JJ RayJun 13, 05 2:02pm (From Malaysiakini)
Do men get ‘abused’ by unrealistic social expectations and roles as society changes? Yes, says Men2Men founder and president Dr Rohana Ariffin. And through this fledgling non-governmental organisation, she wants to provide men that helping hand, to assist them in understanding their roles and responsibilities vis-a-vis gender relations. Rohana, a former Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer in women's studies and industrial relations, says the issue is broader than that of gender relations, as it also requires understanding the stereotypical roles, images and perceptions accorded to men by society. "We feel that men are sometimes 'abused' by unrealistic social expectations. There are also men marginalised by virtue of their sexual orientation, be they homosexuals or transgenders. This group is abused and victimised by some agencies in our society.
“What happens is that the pressure imposed by society cooks to the point that some men resort to violence because they feel they have failed to live up to expectations. How else do we explain why some fathers murder their spouses and children when the going gets tough?” Men in such situations need help and this where Men2Men comes in, says Rohana, the author of A Study of Rape in Penang and Women in Trade Unions in Malaysia. Media influence A study that she and her team carried out on convicted rapists in 1993 and 2003 revealed that the rapist's mindset is ‘fixed’ about women and their ‘victims’, and that many of are greatly influenced by their family, society as well as the media.
"The majority of men are not sensitive or concerned with the issue of gender violence. Thus we hardly see them turning up for seminars on such topics. They would rather not discuss violence per se but will choose what type of violence to talk about such as the killing of rape victims, be it women or children," she says. "Men are more focused on political violence between countries, ethnic groups etc. Even in sports they talk about the violence that has seeped in. Generally, men do not see the need for any counselling to deal with their aggression and if at all counselling does take place, it is the female partner who turns up. And it is she who encourages the man to attend."
With Men2Men, Rohana hopes to re-educate men on gender violence and build a support system for them. "I realise that bringing about any social change will take time and that resistance to such change will always be there. Still, the journey of a thousand miles starts with that first step.” As for the membership of Men2Men, Rohana said it is being kept small because she wants to steer the direction of the organisation in the right perspective in dealing with gender violence. "At present we have nine members and the age group can range from 25 to 55 years. We do welcome women as members in spite of our organisation's male-oriented name." Main perpetrators Rohana is frank about the fact that men are ill-equipped to deal with and minimise violence. "They are not there yet because violence is accepted as part of a man's behaviour, be it in relationships, politics or war. Look at history and the glorification of conquests over war led by 'famous' male leaders like Alexander the Great.
Furthermore, street gangs and peer fights are seen as 'normal' in the case of male adolescents. Also, during the growing-up years, a male child's aggressive behaviour is tolerated more than that of the female child. Who would want a sissy son? "Look at the video games that are all about aggression and sexy women. The media too is not helpful because it keeps feeding its audience with tales of violence, machoism, women as sex objects etc. Such conditioning only serves to 'encourage' the 'normalisation' of violence, that violence is part and parcel of life...which is untrue." She says data and trends have shown that men have been, and still are, the main perpetrators of violence. "This being the case, it is imperative that men come together to help one another deal with anger and aggression. Be they fathers, brothers, male teachers, media personalities, men have to help instil moral values of peaceful discussion and negotiation between themselves and the opposite sex,” she says.
"Women's groups have tried in the past to help but a more concerted effort should be made with male participation.” The absence of a support system that helps men in crisis is another factor that led to the birth of Men2Men. "There is Man.V initiated by the All Women's Action Society, but Men2Men in no way is a duplicate of this. One reason I say this is because 53 percent of our population consists of males and that is a big number. And education on gender violence is challenging, requiring as many people as possible to do the work of re-educating people and helping propagate the issue of gender violence. “Be they male children, youth and men, they all need such services and education. We can do with more ManV and Men2Men outfits throughout the country, for our work complements each other.”
'Sheer misconception' Rohana dismisses as “sheer misconception” the notion that men are emotionally strong. "Just because men seldom express themselves emotionally for fear of being perceived as weak, we draw erroneous conclusions about their strength. What does the increasing number of male suicides tell us? Does it not show that men find it shameful to speak of their problems to women? Men need a support system where they can turn to and confide and that is one of the objectives of Men2Men. "As for the belief that the male ego keeps them away from reaching out for help, this is an issue that dominates their existence like the Sword of Damocles. Unless we try, we will never know whether men are willing to reach out for help. As there is an option for abused women to seek help, counselling and refuge, a similar avenue must be given to men.”
Rohana says Men2Men would only be too happy to talk to boys, male youths, male students in colleges and universities and male adults on gender violence and the reassessment of patriarchal roles in gender relations. "We plan to conduct a forum at the end of next month on the issue of gender violence and men's need for a support system to help them cope with the crisis of family and life. The forum is targeted to a male audience representing youths, college and tertiary students." Having taken on the task of re-engineering male thinking, Rohana has not been 'spared the rod', figuratively speaking. "Naturally, Men2Men has encountered many misconceptions from individuals and groups. Earlier on, a few newspapers when covering one of our events in 2003 concluded that we are a centre for men abused by their wives! This was no less derogatory for us because we are in actual truth dealing with abusive men as well as those abused by the system.
"Then there was the issue of why a woman is heading Men2Men. I explained that it does not matter who the founder is so long as the objective of creating equality between both sexes is served and gender relations between female and male is enhanced. "The other challenge is in getting men in general, including the youth to show interest in gender equality issues and combat gender violence. It is hard to educate anyone to see things differently when each day they are bombarded with messages of violence and the glorification of women as sex objects.
"It is time that men learn how to shed the strong, silent image (of a person) whose success depends primarily on his bank balance and how well he can provide for his family or partner. When in crisis, men should summon all humility and reach out for help. There is nothing to be ashamed about.” The Men2Men forum will be held on July 23. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.orgJJ RAY started her career with a mainstream publication. A non-conformist, she soon saw the barriers that went up whenever, through her writing, she tried to make the world a home for one and all.