What can men’s roles in 1970s anti-sexism campaigns teach us about consent?
As women around the world call out sexual misconduct, we cannot ignore the role of men in rooting out misogyny, says Lucy Delap
, the United States, France, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, and had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres and local anti-sexist men’s groups.Its members were passionately engaged with the problem of male violence – suffered by women, queer and non-binary people, as well as men and boys. So, what can we learn from their activism?
Myresearchon the anti-sexist men’s movement has uncovered men who identified with feminist goals who established groups such as Men Against Violence Against Women, active in Cardiff in the 1980s. They picketed films that they felt glorified violence against women, daubed graffiti onto sexually objectifying adverts, and handed out stickers that declared “rape is violence, not sex”.
In discussion groups, anti-sexist men scrutinised their own behaviour and criticised their own relationships. In Bristol, London and Nottingham, men also worked with the Move (Men Overcoming Violence) network. Move offered counselling to violent men through probation and social work referrals, challenging both sexism and homophobia. headtopics.com
Nonetheless, many women found it hard to see how men could be part of the solution after years of sexist socialisation. The problem of rape was often understood as so profoundly embedded in the way that gender worked in society that it was seen to structure every encounter between men and women.
Little rapesWomen’s liberation activists of the 1970s and 1980s saw male violence as all-embracing. In similar ways to today’s talk of “rape culture”, feminist theorists discussed the idea of “little rapes” – the heckling, looks and wolf whistles that women encountered in pubs and on streets, routine microaggressions of workplaces, bum pinching and comments on bodies. These behaviours were part of the constant threat posed by what anti-sexist activist
John Stoltenbergtermed “the rape-like values in our conduct”.Male activists continued to hand out anti-rape stickers, but many of them became disheartened about progress when rape was defined so widely and seemed to include every possible sexual encounter
Writers and theoristsAndra Medea and Kathleen Thompsondefined rape in 1974 as “any sexual intimacy, whether by direct physical contact or not, that is forced on one person by another”. Within radical feminism, rape was conceptually expanded to include a wide set of interactions, which complicated things for the anti-sexist men’s movement. Though male activists continued to hand out anti-rape stickers, many of them became disheartened about progress when rape was defined so widely and seemed to include every possible sexual encounter. headtopics.com
A student survey in 1980 from the University of Essex showed how this played out on an intimate level. Because of these broader definitions of rape, men who thought themselves anti-sexist became detached from feminist activism, either by positioning themselves as victims, or taking such extreme precautions that they began to see interacting with women as being entirely off-limits.Read more: The Independent »
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