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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
Volume 6, Number 1, Nov 2005

Doing Anti-Rape Work:
One Man's Perspective

The primary goal is to empower men to begin to take on the process of examining their own behavior, attitudes, and feelings as they relate to sexuality, intimacy, and rape. Given that it is not easy for men to confront these issues with strangers, it is important from the outset that we try to create a safe environment. We can set groundrules for confidentiality, respect for what others say, and each person's right to think for themselves. We can show appreciation for the courage men are showing just by attending this sort of workshop, and give them further credit for their participation. As suggested above, even if we take great care to avoid presenting ourselves as moral experts, many men who attend our workshops will feel defensive. As presenters, we must be aware that defensiveness interferes with hearing, thinking, feeling, and remembering. If we are sensitive to defensiveness, we are less likely to heighten it. I also recommend saying a few words about who you are. Everyone is probably wondering that anyway. If you don't, they may be distracted by wondering why not.

After creating a safe place, our next goal is to maximize participation. It is easy for audiences to adopt a passive posture. If we let them, the workshop will be less personally meaningful for them. Use exercises that get men talking, and ideally, that you think will promote discussions. One easy way is to have everyone read sentences written by others. Another way is to ask people to complete sentences you have begun, e.g., "What I like about being a man is ..." Or just ask the group questions, e.g., "How many of us find it easy to talk to women? What can (and can't) we say to them?" The amount of structure needed depends on the audience's familiarity and nondefensiveness with the issue of rape, their comfort with each other, and their age. In general, I find that more structure is useful with younger men and boys, and with defensive or noncohesive groups of men. Of course, you should feel free to experiment with different structures, to find out what works best for you with specific audiences.

Almost everyone wants to feel free, to be in control of our own bodies and what we say and do. Most men want it, and most women want it. As men, we often feel constrained by traditional stereotypes of what a man is. We feel we have to act in certain ways to fit in or to protect ourselves (we think), and we resent the loss of freedom. Women are severely constrained by the reality that more than one in three women are raped during their lives. The fear of rape keeps women from travelling alone, from going out after dark, from feeling comfortable in a variety of situations we as men take for granted. Much of what we do in antirape work comes down to the very basic distinction between control over ourselves and control over others. We can facilitate men's feeling free of the social rituals and norms that often control us, while increasing their empathy for women's right to control of their bodies, behavior, and relationships.

To do this kind of work effectively, it is important for us to give up fantasies of having control over our audience. They are not going to suddenly change their behavior because we encourage them to, nor should they. If we believe that there is one right way and that we know it, then we are no longer doing empowerment work: we are trying to control other men, trying to get them to follow us instead of Rambo. But if we can trust in men's ability to think and make good decisions for themselves, then we can help them to take on the process of growth and change that we have already begun in our personal lives. And if we are truly open to the men we work with, many of them will sense this. They will learn more from us, and we will learn more from them.

One final point: you may encounter some men who genuinely want to control and dominate women. These men have no empathy for women and do not wish to develop it. They are unlikely to reconsider their attitudes and behaviors. In fact, the best you may be able to do to steer them in that direction is to raise their anxiety. In this case, you can ask other men (or women) how they feel about what these men have said. Help such men to see that theirs is not a mainstream view. If necessary, remind them that what they are advocating constitutes rape, is against the law, and the penalties they may expect if convicted. In general, do not spend a lot of your attention on these men unless they are already dominating or trying to control the workshop itself. As a last resort, point out that they are preventing you from doing what you were invited to do, and ask them to hold further comments until after the workshop.

(See related resource Men's Anti-rape Exercises, in this same issue)

Ed. Note: This Article was originally published in the ENDING MEN'S VIOLENCE NEWSLETTER in the Fall of 1989. The EMV Newsletter was edited by Bill Warters. Author Dave Kosson was a member of Man-to-Man, a pro-feminist men's organization that educates on issues of preventing violence and abuse in Syracuse, NY at the time this was written. Dave is also an emeritus member of Men Stopping Rape, in Madison, WI.

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