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Gender Conference Stresses Male Involvement in Fighting Sexism

By Christina Chu
Staff Reporter

A full day seminar last Friday focused on issues of multiculturalism and gender and stressed the importance of involving men in fighting sexism.

The conference, titled "Fighting Sexism: A Conference for Men," was sponsored by Real Men, an anti-sexist men's organization founded in Boston in 1988.

Following opening remarks by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the conference continued with a panel called "Multicultural Perspectives on Men Fighting Sexism." Jackson Katz, founder of Real Men, lead the panel.

"The time is now long overdue for all men to start taking an active role in ending men's violence against women, and sexism in all its forms," Katz said. "Men have a critical role to play in teaching other men and young boys what they can do to end sexism."

Panel starts seminar

The panel consisted of four members that represented various organizations, including counseling and service groups.

"The use of violence as a tool for resolving conflict in a family is a major fact that affects youth today. It leads youth to drugs, gang violence,and abusive behavior," said panelist Chuck Turner from Emerge, a counseling service for men who batter women.

"Men were not involved in the battered women's movement because they were not invited," said panelist Joyce Williams-Mitchell, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition of Battered Women Service Groups.

Economic disempowerment of women keeps them in the vicious circle of domestic violence, Mitchell said. It is important to get men working in the anti-sexism movement because the source of economic power lies in the hands of men, she said.

Other forms of violence discussed

People should be aware that domestic violence also hurts the next generation, Turner said.

If a father abuses his wife, he will instill in the child an acceptance of battering. Until he recognizes that his ideas are wrong, he is not fit to be with his children alone, even if he never abused them before, Turner said.

"How should we deal with psychological manipulation? This is sexism too, but it's more sophisticated and harder to pinpoint," asked an audience member.

"You've got to make the calls and say it's wrong, otherwise you're colluding with the system that society has set up. If you don't call it, or speak up about it then we aren't going to change," Turner responded.

"Being nice, gentle and polite just doesn't cut it in the workplace," he said. "We have to be up front and direct with people [about what we see as sexist.] If this doesn't happen, we're going to see ourselves in tremendous difficulty in the future."

Workshops addressed issues

The afternoon consisted of two sets of workshops, which addressed such issues as rape, racism, pornography, and homophobia.

Members of the conference discussed the roots of oppression at a workshop entitled "Sexism and Racism: Making the Connections" led by Mitchell and Richard Wright, violence prevention coordinator for Cambridge.

"We should feel comfortable about issues on race and gender but we can't do that all the time. We need to put that pain in our fists and start fighting by making a difference so that this kind of oppression won't happen again," said a participant in the discussion.

The only way to see women in their entirety is to acknowledge their diversity. Insight takes courage, Wright said.

At the workshop entitled "Homophobia and Sexism: Making the Connection" led by Lyn Freundlich of the AIDS Action Committee, participants related personal experiences.

The threat of violence to non-conformists keeps the others in line with a heterosexist society, said a conference member. It keeps men and women together because that's where the power lies. Legally they have more power if they support patriarchy.

The day ended with a forum for all conference members to discuss strategies for increasing men's activism in the fight against sexism.