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Male Allies and the Politics of Feminist Accountability

Feminist Conversations Spring 2014

Professor Michael Messner of sociology will discuss the contradictory experiences that men allied with feminism often face while working with boys and men to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence.

Similar to white people doing anti-racism work and heterosexual-identified people in “gay-straight alliances,” men who ally themselves with feminist women occupy a contradictory space of action that necessitates a conscious negotiation of the strains and tensions that inhere.  Based on life history interviews (conducted with grad students Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) with different age cohorts of men who work with boys and men to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, Professor Messner will describe the common contradiction that these male allies face:  on the one hand, men in anti-violence work are subjected to critical scrutiny and pressure to remain accountable to feminist women; on the other hand, these men are often given access to unearned appreciation, status, and even higher pay than women who do anti-violence work.  Messner will briefly describe the strategies that different age cohorts of men (from the 1970s through the present) have deployed to navigate this tension, pointing to the pitfalls of certain strategies.  He will close with a focus on how race and class diversity among anti-violence activists, coupled with intersectional understandings of gender-based violence create opportunities for navigation strategies based on expanded notions of male privilege and accountability.

Michael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California.  His teaching and research focuses on gender and sports, men and masculinities, and gender-based violence.  He is the author of several books, including It’s All for the Kids:  Gender, Families and Youth Sports (California, 2009), and King of the Wild Suburb:  A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Guns (Plain View Press, 2011). Messner is currently writing a book with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz about men who work with boys and men to stop violence against women.  In 2011, the California Women’s Law Center honored him with its Pursuit of Justice Award, for his work in support of girls and women in sport and in 2012, the American Sociological Association gave him the Jessie Bernard Award, in recognition of contributions to the understanding of women’s lives.