Notes on Accountability - Practice Makes ProgressBy Rus Ervin Funk
We have have examined various issues related to accountability over the past three issues of the NAMEN newsletter. In the first (May, 2017), I offered some initial thoughts on What We’re Learning about accountability through the the lens of on the ground practitioners and efforts. In the July issue, Chuck Derry, Cliff Leek, and Humberto Carolo joined me in exploring experiences we have had individually, and collectively, seeking to hold other men and men’s groups accountable. In this issue, I will explore some additional issues related to our attempts to be accountable--and hold others accountable--as well as offer some ideas about practice.
In practicing accountability, at least three common threads emerge that deserve further exploration and attention. I’ll touch on each of these in this article:
Shaming and Blaming
It’s hard to have a conversation about accountability and not address shaming and blaming. In the US context, our ideas about accountability are overly influenced by the criminal legal system/perspective. We are mostly used to the notion of “holding someone accountable” being associated with judgement, punishment and blame. To a large degree, we understand being “held accountable” as synonymous to receiving some form of punishment. Judging, punishing and blaming are inherently shame-based behaviors. This frame make is difficult for us to willingly accepting being accountable, and can also create barriers in our ability and willingness to hold others accountable.
As men we often seem most comfortable with shaming and blaming tactics for holding other men (including other men’s groups) accountable. We don’t seem to need to be taught how to start holding others accountable by being accusatory -- “You did something wrong; this is what you did wrong and this is what is wrong with you…”
Even when trying to engage other men, our messages and tactics that are inherently shaming. Consider the “real men don’t rape” kinds of campaigns. Inherent in the message that “real men” don’t rape is that the men who do rape are somehow not “real” men, i.e. they are less than “real” men and/or that there is something inherently wrong with them as human beings. Suggested in these campaigns is a parallel assumption -- “there is something wrong with you as a man, or with your manhood if you don’t speak out against rape.”
Shaming and blaming tactics, however, rarely lead to sustained change (individually or organizationally). Rather, they tend to invite defensiveness, entrenched behaviors and backlash. While shame and blame may succeed in interrupting specific behaviors or actions, that short-term interruption is not the same as accountability. Accountability necessitates taking responsibility for one’s actions (or inactions) and making amends -- goals that are typically missed and which tend to be discouraged when using shaming and blaming tactics.
While this is true, there is also some degree in which holding others accountable is inherently shaming. To suggest that we’re not shaming seems unrealistic and is likewise (although differently) ineffective. Holding someone else accountable means, in part, “holding” people to see the consequences of their action (or inaction) and inviting them to change these behaviors. It is not our responsibility to shame someone for their behaviors, but neither is it our responsibility to protect them from the shame they may feel for recognizing the consequences of what they’ve done. For perhaps most of us, coming to recognize the ways that our behaviors have caused harm (especially when we have harmed someone we care about) we feel some shame. Feeling some shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Furthermore, and related, as we reflect on our process of change, we likely experienced periods of shame in regards to how we treated others. My consciousness has increased over the years regarding understanding privilege and the ways that I engage in privileged behaviors. As my consciousness increased, I have been aware when I was not yet living up to what my consciousness was telling me. There were times when I was ashamed of myself for that gap, and that shame turned into a motivating force propelling me to get my act together. Had someone protected me in those moments when was experiencing shame, I may well have avoided the growth opportunities before me.
One way to encapsulate this lesson is this -- learn the lesson you need to learn, clean up what you have to clean up, and them move on. Looking backward at the ways we’re ashamed doesn’t propel us forward -- either us as individuals, or us as a movement.
Since shaming and blaming are widely recognized as largely ineffective strategies to create sustained individual or organizational change, and shame seems to be relatively inherent in the process of being and holding others accountable, then what are we saying about shame? The lesson?: be mindful. With rare exception, the point of being accountable is not to feel bad about ourselves, and the point of holding other men or men’s groups accountable is not to make them feel bad about themselves as human beings. Ultimately, the goal of accountability is two-fold: ensure/promote the safety and well being of folks who have been harmed or who have a history of oppression/dominance; and to encourage growth, development and movement forward towards being a better ally, human being, activist…(fill in the blank.) When we attend to these goals in the process of being accountable and holding others accountable, we find ways to manage the shame, blame and accountability.
