Michael Kaufman: Making a man out of men

November is a month that gets the undivided attention of Michael Kaufman.
The 63-year-old has dedicated half of his life to changing how men think of masculinity to end violence against women — and themselves.
The UN has designated Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, while Nov. 19 is commemorated as the International Men’s Day.
Kaufman has been working on gender issues for 34 years, including 23 years working for the White Ribbon Campaign that he co-founded, which focuses on engaging men and boys to end violence.
Traveling around the globe, the Canadian educator and author of nine non-fiction books and novels has worked with governments, NGOs, businesses, religious and community leaders, trade unions and professional associations, as well as universities.
Kaufman stopped in Jakarta recently to talk before an eager audience about how men could end violence just by breaking their silence to change the codes of permission among men.
“Men are most likely to commit violence because they learned as a boy that being a man means they have to be strong and powerful – but being strong and powerful doesn’t mean to dominate others and use violence,” Kaufman says. “We need to reshape masculinity. A narrow understanding is just not working for anyone anymore.”
Kaufman said that a while most men didn’t use violence within relationships, they contributed to its continuance by keeping in silent when other men used it.
He gave tips on how to stop the trading of sexist jokes among a group of men simply by changing the subject or by approaching the perpetrator of a domestic violence “not to humiliate him, but to change his perspective”.
“But always talk to the victim and ask her whether she needs to go to hospital and report the abuse to police,” he adds.
The public lecture, titled “Man Talk: How Men Can Work to Promote Gender Equality and Positive Masculinity”, was held at Erasmus Huis auditorium, South Jakarta, earlier this month.
It was organized by Aliansi Laki-laki Baru (New Men’s Alliance) and Yayasan Pulih, which along with RutgersWPF Indonesia and regional partners have developed a nationwide campaign in line with Kaufman’s works.
Most would be uncomfortable or uneasy listening to someone deconstructing long-held beliefs in male superiority and challenging them to redefine their concepts of gender relations and masculinity.
However, the soft-spoken father of two pulled it off – as seen by the men in the audience stayed put until the end of the event.
Kaufman cited true stories on how men discovered themselves — an elderly man who lost a granddaughter to the “king of the weight room” — all backed up by data from his research.
“A part of my job is to create a safe environment for men to rethink what it means to be a man, to challenge some assumptions about manhood that leads to violence, discrimination — that doesn’t work for us either,” he said. “Their reaction is always the same, regardless their religion or culture. Men have waited for their whole life to have someone to tell them that they don’t have to act tough all the time, to hide behind their masculinity.”
“It’s OK to feel things. It’s OK to show those feelings,” Kaufman said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised to see so many men at the lecture. “I believe in five to 10 years more men would come for this kind of talk.”
The author of the award-winning books The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars and The Guy’s Guide to Feminism will next release a novel exploring the impact of war on a soldier titled The Afghan Vampire Book Club in May.
“I couldn’t believe so many women experienced violence while men didn’t speak out. That was how I was getting active [promoting gender equality] as a writer, researcher and by giving counsel for men.”
His family is also affected by his work. Kaufman recalled how son’s school teacher told him of when young boy told off his schoolmate who was whistling at a girl during a school trip, saying that it was an act of sexism.
His son, now 33, was 7 at the time.
On making fathers active caregivers for their children, Kaufman suggested flexible work hours and parental leave, while working with healthcare providers to involve fathers during the delivery process.
The government might also subsidize daycare, he adds. “The Quebec government took a bold decision to subsidize daycares. They discovered later that because more parents became more productive at work, it generated [more] income tax. The subsidy brings in money.”
Kaufman gave credit to the women’s movements that have worked over the last half century to redefine what it means to be a person outside of gender.
“Gender equality is a universal idea, as most people want liberation and to be treated with respect. Men should be working together with women to create a world better for women – and men.”
Source: The Jakarta Post

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