On September 22, the United Nations launched a campaign called “He for She” that advocates for the freedom of both men and women from gender inequalities.
Guest speaker and renowned British actress Emma Watson spoke at this conference, calling forth for all participants, especially young boys and men, to be advocates in changing this issue. Faculty of Social Sciences professor Dr. Jennifer Janke, who is teaching Introduction to Women’s and Gender students this semester, is critical, like Watson, of the present day generalizations and stereotypes surrounding feminism.
“A number of negative stereotypes exist about feminism and feminists. The most common un-truth is manhating. This negative stereotype works to discourage people from identifying as feminists and from any sort of discussion about what feminism actually is. Jessica Valenti has written and spoken on this topic extensively and she suggests that this image of feminists being man-hating and angry often scares women away from the movement,” said Janke. As part of her first-year Women’s Studies course syllabus, Janke has given her students an assignment that provides the opportunity for them to unpack, debunk and counter these generalizations, while being critical of how these negative stereotypes maintain existing power structures, hierarchy, and inequality. Similarly, a key focus of the course is to encourage her students to be critical about gender roles and how they have been culturally normalized. By arguing that these roles are simply “just the way they are,” it discourages people from thinking past these limited gender binaries, reducing themselves and others to their biology. As a consequence to this normalization of roles, the feminist movement will only be a movement in so far as encouraging people to talk about the inequalities rather than being proactive. Much of our present day language, in fact, reinforces heterosexism, racism and sexism, calling forth the need of serious rethinking. Finding it necessary that this “just the way they are” expression should be eradicated, Janke said that this phrase works in contrast to feminism, only serving to maintain the status quo rather than implementing change. “Words that we presently use need to be challenged. We need to confront limiting attitudes, changing this in the education system, in politics, and in the mass media. Fear seems to hold a number of people back, limiting our potential to participate fully in numerous social institutions.”
In relation to Watson’s speech, Janke enjoyed what the actress had to say. Finding her highly motivating, Janke said that her call to action was timely. Her students were also as eager as she, and after fulfilling many requests to share the video in lecture, Janke noted that Watson’s formal invitation to have men join feminism was important. “She pointed out that negative stereotypes about masculinity and femininity hurt as all,” referring to the moment Watson talks about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes and that when they are free from this, things will naturally change for women.
“Men play an important role in feminism,” said Janke, “one of the reasons Watson’s speech was significant was this formal invitation to men to end violence against women and to challenge negative stereotypes that hold men back too. Many men I know actively work towards ending violence against women, including the male students in my class who have thoroughly engaged with the material and offer valuable and thoughtful insight into feminism and activism. Of course, the label of feminism frightens some people, but to say that men are not engaged in feminism is a disservice to those who are.” OPIRG’s initiative at Brock University, in collaboration with the Sexual Violence Centre, Men in Violence Prevention, is a testament to the fact that there are men, specifically on campus and within the St. Catharines community, that are dedicated in helping to end gender inequality. The program’s goals are to educate men in ending violence, promote healthy relationships, support survivors and to ensure that Brock is a safer campus for all students. It is a program that “offers a full range of awareness initiatives and ways for men to become involved in ending gender inequality,” said Janke. Similarly, United Nations’ “He for She” campaign is about freedom for men and women from prejudice, where daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from oppression and for their sons and fathers to have permission to feel vulnerable, hoping that people start to be a more complete version of themselves. Janke’s own line of research focused on two high profile sexual murders in St. Catharines and how both the victims and perpetrators were presented in gender specific ways by the news media. She received her PhD in Women’s Studies at York University, having become interested in this area of research as the news media was focused on the sexual murders so intensely.
“The fear mongering of the news media seemed to maintain the faulty belief that the public realm is inherently unsafe for women. Unpacking and challenging this belief is important, as so many women feel unsafe and vulnerable in the public realm. I would love for girls and women to never feel afraid of walking alone at night or afraid of taking chances, or being harassed.”
Recently, the Ontario government has approved a Gender and Equity Studies course at the secondary level, which Janke feels is a fantastic opportunity for young people to begin having these important discussions at an earlier age. In interacting with her own students, their interest and their engagement with the materials continues to inspire Janke, delighting her in teaching Women’s and Gender studies at the introductory level.
To learn more about Brock’s Men in Violence Prevention campaign and how to get involved, visit yourbrock.org/men-in-violenceprevention