Recently, two large campaigns have been launched around the issue of violence prevention. The United Nations kicked off the HeforShe campaign, and the White Houses launched its own Its On Us initiative. These two projects are gaining a lot of print and social media buzz.
HeForShe is a UN-led global effort to engage men in violence prevention discourse and action. The project asks men to commit to the idea that “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” (www.heforshe.org)
Its On Us is a White House-led nationwide campaign that focuses on reducing sexual violence on college campuses. The initiative asks people to pledge to “Recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. And to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.” (www.itsonus.org)
Both campaigns mentioned have used celebrity star power to push their messages forward. The UN brought in Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame, and the White House has a long list of celebs including Kerry Washington, Jon Hamm, and President Obama himself. I hope this increased media attention will allow campaigns like these to bring a greater awareness, and a more active resistance, to all forms of violence.
Additionally, it is both refreshing and reassuring to see campaigns directly (HeForShe) and indirectly (Its On Us) challenge men to be accountable for the violent patriarchal society we live in. That being said, I hope they continue to push for men’s active participation in violence prevention, men’s active resistance to violent masculinity, and men’s active deconstruction of male privilege. The latter, privilege, is all too easy and convenient for men to forget.
Male privilege must be explored, re-explored, and actively resisted at both the individual and societal levels as we work toward true gender equity and violence prevention. Signing a pledge online is not good enough. Not even close. Those who identify toward the male-identified end of the gender spectrum, especially cisgender men, must be held accountable for the culture and society for which we have both greatly benefited from, and actively and passively constructed.
Although these campaigns are certainly are not perfect and could benefit from constructive criticism and more direct engagement from leaders in the movement, I am encouraged and cautiously excited to see them forming on such large and visible stages. That being said, as more men join this cause—which is fundamentally their responsibility—I hope we keep the conversation about privilege at the forefront. All too often men are over-praised and over-compensated for work they should have been doing in the first place and for work that women, and particularly women of color, have been doing for a long time without proper recognition.
A violence prevention movement with men engaged that does not actively resist and deconstruct male privilege is hollow and ineffective.
HeForShe and Its On Us are a step in a positive direction, but that does not mean we shouldn’t continue to challenge, build, and grow with them. Keeping the deconstruction of male privilege at the forefront is just one of several issues that should and already have been addressed. Some more issues include: How are these movements inclusive to the spectrum of genders outside of the false male-female binary? How are these movements acknowledging the tremendous and courageous work that has come before them? How are intersectionality and identity politics being infused into all of this anti-oppression work? And what about the male survivors of men’s violence—are their voices being heard and included?
Let’s continue the conversation and push for holistic, equitable, and authentic violence prevention. If you are a male-identified student and interested in these issues, consider applying to the UNC Men’s Project. The UNC Men’s Project is a campus-wide initiative to increase men’s involvement in gender equity and violence prevention through experiential learning, creative practice, and fellowship. You can find more information with the link below.
Applications are available online at www.uncmensproject.com and are due by Midnight on Friday, October 3rd