulnerable to them. Violent and controlling relationships between women and men are eroticised.

Olivier: Popular music too – masculinity is symbolised by earning a good living and being courted by women. Capitalist ideology is implicit and taken as the natural state of affairs.

Alexander: As a Russian migrant, I saw friends and family reproducing “what a real man should be” in the most capitalistic, patriarchal clichés. Migrant men in fragile situations want to reassert their masculinity by exaggerating their credentials as a “strong man”…

Olivier: As a neurodivergent, this has always felt wrong to me. Growing up, I was victimised for walking on my toes “like a dancer”, for showing emotion, for not hesitating to wear multi-coloured clothes. In my home country, France, we had to conform – a boy has to be strong and agile, like in football. The systems and the structures I grew up in put violence inside me.

Nicholas: I am undoubtedly neurodivergent too, but was never diagnosed as such. My musical gift put me in a special category in my family, but I was incapable of seeing it as a career. Because of this, I was effectively developing the woman and the man inside me simultaneously, in a rather schizophrenic way. The idea of violence against women never entered my head, but aged 26, I was shown in a dream all the violence I was projecting unconsciously because I could not own it as part of myself. It nearly sent me over the edge.

Mike: As boys, we are taught to kill parts of ourselves – the gentler, sensitive, experimental and vulnerable parts – in exchange for certain “male” privileges. It sets us up to become people who will perform violence on others – especially those who exhibit those same qualities.

Olivier: The gender binary is intrinsic to patriarchy and capitalism. And we are seeing terrible consequences for girls and trans people now.

Amadeo: I feel I was born a feminist. Being a Trans child, everything I did questioned the status quo in terms of gender. My family had two very strong matriarchs – both self proclaimed feminists. I set out to make films when I was seventeen and looked for a mentor. I met (film-maker) Kenneth MacKinnon, and it was love at first sight. He was a father figure and a role model for me. I never thought of feminism without encompassing  men who are ready to look at themselves and question their “natural” masculine traits, what it does to the world – and to themselves.

Alexander: Our most immediate need now must be to stop enacting this violence. We need to learn about our own blind spots and talk to women about their perspectives, how they experience violence, and what they need. We have to quit blaming the victims of violence and instead provide them with what they need to heal their wounds. Call out words and actions that put women down in everyday life and everyday situations.

Olivier: Not only do we have to be allies in feminist struggles to break up structural patriarchy, we have to take control of the violence that this capitalistic society projects within us. Otherwise none of us will be freed of domination.

Amadeo: Recently, I started the long process of transitioning gender and am finding little changes with the introduction of a new identity as well as testosterone in my body. I am still researching in a way what it means to be a man. I hope this is what other men do, cause it seems like a worthy lifetime job. A feminist education should be mandatory for boys as many of women’s issues cannot be resolved without men’s issues being resolved too. I don’t think feminism belongs only to women nor that men can only attend as guests. It’s a long open process and needs to be renewed at its core often by the premises that it wished to challenge. I identify as male, but that doesn’t make me “naturally” a chauvinist.

Mike: My experience has been that accepting responsibility or caring is transformative. Looking after children, older people, disabled people; tidying up your home; taking responsibility for “emotional caretaking” in whatever groups we are in; tidying up the mess

Nicholas: I cannot resign from being a man. What is asked of me is the humility to become more aware of what I am, and accept it. Once accepted, then it can become malleable.

Mike: We need a more open, freer concept of masculinity. Open borders. Not ones patrolled with knives, fists and guns.

This discussion is part of a longer exchange for a “DiEM TV goes local” programme now in preparation.

Michael Bosley on behalf of the Gender 1 DSC

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