Partnership & Accountability blog series

Partnership & Accountability blog series

Accountability to the women´s and to social justice movements is crucial for building collaborative and equitable partnerships. Accountability requires the development of a receptive capacity in men and others who have been placed in positions of power and privilege, so that they can listen to the perspectives and needs of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. Accountability and partnership building also require us to engage in respectful dialogues, and a willingness to constantly address issues and concerns raised by our partners.

We hope that this blog series contributes to these ongoing conversations and serves as another platform to share useful information.

Blog posts are written by member and partners of MenEngage, for whom we provide a platform for dialogue. The opinions expressed in the posts do not necessarily represent those of the MenEngage Alliance.

To learn more about MenEngage & Accountability go to www.menengage.org/accountability

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Challenging Male Supremacy: Accountability and the experiences of a New York collective

by Alan Greig (with Aazam Otero, Gaurav Jashnani and RJ Maccani)

Alan Greig
It was partly out of a desire to confront our own gender practices, and the ways in which these challenge or bolster the legitimacy of patriarchy, that a small group of us came together in 2008 to form the Challenging Male Supremacy Project (CMS). As an all-volunteer collective in New York City, we have since created spaces and developed tools for working with men and masculine-identified people to challenge male supremacist practices as part of a broader movement for collective liberation.

The push to create CMS came from a range of people and experiences. All of us have, at different times, been called upon by women, whether in our intimate relationships or political communities, to do more not only to change our own sexist attitudes and behaviours but also to work more actively to support liberatory practices and spaces within our communities, in part by holding other men accountable for their oppressive behaviour. Simply by growing up as men in societies such as the USA and UK, we have lived with the privileges of being male-identified and participated in the harm and injustice produced by systemic male supremacy.

We have also experienced, in different ways, the violence of men, whether at home, at school or in the street.  When we first met together to discuss forming CMS, one of us had begun to speak publicly about his own experiences of being sexually abused when he was a boy. Some of us were getting involved in processes to hold accountable men in our activist communities who had used violence against women.  We saw the damage being done to women and gender non-conforming people by the sexual violence being used against them by men within social justice movements, and what this violence was doing to weaken movements’ struggles for greater justice in the world. We recognized that left unaddressed, male violence within our communities reinforces the status quo of existing oppressive systems and undermines the belief that a better world is within our collective grasp.

It became increasingly clear as we met that our everyday practices of male privilege are the hardest to acknowledge, let alone address, because they are so thoroughly normalized. And because too often we have operated within a good/bad binary, in which “we”, the radical activists, saw ourselves as different from “them”, the sexists and patriarchs. The words of US anti-racist organizer Chris Crass resonated with us, in his account of being called upon to change by an intimate partner: 

"What do you mean I'm sexist?" I was shocked. I wasn't a jock, I didn’t hate women, I wasn't an evil person. "But how can I be a sexist, I'm an anarchist?" I was anxious, nervous, and my defenses were up. I believed in liberation, for fighting against capitalism and the state. There were those who defended and benefited from injustice and then there’s us, right?”

Our initial conversations focused on how to name and frame our work. Some of us were inspired by the work of the Challenging White Supremacy (CWS) Workshops, founded by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger in 1993. The CWS emphasis on consciousness-raising and skills-building toward transformative organizing, and on mobilizing the people most privileged by a system of oppression to challenge that oppression in solidarity with those targeted by it, resonated strongly with us.

Taking steps to challenge male supremacy
We devoted much of our energy in the first three years to developing a nine-session Study-into-Action process, which focused on consciousness-raising and skills-building. Between 2009 and 2011, we ran two Study-into-Action processes for a total of 25 men, chosen through our personal networks on the basis of their social justice activism.

In designing the Study-into-Action process, we drew on the teachings of Somatics, an integrative approach to healing and transformation that understands and treats human beings as a complex of mind, body, and spirit. Challenging male supremacy requires fundamental transformations in the ways we act, individually and collectively, and the Somatics exercises proved to be powerful ways of getting in touch with not just the conceptual idea but also the felt experience of transformation.

Incorporating partners’ suggestions, we fashioned a process in which we explored issues ranging from our own experiences of masculinity to manifestations of male violence in our communities; practical actions we could take to change harmful behaviours; and what practices of accountability outside the criminal penal system could look like. In our final session, we evaluated the process and discussed commitments to challenging male supremacy in our intimate relationships and political work.

Accountability, as a practice and a process that can truly generate transformation in harmful behaviours and oppressive systems, was a key theme throughout Study-into-Action. Given the violence perpetrated by the police, by courts and prisons against communities of colour and low income communities in the US, it is clear that we need to find other ways to respond to male violence, without relying on state coercion and punitive sanctions. The question we still face is how to respond to the harms of male violence in ways that build solidarity and create community, whilst supporting reparation and healing for those who have been harmed and demanding accountability from perpetrators.

Since the end of the Study-into-Action process, CMS members have remained active in co-facilitating or supporting accountability processes for men who have used violence within our social justice networks. In common with other activist groups, we still struggle with the challenge of sustaining our work. Questions about where best to focus our energies persist. We like many others face the similarly urgent tasks of creating more liberatory practices and spaces within our own communities and holding the state to account for its policy failures and abuses of power. We know that we can only do this collectively, and CMS is committed to continue working on challenging male supremacy as our contribution to broader struggles for collective liberation.

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