Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Men Can Do: Work with Women

I ran across an interesting article the other day, written by Zainab Salbi, who is one of the founders of Women for Women International, an amazing organization, from first glance, that helps to connect women in their struggles in order to lift everybody up. In this article, Salbi notes that she experienced a change in her own conceptions of men while working Kabul:
I will never forget the day that two turbaned, bearded strangers approached me as I stood in the midst of a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. My mind instantly flooded with stereotypes of the Taliban -- whose misogynist interpretations of Islam resulted in the brutal oppression of Afghan women -- and I braced myself for the ways they could express their disapproval for the women that were gathering to enroll in Women for Women International's program. But, to my absolute surprise, the men had come to thank me for the opportunities that our organization had brought to the women, their families, and their community.
First of all, I think it's wonderful that these men expressed their feelings on the issue--I'm not saying they should get a cookie, but I do think that it's a good thing when men recognize the ways in which feminist organizations help us all.

Next, Salbi takes a step back and asks us to acknowledge some of the struggles that men face:
But, what happens to men is complex as well. While it is true that men lead violent actions in war, including the majority of the killing, raping and pillaging that occurs, not all men are part of that reality. In truth, many men are drawn into the stereotypes of the male aggressor regardless of their own beliefs, values and actions. For example, when rape and other forms of gender-based violence are used as weapons during war, afterwards many men are left struggling with the very essence of their manhood and masculinity after they witness the rape of their wife and daughters.
I applaud Salbi's recognition of the importance of changing conceptions of masculinity and where that leads men--not only do men have to deal with the guilt of being the guiding force of violence (against women, yes, but also against other men), but they also have to deal with a lack of options. Bucking traditional masculinity is dangerous to men.

Salbi continues, telling a heartbreaking story of one man's (late) realization that how he had treated women his whole life was wrong. Unfortunately, this fact that was only revealed to him upon being humiliated at the hands of the Taliban:
As we work on building peace and stability in different war torn regions, it is important that we understand the complexities of gender and recognize the struggles not only faced by women but by men as well. This complexity and struggle can be seen all over the world. An Afghan woman once told me how her father-in-law, an older man with weak hearing who worked as a hospital guard during the Taliban control of Afghanistan was slapped by a member of the Taliban when he didn't open the door immediately to the knocks he couldn't hear. When her father-in-law returned home, he complained of being sick and remained in bed for three days. On the fourth day, he left his bed, knelt in front of the women in his family, and apologized for the times he had slapped them in the past, saying that, until his encounter with the Taliban, he had never thought of the humiliation it caused. From then on in that household, women were safe from physical abuse.
What can men do? Men can learn these lessons, sure (earlier would be better, of course, and the best situation would be if such lessons were taught to men as boys), but men can also work with organizations like Women for Women International, and donate to them financially, or as a volunteer. as more and more feminists see the importance of bringing men into the picture, this should help encourage more and more men to support these feminist causes.

Be sure to read Salbi's entire article. It's full of even more insight and inspiration, especially for feminist and pro-feminist men.
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