EXPERT GROUP MEETING
MALE ROLES AND MASCULINITIES IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF
A CULTURE OF PEACE
II - RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY OF ISSUES AND THEMES
- The Oslo meeting, 24-28 September 1997, on "Male Roles and Masculinities in the
Perspective of a Culture of Peace" arose from the work of UNESCO's program
"Women and the Culture of Peace". Contemporary feminism has opened up important
issues about gender and peace. Men are now invited to continue this discussion, and
explore with women a new set of issues about masculinity, violence and peace.
men and masculinity are an issue for a culture of peace
- It is a familiar fact that most of the world's soldiers are men. It is men, almost
exclusively, who make the decisions that launch international aggression and civil wars.
It is further true that men are responsible for most crimes of violence in private life.
Men rather than women are central to the symbolism of violence in mass media, sports, and
- In situations of sustained armed conflict, in situations where ethnic nationalism is
being mobilized, and in violent racist movements, polarized models of manhood and
womanhood are typical, with men encouraged to show dominance and aggression. It is common
in military training all around the world to link manliness with brutality, and to
discredit fear and sensitivity as unmanly.
- There are, clearly, links between masculinity and violence. To recognize this is not to
say that all men are violent, nor that men are naturally violent (ideas that the experts
at the meeting clearly rejected). It is to pose important problems: How can men as men, as
gendered beings, be drawn into the making of a culture of peace ? What alternative ways of
being a man can be found ? How, especially, can violent masculinities change ?
Problems and pitfalls
- Work on these issues among men may have to take different forms from those familiar in
women's programs, and will face certain difficulties.
- Highlighting issues about masculinity is easily misunderstood. It may be seen as
unfairly blaming all men for violence, implying that men are evil, or that women are
inherently better people. This view would lead to instant alienation of most men from any
program of change. Alternatively, highlighting masculinity may be seen as a way of
excusing violent men, since their behaviour is attributed to a masculinity which many
believe to be "natural" and unchangeable.
- In responding to these misunderstandings, the experts emphasised that the focus should
be on the characteristics of social masculinity that lead men towards violence, and on the
institutions and ideologies that reinforce aggressive masculinities. This neither excuses
violent behaviour nor simplistically blames men, but allows a focus on the prevention of
violence and the building of positive alternatives.
- Moving towards gender equity and equality is an important part of the culture of peace.
Cooperation and dialogue between women and men create new knowledge and positive change.
Therefore programs addressed to boys and men should not compete for funding with programs
for girls and women. New programs for men should not pander to the "backlash"
against feminist pressure for gender equality.
- There is a further problem about the prominence of Western research and concepts in the
new debates on masculinity. It is important to acknowledge cultural difference and local
knowledge. At the same time we must recognize the hegemony of certain Western gender
arrangements in a globalizing world, and their (often disruptive) impact on non-Western
cultures. Some masculinities are now operating in a global arena, while most programs of
reform operate only locally. International organizations like UNESCO are vital for
addressing this problem.
3. New research and policy discussions
- Efforts towards a culture of peace have an important new resource in recent research and
policy discussions about masculinity.
- A new generation of social-scientific research on men and masculinity has emerged, in
many parts of the world, in the last 10 years. This embraces studies in sociology,
ethnography, history, psychology, criminology, education and other fields. Empirical
research has provided new understanding of:
- the diversity of masculinities
- the making of masculinities in childhood and social life
- hierarchies and power relations among men, and broader structures of patriarchy
(conditions creating gender discrimination)
- the institutional contexts of masculinity
- historical and psychological changes in masculinity.
- Such research has stimulated fresh efforts to understand gender relations and the
position of men. Theorists have addressed questions of gender identity, the economic
circumstances of men, and the patterns of male sexuality. This work helps to "make
masculinity visible", and thus supports new practical initiatives and policy
- For more than a decade there have been campaigns in a number of countries to reduce
masculine violence, especially domestic violence and rape. Within the last decade, policy
debates have emerged about boys' education, men's health, and men's involvement in road
casualties. In a few countries, issues about masculinity have begun to enter policy
documents about gender in education.
- Thus we have new resources of empirical knowledge, concepts, and practical experience,
to assist in addressing the problem of masculinity and peace.
