Inclusive spaces for self-identified males to discuss the implications of gender-based violence are few and far between — a social reality the newly launched Accountability Action Project is determined to deconstruct.
A sub-project of the Student Union’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention Project (GBVPP), the AAP was borne out of the notion that men should be given the opportunity to critically examine their unilateral role in gender-based violence, GBVPP coordinator Melanie Alexander explained.
“When we organize around gender-based violence, a lot of the times the role that men play is something that is really challenging to deal with,” she said. “(But) men have an incredibly huge role in ending gender-based violence.
“The AAP is starting to work with men who either are men that want to be accountable for sexual violence, men who potentially have committed sexual violence or men who have learned a lot of unhealthy things about masculinity.”
The project will deal primarily with fraternities on campus as these university microcosms were determined to be places perceived as perpetuating social norms related to gender-based violence, Alexander explained. Through four three-hour workshops and various events throughout the academic year, members of these student groups will learn how hyper-masculinity, sexism and rape culture, among other factors, oppress marginalized gender groups.
Along with this fraternity-centred approach, the AAP will host a number of campus men’s circles. These gatherings will be a space for male-identified individuals to openly express their opinions about toxic masculinity and how they’ve been impacted by gender-based violence, Alexander said.
“Those spaces don’t really exist for men to talk about the ways they’re impacted by sexual violence,” she said. “(The) campus men’s circle is going to be a lot broader; it’s open to anyone who identifies as male or who has been socialized as a male in our community so they can have space to debrief.”
According to AAP coordinator Parker Leflar, the necessity for this initiative is evident in recent events like the Steubenville and Rehtaeh Parsons rape cases. But, he said it can also be traced back to an unrealistic expectation imposed on men to act in a non-emotional and
“There are a lot of cultural norms around aggression and around violence and around stoicism, so dealing with things in a way that is
aggressive or violent when what might be a more appropriate response is empathy,” he said.
“It’s really important to go to the root of that and to see how each individual person is affected by that and how they fit into a larger system that is a violent system against women, against non-binary individuals, transgender individuals and against men as well.”
Because men disproportionately perpetuate violence against women, Women and Gender Studies department chair Lise Gotell emphasized that this male-focused initiative will allow people to dismiss the archaic ways of understanding gender-based violence and embrace the idea that this social problem is rooted in a constant struggle for power that’s steeped in heteronormative subjectivity.
“Until now, the way we’ve managed this social problem is by placing responsibility on women both in terms of women’s activism, which has really been responsible for calling attention to this problem and for proposing important law reforms and other measures to address this problem. But also the responsibility has been placed upon the individual women to individually manage the risks of sexual violence by managing her behaviour,” she said.
“We need to see gender-based violence — in particular, sexual violence — as being related to different kinds of power relations including power relations based upon gender, so masculine privilege, but also power relations that are based upon heterosexuality, heteronormativity and racism.”
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