Interview with Michael Kaufman

Michael Kaufman is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign and has been working for over thirty years as an educator and writer focused on engaging men and boys to promote gender equality and transform masculinity. He is the author of 9 books and has worked in 45 countries.

Twitter: @GenderEQ

1) In Brazil, Promundo is conducting, in a community named  Morro dos Prazeres (Rio de Janeiro), a project based on the White Ribbon Campaign, of which you are co-founder. This project engages men from the community in a soccerchampionship and in sensitization workshops on gender patterns, besides engaging them in the making of the communication pieces of the campaign. Please, talk a little bit about the White Ribbon campaign and the relevance of engaging men in preventing violence against women.

Three of us started the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada in 1991. The idea was simple: In most countries, the majority of men do not use violence in our relationships, but we have been silent about the violence. Through that silence, we allow the violence to continue.

When a man wears a white ribbon (or white ribbon T-shirt or puts up a poster) he is making a public commitment not to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. One of the unusual things about the campaign is that it is a totally decentralized effort: there is no membership and no ownership. We believe that people know best in their own communities how to reach the boys and the men. It’s politically non-partisan and reaches out to men across the political and social spectrum.

It has spread to more than 60 countries. Some have very large and public campaigns (like the amazing campaigns in Australia and New Zealand which I’ve written about on my blog.)  In others it’s just a few individuals who want to make a difference.
Speaking of football: a few years ago, the main Italian teams, including InterMilan and Bologna wore White Ribbon jerseys for a game. And (in a different form of football) Australian-rules football and rugby players and been big supporters of the White Ribbon Campaign.

2) Promundo is one of the institutions who is in charge of the MenCare global campaign on paternity valuing, to be launched this November. What is your opinion of this kind of campaigns?

Around the world, we’re witnessing a world historic change: the transformation of fatherhood. More and more men are defining parenting as central to who we are and what we do. We laugh at the idea that men should only “help out” or “babysit” – if we’re a father, looking after our kids is our job. (In fact there are only two parenting jobs that men, of course, are bad at: we’re not good at getting pregnant and hopeless at breastfeeding! Aside from that, we can learn to do every caregiving job as well as women.)

We need to support and encourage men to play an equal role in parenting and domestic work. That starts in the home when kids grow up with fathers who are playing a big and positive role. It can continue in school with classes that focus on parenting and domestic skills. We need more and better parenting classes for expectant parents. And we need substantial programs of parental leave for fathers like they have in the Nordic countries.

We also need to help all parents learn better parenting skills, particularly how to use alternatives to physical punishment (which does not teach children self-discipline or responsible decision-making.)

This change is good for women, good for children and also very good for men. And so it’s fantastic that Promundo is one of the leaders in this new global campaign, MenCare.

3) In your article “The Seven P’s of Men’s Violence”, one of the “P’s”refers to “permission”, in other words, social habits, laws and religious issues which reinforce male hegemony in societies, and consequently the use of men’s violence, as much against women as amongst men themselves. In Brazil, there were many advancements by guaranteeing women’s rights, mostly in what concerns violence prevention,such as the Maria da Penha law, andDisque 180 – Central de Atendimento à Mulher. (Dial -180 Women Answering Central). However, beyond the laws and shelter mechanisms, which are very important, it is necessary to deconstruct the codes permissive of men’s violence. How do think that this situation can be changed?

Men have a critical role to play in changing these codes of permission. We have to realize that violence against women brings shame to our families, shame to our communities, shame to our nations. We have to realize that when a man commits sexual or physical assault, he is committing a crime against the women we care about: and as a crime we need to do something about it. We need to speak out.

Men have a huge impact on the behavior of other men. So what we say and do can make a huge difference.

As well as individual pressure, we need to support more and better training of police, judges, and prosecutors (most of whom are male) to understand the complexities of the issue and learn how to properly react on issues concerning violence against women. Men and women in the justice system need both the training and the institutional support to play a key role in ending society’s permission for the violence.

4) Research conducted by Promundo with men from Morro dos Prazeres showed that 60% of those who had experienced violent situations in their childhood, have committed violent attitudes against their partners at least once in their life. This gives us a clue that violence is reproduced. What do you think about that naturalization of violence?

Research around the world confirms that boys who witness violence are much more likely to commit it themselves. This is true for many reasons: On the simplest level, from about age 2 or 3 boys start to identify with their fathers (or father figures). “Identify” means that you take into your developing personality the characteristics of the other person. So if that person uses violence, the boy is more likely to see that as normal and take on that characteristic.

But I think it’s more complex: When boys and girls, particularly when young, witness violence it is immensely traumatic.  Meanwhile boys are also learning that as men they’re supposed to be tough and in control. But how can they be “in control” if they’re traumatized and deeply hurt by their father’s actions?  One coping mechanism is to repeat the violent behavior, to make it “natural”.

The good news is that many boys who grow up in abusive situations make a strong commitment to never use violence in their own lives. And many heroic boys eventually stand up to their fathers and prevent them from hitting their mother.

back to news index