The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University held its inaugural conference on masculinity from March 5 to 8 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.
The International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality was held in the wake of the second MenEngage Global Symposium in New Delhi last November and before the UN Commission on Status of Women, which takes place on Monday.
“A lot of important international activists will be in town for the UN Commission so we figured if we held the conference this weekend we’d have a chance for them to attend this as well,” Cliff Leek, co-program director at the center and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Stony Brook, said.
As a result, 600 scholars, educators and gender equality activists—including 120 presenters and panelists—from around the globe gathered in New York for the four-day symposium.
According to Michael Kimmel, executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, about 120 guests and speakers were not able to attend the conference due to weather.
However, the ones who did show up included prominent female figures and activists such as actress Jane Fonda; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Gloria Steinem, one of the leaders of the early feminist movement in the United States.
According to Leek, the goal of the conference is to bring researchers and activists together to discuss ways to promote and improve gender justice and equality.
“We need to think about masculinity norms and how men are taught to be masculine the same way women are taught to be feminine,” he said in an interview. “More and more, we start to see women push the conversation and we need to do the same for men because the gender roles men try to fit into often leads to violence against women.”
The struggle against violence towards women has been a main focus for gender equality and women’s rights activists since the first feminist movement and extends beyond the boundaries of United States.
“There is personal and collective desire for men to engage in gender equality to improve their personal life and the society they live in,” Krizia Nardini, archeologist and Ph.D. candidate at Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona, said.
According to Nardini, while these men remain a minority in their respective countries, it is a positive trend.
The Man Up Campaign, a conference partner whose main focus is to educate youth on gender equality through the community, is teaming up with Lions Club International to create the largest gender equality education program in India, a country where girls and women suffer such an extreme gender inequality they often fall victim to gang rapes and rarely receive justice.
BBC’s documentary film “India’s Daughter” has caused national and international outrage because of the testimonial of a gang rapist, in which he blamed the victim for being out late as the cause of her rape, and the Indian government’s decision to ban the film.
“The people who commit these acts are mostly uneducated men,” Ghanghyam Kanani, Man Up Campaign’s delegate to India, said.
Kanani and his colleagues Eugene Hung, lead organizer, and Jimmie Briggs, co-founder and director of Man Up Campaign, said the new program, which uses sports, arts and entertainment as platforms to educate Indian youth on gender equality, will prevent gang rapes in the future.
Most of the educators and activists agreed it is crucial to engage young men at an early age in order to instill the idea of gender equality and prevent violence and bullying.
Niobe Way, professor of developmental psychology and author of “Deep Secrets: Boy’s Friendship and the Crisis of Connection,” said the issue lies beyond gender equality.
“The issue is how we attempt to see ourselves as a common humanity,” Way said. “We don’t see boys, men, girls, or women as fully humans, so we create these gender binaries, these racial and sexual stereotypes that are all based on only part human versions of who we are.”
According to Way, boys and girls need to be viewed as equals with both masculine and feminine traits before they can engage in equality.
Kamesh Advani, a member of the Advisory Committee for Saheli, a Boston based organization aimed to help survivors of domestic violence, said mainstream media, which itself is often known for racial and sexual inequalities, is key for youth engagement.
“The message of gender equality is getting out there, but the mainstream media will help speed up the process,” he said.
Because a significant number of youth today engage in some sort of athletic program in middle school and high school where coaches are the authoritative figures, Chuck Derry of Gender Violence Institute implemented a program, Coaching For Change, which trains coaches how to educate youth on violence prevention and gender equality.
The program was so successful it is now a state requirement in Minnesota for coaches to complete the training before gaining their coaching licenses.
There are many more solutions to the question of youth engagement in gender equality and the conference offers a platform for the solutions.
In recognition of the conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed March 5–8 “International Conference on Masculinity Week.”