My undergraduate European History course spans the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the infamous leaders who were responsible for destruction and untold sadness in Europe during the 20th century were Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. Yes, all men. Last year I asked my students- Is it possible to create a world without violence? Could you imagine a world without guns and soldiers? Why is it that men should be associated with violence and destruction? The students could not offer a valid reason or logical answer and some simply replied ‘Violence will always exist’. This answer is a good method to avoid dealing with a problem. One student said I was a dreamer and envisioned a utopia which will never materialize. After class another student told me that I will be considered eccentric if I continue talking about a perfect society that will never be achieved. I told her that I would rather sacrifice my reputation and be eccentric than to ignore social problems or believe we are powerless to effect change.
A few years ago whilst watching the recent Iraq-United States conflict unfold, the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, I felt saddened knowing that men were largely responsible for this destruction and sadness. Continued terrorist attacks in countries across the globe should be sufficient incentives for supporters, coordinators and observers of International Men’s Day to find a solution to this problem.
Wars and battles are glorified and the success and the joy of ‘victory’ tend to be the stamp of approval for future conflict. Men are participants in an overwhelming majority of the world’s conflicts. The majority of the world’s military, soldiers and policemen are men. Ironically, the international peacekeeping forces are mostly men. It seems that the fate of the world is determined by wars. It seems that the grand irony is that war is often the excuse used by some persons to ensure justice and democracy prevails. Today, most persons realize that war brings only temporary peace. History reinforces this with its never-ending list of conflicts.
Sometimes, you might wonder why the displays of uncontrolled aggression and hate emanate from men and women. There is need for more emphasis on individuals who are compassionate caring and peace-loving. We need to reshape our value systems and be more sensitive to the needs of others.
Supporters of International Men’s Day need to genuinely believe in dialogue and diplomacy to create peace and we should also consider the urgent need for a reshaping of our society. It is a fallacy that a violent nature is genetic and thus unchangeable. There are caring and responsible men in our neighbourhoods and villages who attempt to resolve disputes and live a life of peace. Our society needs to reexamine ideologies, the socialisation process and institutions which promote stereotypes and distorted images of men. We cannot use the yardstick of violence to judge our men.
Often aggressive males contribute to an increase in international instability. Militarized masculinities develop in threatened and war-torn societies. I find it most appalling that some of the world’s children are forced to carry weapons, are exposed to killings in the war fields and injured in battles. This traumatic situation will forever scar a child. Children and teenagers should never be forced or allowed to participate in any conflict or war. Their entire concept of life, their innocence and happiness are immediately shattered in wars.
Society perpetuates a violent male especially with the exposure of young minds to violent ‘action’ films, novels and computer games. We have been socialized into this mode of violence. Boys play with toy soldiers and action figures and are expected to bear pain and be tough. On the contrary, girls are given dolls and expected not to be involved in fights, and develop a sense of fashion. Undoubtedly, we need to question our value systems which portray violence as an attribute of the so called – real men. It seems that males who are soft-spoken, conservative and unwilling to engage in violence are deemed effeminate, weak or abnormal by their peers. Peaceful men should not be considered emasculated and should not be considered as weak, feminine or soft. We need to reprogram our minds to understand that violence is not the only option but merely the choice of least resistance by narrow-minded persons.
There is need to emphasize that building and maintaining peace is more difficult than initiating or controlling conflict. Promotion of a culture of peace demands persons of sound character who are willing to make sacrifices and undertake a drastic overhaul of society. This peace should begin in the homes. Domestic violence is wrong and there is no valid argument to prove that domestic violence is needed in our society.
There is need for gender-specific programmes in our schools to educate our young people. Secondly, the formation of anti-racist and anti-sexist groups in communities is needed. Seeking change should not include male-bashing as this only makes men more defensive and intolerable to change.
By providing non-violent solutions, and emphasizing the benefits of peace we will assist in the creation of suitable male role models. In our society with unbalanced scales of power, we need to be mindful of the values being internalized by males. I believe that if today’s masculine identity cannot be separated from violence then masculinity is hollow and superficial. Yes, non-violent masculinity is waning and among the leaders of our society, it is certainly not embraced as a viable alternative.
Despite the gloomy scenario of bloodthirsty and stubborn political and military leaders there are obvious signs of hope. There is more than a glimmer of optimism that the next generation will attempt to cultivate that elusive era of peace and harmony.
Remember the comments I had made to students in my History class? Some were there in my class just to read the textbooks and pass exams. They were unprepared for my questions on violence. Some students felt they could only initiate change if they became the CEO of a large corporation or a political leader of a powerful nation. A few students later began to understand that they did not have to accept the society as it existed. Coordinators and believers of International Men’s Day must not wait for others to initiate positive change but also realize that you are empowered to ensure that violence, injustices and inequalities remain in the past and not be part of the present or future.
Instead of burying or cremating children and loved ones killed in wars, we must bury and burn our weapons. Instead of unearthing land mines, we must unearth our fears and distrust. Instead of testing bombs, we must test models of multiculturalism. Instead of destroying cultures we must destroy gender inequality, crime, corruption and pollution. Only then would peace finally prevail.