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EXPERT GROUP MEETING

ON

MALE ROLES AND MASCULINITIES IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF

A CULTURE OF PEACE


 

II - RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY OF ISSUES AND THEMES

Introduction
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.
1. Why 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 political rhetoric.

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 ?
2. 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 discussions.

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 attractive options.
  • 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 situations.
  • 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 violence.
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 intense.
  • 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 practitioners too.

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, institutions.

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 accomplished ?
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 care centres.
  • 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 United States.
  • 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 about masculinity.
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 consultation.
  • 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 curriculum area.
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 examination.
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.
Concluding note
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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