4. How should we
understand masculinities ?
- The expert group meeting discussed traditional and new ways of understanding
masculinities. There was agreement that the biology of sex does not explain the issues;
biological differences are biological differences, while social patterns of violence
require social explanations and social solutions.
- The concept of a "male sex role" is helpful in calling attention to the social
learning of gender (often called "socialization), and to the stereotypes in media and
culture which offer boys only narrow, aggressive models of masculinity.
- However, many contributions to the meeting illustrated the need to go beyond a focus on
"role" stereotypes to a broader view of gender relations and masculinities. Our
understanding of masculinities must embrace economic production, power and authority,
sexuality and emotions, and identities and communication. The discussion emphasised :
- The influence of economic circumstances. Where men have economic advantages over
women, they have a privilege to defend, which may be defended with violence, or may make
women vulnerable to violence. Economic changes which put at risk or destroy men's
traditional livehoods, without providing alternatives, make violence or militarism
- The complexity of masculinities. Masculinities are often interwoven with ethnic
or generational identities, and violent confrontations may result. A hegemonic masculinity
may have great social prestige, yet many men do not match it, nor desire to. Social
conflicts and psychologic tensions about masculinity may lead to violence, but may also
create possibilities for change. Latent "cultures of peace" may be found in many
- The importance of historical change. Gender relations are dynamic, and can change
rapidly ; though they are widely believed to change slowly or not at all. Masculinities do
not move only from "traditional" to "modern". Young women can take on
traditional masculine behaviour to achieve equality more easily. New militarized
masculinities emerge in states or communities under threat. Even peacekeeping forces can
provoke such a response. Globalization may introduce "Western" models of
domesticated women and aggressive/competitive men, to communities that had relative gender
equality; or may create other dislocations in patriarchy, resulting in an upsurge of
5. How are masculinities connected to violence ?
- There are multiple causes of violence (including dispossession, poverty, greed,
nationalism, racism, the concept of "honour"), and violence develops in diverse
situations. There are, nevertheless, persistent connections with masculinities, including
the following points.
- Social arrangements generally place the means of violence - such as weapons and military
skills - in the hands of men, not women. This is true for privately owned weapons as well
as military weapons.
- Boys' peer group life, military training, and mass media often promote a direct link
between being a "real man" and the practice of dominance and violence.
- When men feel entitled to power and status (especially with respect to women) they are
angered when they cannot achieve these "entitlements". Reactions to a sense of
powerlessness may include violence against women, or joining a gang, a racist movement, an
army or an armed revolutionary movement, that restore feelings of control.
- Racist, ethnic-nationalist, and extremist movements often express a "demand for
dominance" which is centred on the figure of the man, with woman cast as supporter
and mother-of-warriors. The psychological pressure to act the warrior or hunter can be
- The maintenance of hegemonic masculinity requires disrespect for other forms of
masculinity and for women's empowerment. This often takes the form of mutual harassment
among boys, and serious violence against homosexual men by some young men.
- Aggressive and dominating masculinities may be a direct source of violence. In many
cases, however, gender ideologies serve as the means by which other causes of conflict are
converted into violent conduct. When violent masculinities are created, men's and boys'
recruitment may prolong or intensify armed conflicts. In all these cases, action to change
masculinities is a relevant strategy for peace.
6. What kind of change is needed ?
- It is often suggested with horror that reform of gender means turning men into women:
emasculating men, making men "soft", and therefore unable to compete or stand
with pride in the world.
- Solving the problem of violence and building a culture of peace certainly requires
change in masculinities. But it does not require men to become weak or incapable. On the
contrary, violence often happens because masculinities are constructed to make violence
the easy option, or the only option considered.
- We would emphasise that building peace is an arduous and complex undertaking, worthy of
heroic effort from men as well as women. The sense of competence important to some
masculinities can be linked to equality rather than exclusiveness; democracy needs skilled
- Education cannot "re-socialize" boys and men, in the sense of pressing them
into a non-violent mould (to replace the violent mould). Rather, education can open up a
diversity of pathways, and allow boys and men to use a broader spectrum of their
capacities - emotional, communicative, and political. Education can show boys and men a
variety of ways of being a man, and allow them to experience this diversity. It can
develop boys' and men's capacities for non-violent action, training them in techniques of
peace as they are now commonly trained in the techniques of combat.
