In Part 1, I presented a spectrum of male behaviors and attitudes, from violently misogynistic to safe ally. Next it is time to think about how we – as women, male allies, and society – can help men move up that scale to become increasingly safer for women. The strategies will differ depending on where a man starts out. However, using current research about change theory, we can find some concrete strategies to help us start to make progress.
Social scientists have conducted many studies about persuasion and social change, and I encourage everyone to follow these research trends. For this piece, I will focus on a few simple ideas about what works. I’m gearing this advice mainly toward men who want to become safer and to help other men become safer, but some of it applies to women as well. It also applies to religious communities – if they prioritize this issue, the men who attend will learn to be safer.
1.) Peer support – we are pack animals in some ways, so we respond to peer influence. If you are a man who wants to become safer, surround yourself with people who are safer and more feminist than you are. Find online AND real-life communities and friendships that will draw you forward. Women, too, can help the world become safer by seeking communities and friendships with people who are more dedicated to ending misogyny than you are. If you know a woman or man who is somewhat less aware and committed than you, try to expose h/er to your more feminist perspectives regularly. If you have a group of friends or a community that is significantly less safe for women than you are, consider whether they will hold you back more than you can help them.
2.) Structural support – surround yourself with an array of messages that deconstruct misogyny in all its forms, and shield yourself from misogynist messages. Make it easier for yourself to think and act like a safe ally. For example, remove any pictures or art that depicts females as sex objects. Find art that celebrates diverse forms of female beauty and power – elderly women, large women, women who have achieved great accomplishments in various ways. Rehumanize women visually in your environment. Avoid, as much as possible, media that portray dehumanized or disempowered women. Such media include, of course, all pornography (not erotica), most advertisements, and many movies and television shows. When misogynist ads come on, mute the sound and cover the screen; tell yourself, “not in my beautiful world.” If you are watching a movie or a television show, try to increase your awareness of the misogynist messages it contains. Following Bitch Media , the Representation Project or Gina Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media can help you get started. Whenever you see a scene, ask yourself – what messages does this scene send about female humanity, beauty, power, and sexuality? Are those messages violent? True? What is true instead? What would a Safe Ally think about these messages? When you see a dehumanizing representation of a woman, close your eyes and think to yourself “She is Human. Sacred. Precious. Divine. Respected.”
3.) Mentor – Find mentors who can guide you. If you are a man who thinks he is the safest ally around, if you truly cannot imagine finding a male mentor to help you learn to be safer, see if there are any women who are willing to give you honest feedback and guidance. The chances are almost 100% that you are still behaving in unsafe ways without realizing it. Men can reach out to other men who seem less safe, to enter mentoring relationships of trust and support.
4.) Inspire – speaking of trust, it’s important not to nag or bully people you sincerely want to help. Instead, ask questions. Go ahead and express honest, authentic emotions and opinions, and remember that you have made other people feel unsafe at some point in your life. Someone took the time to help lead you forward with compassion. People respond far better to a positive picture of the world they want to see, than they do to constant criticism. Paint that picture for the people you want to lead forward, and invite them to help you create it together. Paint the picture vividly, and seek out writers, speakers, artists and musicians who have painted it as well.
5.) Set Goals – figure out what goals seem achievable to you, for yourself and your engagement with your community. Set concrete, reasonable goals that will help build your confidence as you progress. Focus on one step at a time, rather than an overwhelming mountain of demands. Champion yourself with compassion. Each single step matters and will strengthen you further.
6.) Practice – Some healthy habits will come easily, and others will require more practice. It takes time to build up these mental and emotional muscles. Changing the language you use, or your sexual habits, may feel foreign at first. Think of yourself as learning the culture of another country, one in which women are safe. It is not the country you grew up in, but you can get used to its new ways the same way you got used to the food when you visited somewhere different.
7.) Risk tolerance – understand how comfortable you are with adopting new ideas (would you be the first person out on the dance floor at a party? The fifth? The last?). Place yourself appropriately so that you can help build momentum for societal change. If you are not one of the bravest pro-feminist pioneers, stay close to people who are, so that you will join their efforts as soon as you can muster the courage. If you are a trailblazer type, keep in touch with the cutting edge so that you can inspire others to join you. If you are more timid, continually search for where feminist progress has gained enough support that you can add your voice on those issues. Courage is also a muscle – practice, and it will grow. When you realize people find you inspiring, you will gain even more strength.
8.) Inner Work – One of the best tools I can offer anyone seeking liberation is the Internal Family Systems model of therapy. You can find books and workbooks to learn this method, and it will help you for your entire life and every relationship you have. It can help you understand when you are not thinking and acting true to who you really are inside, and how to heal the wounded child who is in the driver’s seat at those times. If you struggle with defensiveness, resist change, or react to feminist ideas with anxiety, this approach can help you find peace and confidence as you embrace a happier and more compassionate life.
9.) Online activism – If you want to persuade people online to progress away from misogyny, here are some tips from research:
a.) Pick your battles – focus your energy on people who seem calm enough to discuss the topic, rather than people who use extreme language or use “we” language and identify as part of an extremist group (such as MRA or MGTOW); If a bunch of other people pile onto someone, s/he is less likely to change h/er mind. Try to be one of the first commenters to respond after a post, and you will have the most impact. If you haven’t persuaded someone by the fourth comment exchange, you probably never will.
b.) Stay calm – use calm, gentle language that indicates that you respect the other person. Avoid extreme language or attacks.
c.) Strategize – The most persuasive tools are to: cite links to data and research; give specific examples such as stories, pictures, analogies, or metaphors; write lengthy arguments rather than pithy one-liners or rants; use words that are different from the original post.
d.) Feedback and conversations – If someone gives you feedback you do not like, pause before responding or reacting. List to yourself all the reasons why you should discount their feedback – this person is always way off base, s/he doesn’t know the whole situation, you’ve heard the opposite from people you respect, no one listens to h/er, s/he has all kinds of agendas, s/he doesn’t know you at all, it was just a joke, etc. Fully validate all of the items on that list until you feel reassured that you have expressed your skepticism completely. Then put that list to the side. Try to consider, calmly, whether despite all of the valid items on that list, the person might possibly have said anything valid or useful. Use the above-mentioned Internal Family Systems approach to help yourself feel safe, loved, worthy of respect, competent, and good, so that you can consider the feedback you have gotten without feeling as though it threatens your core identities. Love and affirm yourself for the courage it takes to listen.
This article is meant to start the conversation, not to provide a simplistic, complete solution. Our culture seems to have reached a point where rapid change could blossom in new ways. I hope these strategies can contribute to the toolkit of good-hearted people everywhere, joining hands to bring healing, liberation, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross CulturalConflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
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