Overcoming Male Oppression
Many of the problems we run into in movement groups are those of
domination within the movement.
People join a social change movement in order to alleviate an external
problem. Too often we are confronted with the same kind of behaviour
we find in our everyday lives. We are all too often stifled by heavy
handed authority: bosses at work, parents or spouse at home and
teachers at school.
People want not only to be accepted in these groups but also to
make a contribution and be active participants. In order to work
successfully to change things we must also pay attention to our
own behaviour. More often than not, men are the ones dominating
group activity. Such behaviour is therefore termed a “masculine
behaviour pattern” not because women never act that way, but
because it is generally men who do it. Men are beginning to take
responsibility for their behaviour. The following are some of the
more common problems to become aware of.
Hogging the show. Talking too much, too long and
Problem solver. Continually giving the answer or
solution before others have had much chance to contribute.
Speaking in capital letters. Giving one’s own solutions
or opinions as the final word on the subject. Often aggravated by
tone of voice and body posture.
Defensiveness. Responding to every contrary opinion
as though it were a personal attack.
Nitpicking. Pointing out minor flaws in statements
of others and stating the exception to every generality.
Restating. Especially what a woman has just said
Attention seeking. Using all sorts of dramatics
to get the spotlight.
Task and content focus. To the exclusion of nurturing
individuals or the group through attention to process and form.
Putdowns and one up–manship. “I used to believe
that, but now...” or “How can you possibly say that...?”
Negativism. Finding something wrong or problematical
Focus transfer. Transferring the focus of the discussion
to one’s own pet issues in order to give one’s own pet raps.
Residual office holder. Handing on to formal powerful
Self–listening. Formulating a response after the
first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on
and leaping in at the first pause.
George Custerism. Intransigency and dogmatism;
taking a last stand for one’s position on even minor items.
Avoiding feelings. Intellectualizing, withdrawing
into passivity or making jokes when it’s time to share personal
Condescension and paternalism. “Now, do any
women have something to add?”
Being “on the make.” Treating women seductively;
using sexuality to manipulate women.
Seeking attention and support from women while competing
Running the show. Continually taking charge of
tasks before others have a chance to volunteer.
Graduate studentitis. Protectively storing key
group information for one’s own use and benefit.
Speaking for others. “A lot of us think that
we should...” or “What so and so really meant was...”
The full wealth of knowledge and skills is severely limited by such
behaviour. Women and men who are less assertive than others or who
don’t feel comfortable participating in a competitive atmosphere
are, in effect, cut off from the interchange of experience and ideas.
If sexism isn’t ended within social change groups there can’t be
a movement for real social change. Not only will the movement flounder
amidst divisiveness, but the crucial issue of liberation from sex
oppression will not be dealt with. Any change of society with does
not include the freeing of women and men from oppressive sex role
conditioning, from subtle as well as blatant forms of male supremacy,
is incomplete. Here are some specific ways we can be responsible
to ourselves and others in groups:
Not interrupting people who are speaking. We can
even leave space after each speaker, counting to five before speaking.
Becoming a good listener. Good listening is as
important as good speaking. It’s important not to withdraw when
not speaking; good listening is active participation.
Getting and giving support. We can help each other
be aware of and interrupt patterns of domination, as well as affirm
each other as we move away from those ways. It is important that
men support and challenge each other, rather than asking women to
do so. This will also allow women more space to break out of their
own conditioned role of looking after men’s needs while ignoring
Not giving answers and solutions. We can give our
opinions in a manner which says we believe our ideas to be valuable,
but not more important than others’ ideas.
Relaxing. The group will do fine without our anxiety
Not speaking on every subject. We need not share
every idea we have, at least not with the whole group.
Not putting others down. We need to check ourselves
when we’re about to attack or “one–up” another. We can
ask ourselves. “Why am I doing this? What am I feeling? What
do I need?”
Interrupting others’ oppressive behaviour. We should
take responsibility for interrupting a brother who is exhibiting
behaviour which is oppressive to others and prohibits his own growth.
It is not act of friendship to allow friends to continue dominating
those around them. We need to learn caring and forthright ways of
Reprinted from CD Campaign Handbook June 1982.
Published in the Connexions Digest, Volume 11, #2, Winter 1988.