- An educational effort in this direction cannot work in isolation. It needs to be
supported by action in other areas of life that will make greater diversity of experience
possible for men, and non-violent conduct easier for them. This means action to reduce
gender hierarchies and antagonisms across the spectrum of social life addressed in the
recommendations from the meeting: the public arena, media, private sphere, workplaces,
- A key example of the need for change is the essential social task of peacekeeping. This
is currently performed by organizations, such as police and international peacekeeping
forces, which are overwhelmingly staffed by men, have a heavily masculinized culture, and
are liable to act in confrontational ways. Here there is need for change both in
organizational culture and in the gender division of labour.
7. How is change
- It is an important conclusion of recent research that there are different masculinities
, not just one dominating, violent form. There are many non-violent men in the world, and
men already actively involved in work to reduce violence.
- The expert meeting discussed examples of men's involvement in building a culture of
peace. They included both community activism and governmental programs :
- The Canadian "White Ribbon" campaign, a broad program of community involvement
to reduce men's violence against women, now spread to a number of other countries.
- The Nordic countries' "fathers' quota" (or "Dad's Month") of
parental leave, and experience in recruiting significant numbers of men to work in child
- The South African "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" and community actions
such as the "We Shall Remember Them" campaign about road deaths.
- Anti-sexist and anti-racist men's groups in a wide range of countries from Russia to
Australia, such as the "National Organization of Men Against Sexism" in the
- Efforts to change occupational cultures of violence by in-service programs for police,
in countries such as El Salvador and the Philippines.
- Development of gender-specific programs for boys in Australian schools, addressing
issues from literacy to human relations and violence, allowing boys to examine issues
- Though it is still too early to design a comprehensive program of change, some
significant principles have already emerged in this work :
- It is important to break down gender isolation. Though some activities need to be
targeted to single-gender groups, programs should be planned by men and women in
- It is essential to find respectful ways of working with boys and men. Blame and
antagonism are very likely to disrupt peace building.
- The institutional and structural causes of violence must be carefully considered. For
instance if economic disruption has occurred, action needs to include a search for
alternative bases of livelihood.
- Educational issues about peace and gender arise across the curriculum in schools and
adult education. They should not be a tightly-defined specialty located in only one
8. Issues for the future
- Serious research on issues about masculinity is relatively new, and its connection with
work for peace is even newer. The meeting acknowledged that many formulations and
proposals must still be tentative, open to testing in new circumstances.
- Certain issues were debated in the meeting and left open. These appeared to be fruitful
themes for further discussions and research:
- How far the institutional masculinity of the state and corporations negates the effects
of women's arrival in management and political leadership positions.
- To what extent violence arises from the fragility of masculine identities.
- The role of shame and humiliation in the origins of men's violence, an issue that
appeared in many of the case studies discussed. Humiliation might not happen so easily if
it were not for exaggerated ideas of masculine honour, an issue needing careful
- With participants from many European countries and other continents, the Oslo meeting
itself was a unique opportunity for exchange of information and ideas. It became clear
that the international circulation of practical experience in peace building work with
men, as well as research and writing, is an important task for the future.
- The constituency for work on masculinity and peace is not just a small group of
marginalized men. It is all men - and indeed all women - since gender is inter-active, and
all of us participate in, and shape, the gender arrangements of society.
- While the historical record of men's violence is horrifying, masculinities differ
greatly and there are many points where change may begin. Many experiences in personal
life show men as well as women moving towards equality and nonviolence if given the
chance. As long as institutional and cultural patterns block their way, they stop. Yet
even small measures to unblock the path may create considerable effects.
- The recommendations from the meeting reflect this sense of many possibilities, in the
wide range of topics they address. Our proposals are starting-points. To develop a
comprehensive strategy requires more work, by many hands.
In this discussion, we focus on gender polarities to find how we can
move beyond them. "Masculinity" does not exhaust the character of any man. What
men share with women is far more than what divides them. The common humanity they share -
common capacities, shared languages, shared institutions, shared interests, and shared
responsibilities for children - is the most important basis for a future of peace.
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