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Men campaigning against violence against women: on whose terms?

There is a surge in the numbers of men wanting to join anti-harassment campaigns in Europe, but their demand for immediate solutions to a long term problem is problematic.

Beulah Maud Devaney
11 February 2016
Radical Assembly. “Emotional labour also falls more frequently on women both in and outside organising spaces... By creating a supportive and caring environment we try to collectivise that emotional labour, rather than it falling on individuals.”

David Braniff-Herbert is a GMB activist, TUC LGBT Committee member and another organizer with a lot of practise making sure men don’t ignore the women in a group: “Every time we organise something in GMB I reflect on my own privilege and have a discussion with activists around under-represented groups participation” David explains. “I ask questions about how relevant the meeting is (is the issue being framed exclusively) and how accessible the details of the meetings are.” Unfortunately tactics like these take time to implement and time is one of many things that the new recruits don’t have patience for.

Pushing for immediate solutions to a long-term problem

“It’s not like sexual violence is going away” Marie explains. “But the media attention will. So there’s all this pressure from our male supporters to wrestle back the conversation regarding sexual assault and refugees. We’ll be planning an action and they’ll decide we’re not moving fast enough and take control. Which means we have a protest tomorrow, rather than next week, but it’s not as good and lacks longevity”.

The pressure to react quickly is familiar to campaigners but the pressing need to saying something, anything, is compounded by the immediate politicization of the Cologne attacks. “It’s a difficult situation” says Lily, a political activist from Barcelona. “It’s nice that [Cologne] helped motivate guys to support our attempts to challenge street harassers. Unfortunately the good will is next to the fact that a lot of them don’t understand how street harassment works and what we need them to do.” This lack of understanding as to how street harassment “works” bleeds into every area of campaigning. Men have the potential to use their privilege to challenge street harassment but many of the new recruits prefer to take about big solutions, rather than small, meaningful, conversations.

“Our group was set up to end street-harassment” explains Marie. “That’s a big goal and it will take a long time to accomplish. And these guys seem to think we’re going to solve it by, say, next Tuesday. And the way to solve it is to have a big, one-off protest and then go home, rather than develop a long-term plan.” Activists like Marie and Lily are, understandably, reluctant to alienate new supporters, both asking to be kept anonymous, rather than risk male supporters reading about their dissatisfaction.

As the battle to prioritize short-term wins over long-term goals continues, however, it’s clear that both women are at breaking point. “We need men to commit to helping us for years, not months” Lily says. “They need to commit, they need to listen, and they need to understand that there are no easy solutions regarding street harassers. So walking in and deciding to “fix” everything won’t work. They don’t get to be heroes.”

Some names have been changed to protect the activists’ privacy

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