"The Role of Men in the Struggle Against Domestic Violence"
Session notes from SAPC 2004

The following notes were taken by volunteer note-takers. There may be errors, and notes may not represent full session content.

Background: South Asian Sisters put this on the agenda to challenge the notion that domestic violence (DV) as a "women's issue."

Format: Discussion was set up as a fishbowl, where the first half had women discussing the topic, and men listening to the women's conversation. The second half was a conversation between men and women, foregrounding the men's reactions to the issues discussed. Discussion was framed as a safe space. Identifyings details and specific case histories have been removed from these notes.

Attendees: About eight women, most with experience in the movement against violence against women (VAW). Four men, with varying levels of engagement with the movement.

Note: Speakers' comments are very roughly summarized. Discussion by men and women are indicated as "M" and "W"

Women's Discussion

Question posed: Do you think men should have a role in preventing domestic violence (DV)?
W: yes, to question what's presented to them through parents/media
W: yes, by providing support structure for those you know going through DV
W: ours is a particularly violent society; each individuals has a resposibility to heal themselves
W: men can be a more powerful force against sexism
W: disaparate ratio of men to women in DV agencies is problematic, complex

Debates on men's involvement:
W: analogies between DV sexism, racism can be drawn; and to all forms of violence
W: as a woman, I take ownership of the women's movement, but see men as allies and necessary support
W: in DV shelters, there's isn't any room made for men to participate
W: new male volunteers are warned that they are going to be seen as being similar to male batterers
W: leadership roles should be for women, but men should support
W: we're fighting the system of patriarchy, which can be perpetuated by either men or women
W: some men can be more feminist than some women
W: our understanding of violence should not be degendered; too often, male violence is "normal," but when women participate in violence, it's sensationalized
W: too much responsibility is placed on women to prevent being molested
W: Bollywood movies contains violent messages against women
W: parallel with other struggles; women aren't allowed to own property all the time, for example; men should consider what they own and consider giving that away
W: we have to accept that we live in a patriarchal society, so men and women carry strands of patriarchy/sexism -- we should admit this
W: try to pick holes in the power structure
W: violence can erupt in many ways, mostly in private, including patterns of emotional abuse/violence
W: men should work hard to be allies before violence comes up
W: men should work hard to befriend women, not just as potential mates, etc.

Discussion Opened up to Men,
who were listening to women's discussion up to this point

M: it's a misconception that men can't be strong allies, or feel deeply about issue; DV is larger social problem
M: presence of men can have strong chilling effect, such that the nature of women's conversation changes when men are in the room, even if if men are silent
M: feel like an outsider in DV, at best an ally or supporter from outside; this can be awkward in the same way that white anti-racists sometimes feel cheesy to people of color
M: frustration expressed because the demographics of the issue are changing
M: two issue have been intertwined in discussion so far -- how men can prevent battery themselves, and how they can work with DV survivors
M: men and boys are victimized by family violence which is sometimes subsumed under "violence against women" category
M: broad cross-gender impact of family violence makes clear that it can't be considered just a "women's issue"
W: we have to ask survivors if they prefer male or female counselors; sometimes they prefer males and this should be respected
W: leaders in movement must be female, i.e. those of the majority of the population affected
M: male participants at DV discussions often marginalized
W: women are often marginalized
W: men's roles are to be subversive, be educated, and to educate others in a patriarchal society
M: men should say they have "zero tolerance" for VAW
M: men are also major victims of violence inflicted by other men; massive male rape crisis in prisons noted
M: unclear on how best to broach the subject of DV with one's friends as a male ally