Our relationships with women
Men’s accountability often involves women. Most of us as men know and love women who we count on to support and challenge us; and most of our organizations have women in leadership who both encourage and challenge us and our efforts. How men use our relationships with women when we attempt to be accountable -- and when we’re being held accountable -- is worthy of deeper exploration.
Are we (both individually and organizationally) using the women with whom we have relationships to justify and excuse our behavior or as monitors of our behavior and actions? When challenged we have seen a tendency to refer/defer to our women supporters. In other words, when a woman holds me accountable for something I’ve said or done, as part of examining my behavior and being accountable, I quite often “check” myself with other women in my life. This isn’t inherently problematic but can be if we use these relationships to excuse, justify, or minimize our behaviors. When I go to women colleagues and friends saying, “I was called out for doing thus and such at this meeting. Here’s what happened… that wasn’t so bad was it?” I invite collusion with my minimizing. This is not to call out the women who support us, but rather to focus on how we use our relationships in ways that may justify sexist or abusive behaviors.
How others who are holding us accountable may treat us
All of us are flawed, including those folks who we have harmed in some way. This means that there are times when we’ve all (individuals and organizations) been held accountable in ways that felt hurtful or mean.
Sometimes what we’ve done, or how we’re experienced it, is so hurtful, alarming or triggering, that people react with emotional reactivity at the time they’re holding us accountable. In these moments, it is tempting to try and completely dismiss their charge rather than listening to what they are saying beneath the emotional reactivity. For many of us who are white, this seems particularly true when Black, Latina, Asian or Native women are the ones being emotional. It is also tempting to jujitsu the situation and make ourselves (individually or collectively) the victim of their “emotional outburst.”
It seems critical in our efforts to be accountable to expand our capacity to non-defensively respond to these situations. This means not only developing our own abilities, but also helping to develop our collective capabilities. Since there is usually a legitimate reason we’re being called out, holding ourselves accountable is necessary even if we don’t like the way someone is holding us accountable.
Still, as human beings who don’t want to be emotional punching bags, we have the right to set limits on the ways we are spoken to and treated. It is precisely those times when I am feeling most defensive or anxious that I often have the greatest opportunity to learn about myself. So when someone is coming after me with some heat about my behavior or words -- and I start feeling the most intense desire to avoid or defend -- that is exactly the moment when I most probably need to do my best listening. That is most likely exactly the moment when someone is telling me something that I most need to hear (especially if I don’t want to.)
Being accountable, both individually and collectively, is a process of learning for us all. We learn best, it seems, when we are transparent about that process, including those aspects of learning that are particularly difficult. As long as we continue to understand being accountable as a process, rather than an endpoint, we increase our chances of continuing to make progress on how we understand and practice accountability.
Exploring Accountabilityby Rus Ervin Funk, Chuck Derry, Cliff Leek, & Humberto Carolo
In the Last issue, we started a process of defining what we mean by accountability and began exploring several of the dynamics related to being accountable.
As men and as a male identified network, one area of accountability that we are often called upon to engage in is holding other men, or other men’s groups/organizations accountable. A prime and very public example is the National Football League and their systemic hesitancy to hold men who act abusively towards their partners accountable. Among other organizations, A Call to Men stepped up and has been a part of the ongoing process of helping (alongside several other advocacy organizations) to support the NFL to take more appropriate action towards preventing domestic violence.
Holding other men accountable is an area that is fraught with difficulty and challenge. The MenEngage Global Alliance has developed an accountability guide and toolkit to attend to these challenges. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is our privilege. The privilege to remain silent, to decide we’d rather not challenge another man or organization, our tendency to “just let it go”. As men, we will not bear the brunt of that dismissal, women will. So, as pro-feminist men, and well-meaning men, how do we attend to our own accountability and that of others? That is the ongoing collective conversation that is needed. When and how is this done?
In this month’s issue, we aim to explore some of this area of accountability in more detail, offering some lessons learned both with NAMEN, and with other organizational efforts of which the authors have been a part.
