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the other half of gender

Eliane Sperling is the ICJW representative to the European Women’s Lobby and reports on their Seminar in Brussells in October 2011, entitled The Other Half of Gender- Masculinities and Men's Role Toward Equality.

Recent developments have shown that policies and work towards gender equality face new challenges related to men's role and demands. Reflecting on men, masculinities and men's movements is crucial for women's organisations. The EWL therefore organized a debate about how to work with men and involve them in the struggle for gender equality.

For Brigitte Triems, EWL President, gender equality is not a feminine issue, it is an issue for the whole of society. To make headway men need to be involved. Feminine movements which can look back on much progress now face a backlash from antifeminist movements which are getting a lot of attention in the media. They promote a return to tradional, i.e. patriarchal values and claim that women have too much power, and that it is the men who face discrimination. Fortunately networks of feminist men have also sprung up. Fittingly, of the 6 distinguished panelists, who addressed this question,  4 were men, all deeply involved in gender equality. They came from Sweden, Finland, the UK, Belgium and also the Province of Quebec.

Tomas Wetterberg, is a founding member of "MEN FOR GENDER EQUALITY", Sweden. On the concept of "Masculinity": this is to be equated with power over women and return to traditional values. The majority of men in Sweden are in favour of sharing family responsabilities, are against violence, and do want to see the pay gap decreased. They approve the 60 days parental leave for EACH parent, and its not being shifted onto the mother alone. He is convinced that men can, and must be, part of the gender equality movement.

Jouni Varanka is an expert on men and gender equality in Finland. His message is that it must become normal for men to be active in that movement. The aim must be win/win situations, where both men and women benefit. If there are no losers, there will be no opposition. One must not leave the gender debate to the populists, who, in Finland also, claim that women have too much power.

The most thought-provoking  contributions were those of two researchers, both from the University of Quebec at Montreal, M?lissa Blais and Francis Dupuis-D?ri, who analysed the "masculinist" movement. They adressed the rise of groups of men who are actively challenging the feminist movement, claiming that it has gone too far, that it is the men who are victims. These statements are eagerly seized upon by the media, with sensational reporting of the suffering of divorced fathers, of men committing suicide, on the issue of boys doing less well in school. The interpretation being that the educational system is overwhelmingly geared to girls. 

The most shocking example of this antifeminist backlash is the tragedy which was played out in December 1989 at the Polytechnic in Montreal. Marc L?pine went on a rampage and killed 14 women students. He left a letter, clearly stating his antifeminist motives: women want to keep their own privileges, and at the same time, secure all the advantages that men are entitled to. The media and the authorities have tried to portray this as the follly of one deranged man. Not so. For the past 20 years, feminist movements have held vigils in Montreal to commemorate this attack. They have been the target of abuse, violence, even death threats (a dead animal deposited on the doorstep). And as for the autorities, they have tried to stop these commemorations. 

We have thus a two pronged situation. On the one hand, men who support the feminist movement and who work together with women on promoting gender equality. It is with these men that we can move forward. On the other hand, there is the worrying phenomenon of "masculinism" and the backlash that is being seen, not only in Europe.