How can men help dismantle misogyny and violence? This book will tell you how.

How can men help dismantle misogyny? What are tangible things men can do to end male violence? What does true allyship look like?

How Men Can Help: A Guide to Undoing Harm and Being a Better Allyby award-winning journalist and campaigner Sophie Gallagher provides the much-needed answers to these urgent questions.

Gallagher, who campaigned to criminalise cyberflashing, tackles the #NotAllMen movement, outlines practical steps like how men should behave when they see a lone woman at night, and offers tangible advice on how men can be part of the solution to ending male violence — rather than part of the problem.

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The burden of ending male violence should not fall on those who are disproportionately affected by it: women and marginalised genders. We need men to step up and take an active role in challenging misogyny when they witness it, in thinking about the ways gender roles impact their behaviour, in making society safer for women, girls, and marginalised genders.

You can read an extract of Gallagher's book, How Men Can Help, below.

Ryan Hart, 30, and Luke Hart, 32, grew up in a house dominated by their father. Along with their younger sister, Charlotte, and their mother, Claire, the family lived on eggshells. "We always had to be thinking about what we were doing and how he would respond," Ryan tells me over Zoom from his home in Surrey, where he now lives with his brother and their two dogs, Indi and Bella. 

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"Even things like his breathing. We monitored that because a deep breath was a sign he wasn’t pleased with what we were doing." His father’s behaviour would now be classed as 'coercive control' – it included psychological torment and controlling Claire’s spending, even on something as small as a coffee and bus fare while he spent £500 on a bicycle that sat unused. Although Ryan says he knew a better life was possible, he didn’t understand the situation as abuse.

"I think [it was] because he was never physically violent, but he was ticking every single box [for] coercive control. At school we had a presentation from the NSPCC but they only covered being physically or sexually assaulted and so I thought this doesn’t apply to us," Ryan says. "You never think you’re living with a murderer-in-waiting."

On 19 July 2016, a few days after the boys had helped Claire and Charlotte move out of the family home in Spalding, Lincolnshire – statistically, leaving is the most dangerous time for an abused woman – Lance Hart shot his wife and daughter in a swimming pool car park before turning the gun on himself.

The killings made national news and columnists tripped over themselves to use phrases like ‘understandable’ in describing a so-called crime of passion activated by the women leaving. In moments of tragedy we frame such men as both an aberration, unlike any other man, and at the same time an everyday man only one bad rejection or trigger away from homicide.

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But this was not red mist descending or a fuse blown as we often like to claim in the aftermath of such tragedies, says Ryan. Shortly before he killed his wife and daughter, Lance bothered to buy a pay and display ticket to park his car. "He was very comfortable in following rules, he knew he was going to kill but still wanted to purchase a ticket to be a good citizen, it showed the level of control he did have over himself." Instead Lance justified what he did through his core beliefs and perception of himself as a man — he felt attacked by the women leaving.

Although we should not attempt to explain away violence with one-dimensional factors, when looking at how to improve the problem of violence against women, we have to start right at the beginning, at the very notion of what men are taught it means to be a man in the modern world. How are masculinities defined and rewarded? What are men instructed as part of the social contract they sign in order to be a 'proper man'? Although the Hart example is extreme, it shows how men’s ideas about themselves can transform into real world action.

"When looking at how to improve the problem of violence against women, we have to start right at the beginning, at the very notion of what men are taught it means to be a man in the modern world."

Sociologist Michael Flood says: "If you take 1,000 men, and you want to know which of those 1,000 men are most likely to ever sexually assault or to domestically abuse a partner, one thing you would want to know is their attitudes about being a man, attitudes towards masculinity ... some versions of masculinity are part of the problem."

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women regards violence against women as "rooted in gender-related factors, such as the ideology of men’s entitlement and privilege over women, social norms regarding masculinity, and the need to assert male control or power." A 2019 government report concurred: "There are norms and expectations we have of men and boys which enable, entitle and require them to use violence within specific settings, often as a way to (re)assert masculine power. These norms promote the idea that violence is sometimes an acceptable, necessary, even desirable response to the problems experienced by men and boys, and as a way to get respect."

And in a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), it said: "Traditional beliefs that men have a right to control women make women and girls vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual violence by men. They also hinder the ability of those affected to remove themselves from abusive situations."

Journalist and author Sophie Gallagher sits on a kerb in the streetJournalist and author Sophie Gallagher.Credit: Welbeck

Seyi Falodun-Liburd, co-director at feminist organisation Level Up, says the current view we collectively hold of masculinity "not only makes excuses for violence against women but gives it legitimacy as a part of the human condition, as opposed to a constructed social crisis that can be ended." In short, men are made violent through socialisations into types of masculinity, they are not born this way. We are building men that feel entitled to use violence against women. 

Lance Hart had fixed ideas of masculinity and his role as a father. "He had this sense of entitlement, as a man, as a husband, as a father, his wife should never talk back, always do the cooking, the cleaning. His children owe him everything because we wouldn’t exist without him and we should serve and devote ourselves to him," says Ryan.

Not only are some forms of masculinity dangerous for women, but they also limit men.

In his 2010 Ted Talk, ‘A Call to Men’, Tony Porter talks about this collective socialisation using a metaphor that he calls the ‘Man Box’. In this fictional box are some of the ways that men are taught to present: don’t cry or openly express emotions with the exception of anger, do not show weakness or fear, demonstrate control at all times, be heterosexual, be tough, athletic, brave, do not be like a woman or a gay man, make decisions and never need help. If men step outside the box they risk alienation from peers and being viewed as weak or ‘not manly enough’.

It is important for men to think about where masculinity is serving them and where it is restrictive. This does not have to be extreme examples, but also whether it impacts the way they perceive themselves, the way they act in public or in a relationship with a woman, the feelings they feel allowed to express or have to suppress, the jobs or hobbies they feel permitted to pursue and the vulnerabilities or fears they can have.

Feminist author and activist bell hooks summed this up as: "Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it." Although she says this "in no way diminishes" the seriousness of male abuse, "people are hurt by rigid sex roles." 

If we hold on tight to current masculinities as the way men always have to be, rather than one of many ways they can choose to be, we cede the belief that things can change. Because those alternative options could simultaneously improve the lives of men who struggle under masculinity, as well as the women who experience its brutal consequences.

How Men Can Help: A Guide to Undoing Harm and Being a Better Ally by Sophie Gallagher is published by Welbeck on July 7, hardback £12.99.

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