We have found “calling men in” an effective means of holding other men accountable. There are behaviors and attitudes that warrant “calling men out”. When behaviors or attitudes have reached a certain level, the purpose of calling out is very different. The goal is not necessarily to get someone to accept responsibility, change their ways and make amends; the goal is to more clearly draw a line in the sand to say this kind of behavior/attitude is not acceptable here.
Much more common are opportunities to call men in -- helping them (and us) to recognize their behaviors/attitudes, note the harm that is being caused, and offer them an invitation to make amends, when necessary, and adjust their behaviors in the future. We think this same kind of thinking applies on the organizational level as well.
Our experience is that, first, we are all on a learning curve (individually and collectively) about being accountable. Acknowledging this can be an important part of the process. When NAMEN has reached out to other organizations about our concerns, we have tried to lead with this recognition and attempt to open the door to this process as being a shared learning experience.
At NAMEN, we cannot claim to have figured this out, but accountability continues to be a critical aspect of the integrity of our network. This commitment to gender equality and respect challenges us to challenge ourselves and others. And, there are risks associated with those challenges. It can undermine personal and professional relationships and/or, it will enhance them. That is often not predictable. But we know our silence is complicity in the face of both personal and institutional sexist oppression. There is no neutral ground, we are either supporting gender equality and justice or we are colluding with the systematic injustices doled out to women.
In late 2013, NAMEN was approached by several community activists (male, female and trans) regarding an issue that had arisen with the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) during their Forging Justice conference in Michigan that summer.
NAMEN entered into a process of working with NOMAS in an attempt to address some of the questions that emerged about NOMAS accountability, including a primary member of the NOMAS council and accountability for his actions at the conference. In November of 2013, we sent NOMAS a letter encouraging them to consider some key points related to accountability. We received no reply. After several attempts to engage with the NOMAS Council and/or its representatives, we eventually were able to participate in a call with NOMAS representatives in May of 2016. Six months later, in November of 2016, we received a reply from the board indicating their satisfaction that their accountability processes related to the incidents occurring at the 2013 Forging Justice conference are complete and have no further interest is attending to those issues. In April of 2017 we responded to the NOMAS Council.
One of the key lessons that emerged for us was how we as men and men’s groups can use silence. Sometimes our silence is acting in an accountable way -- not defending or making excuses, not “mansplaining”, not deflecting the conversation. Sometimes sitting silently and listening intently to the ways that we have hurt or disappointed someone is a critical form of being accountable. But there are also times when staying silent is a way that we keep from being accountable. We have shared our concern with NOMAS related to their silence with us and others. Silence can be a critical aspect of respect and learning, and it can also be a tool of the privileged, used to avoid challenges or dismiss the concerns of those they purpose to support. There is a line between making excuses and offering explanations.
A second lesson for us is exploring this line between making excuses and offering explanations. A part of accountability, as we understand it, is transparency. Transparently explaining how it is that we come to the decisions we make is crucial. Whether those decisions are related to our initial behavior which is currently being challenged; and/or our subsequent response, or lack of response, to those concerns as they are expressed to us. This transparency is not a way to excuse our actions, or dismiss concerns brought to us, but it is a way to explain how it was we came to make the decisions we made. For example, several years ago, MensWork (a community-based organization in Louisville) and Rus were asked to support and call men to be a part of the largest fund-raiser for a “women’s fund.” When MensWork’s decision to do so was made public, MensWork and Rus were invited to meet with leaders of the pro-choice movement in Louisville to explain their decision to support a funding organization that refused to fund women’s reproductive rights. (As a note, they also refused to fund anti-choice organizations or programs). We explained to them what we had agreed to do and our decision-making process that led to the decision. MensWork and Rus explained, we did not excuse. When we transparently explain, those who have concerns are provided an opportunity for further discourse and the learning process continues between the parties. This level of transparency allows those with concerns to determine whether this individual, or organization/network, is an ally in the work for gender justice and someone to further trust and engage with.
This initial process with NOMAS was a step we felt was most appropriate in engaging them about accountability -- “calling them in”. It has been a long process, one we would have preferred to “just let go” at times. Due to both NOMAS’s response, and lack of response, we have been challenged whether we should simply “let this go” or make it public.
