Action men can take to dismantle rape culture

A supplement to Museopunks episode 23


  1. In the September episode of Museopunks, we began talking about specific actions men can take to dismantle gender oppression and create more supportive institutions for people of all genders. To finish the thoughts I began on the show, below are four actions we as men—as people who benefit from male supremacy—can take to join or continue the fight towards gender justice.

    On the podcast, I suggested we follow a framework for dismantling rape culture in our lives and at work. Roxane Gay provides a great definition of rape culture in her book Bad Feminist:
  2. "Rape Culture is a culture where we are inundated, in different ways, by the idea that male aggression and violence towards women is acceptable and often inevitable.”
  3. Because we live in rape cultures, violence can take many forms, and we should constantly examine and critique our own thoughts and behaviors while paying attention to those of our peers. Ashley Fairbanks provides a great visual of the spectrum of violence as a pyramid:
  4. At its root, all this violence is about the erasure of the lives and experiences of women, femme and gender nonconforming people. If we think globally and act locally, dismantling rape culture in our own lives is a tangible way of participating in the global fight to end rape and all gender-based violence. Following are four types of actions we can take towards this end, including several specific strategies: listening, speaking up, demanding equitable pay, and doing emotional labor.
  5. Listen to women, femmes and gender nonconforming people

  6. Benefitting from male supremacy means that our voices are often viewed as holding more authority, weight and importance than others. Spending our entire lives with this status quo might make it challenging to be good listeners consistently, or to even know how to be one. Take some time periodically to remind yourself of good listening skills, and commit every day to put them into practice with the women, femme and gender nonconforming people in your lives.
  7. Some specific strategies we can employ include a tool that President Barack Obama’s women staffers used in group meetings to "amplify" each other's voices: repeat key points women make in group meetings and give them credit.
  8. “Acknowledge when you're saying something that women before you have already said.” Women, Technology and Leadership, Museums and the Web 2014
  9. Also, take a beat before you speak and make sure other voices are being heard. Leave space for others to speak who may not have had a chance to yet.
  10. This last suggestions begs for a hashtag #AllMaleMeetings. Pay attention to meetings scheduled to include only men, and either loop in other people, or question whether you should be having the meeting at all.
  11. Speak up for gender justice

  12. Jennifer Foley has two suggestions: speak up in the moment within the larger group when you hear something that needs to be addressed, not as a private sidebar after the fact. Likewise, back up women in the moment when they speak up. Simple phrases like “I think you're right” and “I agree with you” might be all that’s needed. Follow their cues to see if you should say more.
  13. One strategy I've found effective when other men say things that aren't outright oppressive but I have questions about is to act confused and ask them what they mean. It asks people to really spell out exactly what they’re saying, and often leads to a discussion where they themselves discover what’s problematic about what they’ve said.
  14. Demand equitable pay

  15. It's important make a distinction between equitable pay and equal pay. It's well documented that women, femme and gender nonconforming people are not paid the same for doing the same work as men, so certainly achieving equal pay would bring us a long way. But ultimately what we want is for everyone to have the capacity to live full, joyful lives. This might not directly translate to people being paid the same amount of money. Equitable pay means some folks might need more pay to achieve this based on the circumstances of their lives. Looking at this issue through an intersectional lens this becomes much clearer to see. As men we've literally been benefitting from inequitable compensation for our work for centuries. Isn't it about time we challenged our expectations and demand more for others?

    So, demand equitable pay. And Kate Livingston adds “plus interest!”

    One thing that makes this work challenging is that unless an institution has a policy of wage transparency, we’re often sensitive about sharing our salaries and wages with others. We should experiment with being more transparent and sit with the discomfort that may come with talking to each other about what we’re paid. You don't have to act big from the start, just start with one colleague that you're close to.
  16. Do emotional labor work and at home

  17. If you're not familiar with what emotional labor is, MetaFilter has a really great thread that's worth reading. Here's a summary that acts like an Emotional Labor Handbook: 
  18. “Humans are innately built to want to nurture, we just don’t all know how”
  19. Advocate for your own parental leave and that of your peers. Familiarize yourself with family and medical leave rights in your area, and normalize its use. In many organizational cultures, particularly in the U.S., family and medical leave is treated like something no one should ever really use. Relatively speaking, the twelve weeks that the U.S. FMLA law provides is such a small amount of time when caring for people who are ill, and it can be a useful tool for self-care. Talk about family and medical leave outside of times when people might consider using it and work on dropping its stigma.

    Respond to emails promptly. Even if you don't know the answer and need time to think about it, respond letting them know that, give them a timeframe, and stick to it. Follow-up is work. Don't give your peers more work.