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What if Men March for Moral Masculinity and Gender Equality?

Published with The Good Men Project

Picture this if you can. You’re at a night club. Music is pumping, people are dancing, laughing, bumping into one another. You see the waves of bodies through a filter of flashing lights and shadows. Somewhere in the middle of this purple and navy sea, you notice a group of people in a tight huddle. Looking closer, you see that there is a body in the middle of that huddle. You concentrate and through the pulse of the club hear the circle laughing, and through that, you hear someone in the middle saying, “No. No. No.” This confusing scene is sliding toward the stage like a school of fish, and you spot something—a shirt?—pulled up and out from the center. That makes your feet twitch, but no one nearby looks alarmed. No one is rushing to stop whatever is happening, so you wait, until the shuffling group reaches the stage. The body from the center is pushed up and out of the tight ring and through the bars of a cage. After a few moments, the person begins to dance and the group below cheers and claps. After a minute, maybe less, the dancer steps back into the sea, and the night rolls on.

Whatever you pictured, we’ll circle back.

In April 2020 I was hopeful that the pandemic would force society to reconsider gender roles and that a new model of masculinity might emerge. Though I remain committed to a better model, studies suggest that in some ways we are moving in the wrong direction. Recent data from UN Women reports that 7 in 10 women believe domestic violence has increased, and 3 in 5 see more sexual harassment in public. As we say in my house. Not good. Very bad.

For any man who cares about the wellbeing of all people as well as the reputation of men, the documented increase in violence against women during the pandemic is heartbreaking. First, because of the devastating impact on victims, and also because men are too often the culprits. While COVID-19 mixed the world a malignant cocktail—and men were not the bartenders—we still must reckon with the numbers. If 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experienced intimate partner violence before the pandemic, and if both of those ratios have increased, humans have a significant relationship problem, and women suffer the most.

By the numbers, more women are victims of intimate partner violence, and while not all partners are men, most are. Even before the pandemic, nearly half of female murder victims were killed by a current or former male intimate partner. It’s easy to blame men, by telling or buying the story that we are all abusive, toxic, misogynists, but that is false, harmful, and an oversimplification of the issues that men face. And while men are also often victimized by other men, sexually and other wise––87% of male victims of (completed or attempted) rape reported only male perpetrators––it’s also important to recognize that “about 1 in 3 men experience contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner,” and “97% of men who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner had only female perpetrators.” Again, that’s a significant problem.

People need to treat people better, and gender equality needs to be co-ed struggle, one where men are partners rather than obstacles to progress. Without a doubt, men need to take accountability, stop bad behavior, advocate for the advancement of women, transform accepted masculinity. Gender norms and assumptions, however, continue to frustrate efforts.