NAMEN has worked since 2013 to engage NOMAS in an exchange of thoughts and concerns related to accountability. This resulted, after much effort on our part, in one email, one phone call, and again, months of delay before we received the council’s reply to our requests. All of these requests have occurred as private exchanges. Due to our continued concerns related to NOMAS’ limited engagement, we feel an ethical obligation to publicly express our efforts to engage the group in accountability discussions and requests for transparent action, and the lack of substantive results, from NOMAS, regarding those efforts.
While we respect and appreciate the years of work and effort that NOMAS has engaged in to counter sexist oppression, we are sorely disappointed in their history of accountability. Accountability is an “enormously important issue” that is the foundation of our work for justice, and fundamental to the integrity of that work.
As a pro-feminist male identified network of activists and allies, we will continue to work to end gender oppression by responding effectively to harm which has already occurred, work to change the social norms supporting sexist violence and oppression, and hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions and intents. In this way, we build our alliance with women’s rights organizations and others working for gender equality and justice, and create a world where all people, regardless of their gender identity, have equal access to resources and the happiness and security which is their birthright.
Men Stopping Violence
Organizing Men with MSV’s Community Restoration Program
by Greg Loughlin
Men Stopping Violence (MSV), based in Atlanta, GA is one of the United States longest standing community-based organizations working with men to end male violence against women. MSV began 35 years ago primarily working with men who batter, but always held the core analysis that intervening with individual men is insufficient without simultaneously changing the community and societal norms that provide men with opportunity, permission and justification to commit violence and abuse. MSV’s founding frame is that working to end male violence against women requires organizing men to change the community by supporting gender equality and gender justice.
Based on this analysis, MSV has developed a number of programs and projects that were designed to change the community context; often including the men in the program in these efforts. A prime example is the Community Restoration Program.
In 1987, MSV launched The Community Restoration Program (CRP) which provides a dynamic space for men to become involved in organizing to prevent violence against women and girls. Specifically, CRP members - men who have completed MSV’s 24-week Men’s Education Program (for men who have been abusive to their partners) and men from other social justice organizations - further their education and development by assisting MSV staff in engaging other men as change agents in the community and state-wide. CRP activities include conducting presentations for men’s groups in the community, assisting with Information Meetings where new men learn about the Men’s Education Program, staffing information tables at community events, and engaging men on policy issues.
CRP’s policy work is particularly vibrant and robust. This work is built on a foundation of longstanding relationships with victim advocacy organizations. “We’ve got a solid process in place: Every year women’s advocates from the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, and other community based organizations, come and educate CRP men about policy issues that matter for women and girls, and how men can advocate in meaningful ways to support their efforts,” says CRP Coordinator Greg Loughlin. “And then – after getting solid about where we (as men) stand and what men can authentically say - CRP teams physically show up as a team at the Capitol to support the work of these sister organizations.” Examples of CRP’s policy work includes founding Men Supporting VAWA to mobilize men to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2005; volunteering at Stop Violence Against Women Day at the Capitol every year; and opposing anti-immigration policies that hurt refugee and immigrant survivors.
During the 2017 GA Legislative Session, CRP organized men to oppose HB 51 re: Campus Rape Bill. According to Helen Robinson, Director of Advocacy for the YWCA of Greater Atlanta, “Survivors and advocates were united in their opposition to HB 51. It was critical to have men show up in solidarity with our efforts to challenge this misguided legislation.” CRP members spoke with male legislators, testified in a committee hearing, and spoke with the media to voice opposition to HB 51. Eventually – thanks to a broad coalition of advocacy
(CRP men at Stop Violence against Women Day at the Capitol in 2016)
organizations and survivors - the bill was defeated. “CRP wasn’t central, nor should we have been,” says Loughlin. “But we got educated, played our position, and showed up to contribute to safety for women and teens. That matters.” (Note: HB 51 will be back in 2018, and CRP is already actively listening to advocates about how to assist.)
Through this model, MSV’s Community Restoration Program demonstrates a way to continue to support men in their process of change from men who batter to advocates; offer a model of how men can restore safety to the community after the harm they’ve done by their abusive choices; and provide a pathway for ALL men to find their voices in concrete ways to help promote gender respect and gender justice at the community and societal level.
For more information about CRP, please contact Greg Loughlin, Assistant Director, Men Stopping Violence, greg@menstoppingviolence
What We're Learning - Some Thoughts on Accountability
by Rus Ervin Funk
Men’s accountability in working to promote gender equality and gender justice continues to be a contentious issue. Both NAMEN and the Global MenEngage Alliance view men’s accountability, both as individuals and within groups and organizations, as vitally important. As such, we believe in creating opportunities to continue to develop and expand the conversation about what it means to be accountable—and to offer some tools for how men and men's groups can act accountably. NAMEN recognizes accountability as a crucial area of our continuing work to build a vital male engagement movement in the US and Canada.
Towards this end, NAMEN produced a webinar, “Conceptualizing and Implementing Accountability in Men’s Gender Equity Efforts” In December, 2014. View the webinar here; and access handouts here.
Earlier in 2014, the Global MenEngage Alliance produced Accountability Standards and Guidelines (access here), outlining the standards MenEngage member groups hold ourselves and each other up to. These standards focus on four levels of accountability: global and regional, national, organizational, and individual.
The MenEngage Standards are based on three principles:
Prevent the violation of or infringement upon MenEngage’s Core Principles and Code of Conduct;
Respond effectively if concerns emerge regarding the conduct of a member; and
Collaborate openly with women’s rights organizations and other social justice organizations.
One of the lessons NAMEN took from our conversations about the MenEngage standards is that men’s accountability is traditionally understood as after something occurs that is of concern -- that is, how we hold ourselves and each other accountable (as men) after we have done something or failed to do something. NAMEN is also interested in accountability before an incident occurs—being proactive. For NAMEN accountability is both about how we behave when we fail to act in accordance with our principles— i.e. done things that have caused harm; and how we act, make decisions, and more broadly interact with each other and with women’s leadership on an ongoing basis.
While NAMEN has adopted the MenEngage Alliance standards, we are simultaneously working on our own interpretation of definitions and standards. Here are some emerging points about how NAMEN views accountability:
Accountability as process, not end point
Managing multiple accountabilities
Accountability as proactive as well as reactive
For NAMEN, accountability is a process among various actors and a practice of how we act. Being accountable, and holding other men’s groups accountable, is not yet fully clear and presents us with both challenges and opportunities.
We’ve also learned that by understanding accountability as a “process,” we have room to move between contradictory expectations or demands. As a process, we can disagree about what I, as a man, should do and how I should do it and still be accountable.
That being said, there are times when we make mistakes, act in ways that are counter to our principles, or which cause harm. There need to be a process by which men and men’s groups accept responsibility for the mistakes we make and the harm we cause, as well as a mechanism to make amends.
In practice there are multiple accountabilities. Many of us are accountable to multiple women leaders (who, like most people, sometimes disagree with each other about what it is that they think men should do). But we are also accountable to other groups. As we engage men and boys—and as a consequence want to be accountable to the men that we’re seeking to engage, (as well as other men in our communities)— we’re also accountable to our communities. For most of us that means multiple communities to which we’re accountable. Those of us who work for agencies are also accountable to those organizations (which includes a level of accountability to our funders.)
Bottom line: being accountable means managing multiple accountabilities in as transparent and responsible manner as possible.
Finally, many of us argue that acting accountably means not only being and holding each other accountable when we make mistakes, but also being and holding each other accountable when we do well. In both cases, acting accountably is (or can be) proactive and reactive. Acting accountably means thinking and feeling as we’re conceiving of actions to take, about how we can do so in a way:
that is transparent about our decisions (and decision-making processes);
do what we say we’re going to do;
take responsibility for the consequences of our actions (both positive and negative, intended and unintended); and
apologize and make amends when necessary.
One short article cannot hope to comprehensively address a topic as complex as accountability. We encourage readers to continue to explore what each of you mean when you hear the term “being accountable.” In the meantime, check out the resources listed above, and please share your feedback on this vital issue.
NOTE: We plan on following up on this article in an upcoming issue of NAMEN News.