By Hanna Navier
In Sweden, the #MeToo movement became a sensation on social media, with hundreds of men contacting the Swedish organization MÄN: Redefining Masculinity with important questions: “Could I have contributed to the suffering that the #MeToo movement has shed a light on? How can I contribute to being part of the solution?” Out of those questions has emerged a growing self-reflection movement within MÄN, the Swedish organization that’s been working to redefine masculinity for 25 years.
When a few brave women across Sweden started to speak up about sexual harassment, many other women soon followed. As in the U.S., first it was the entertainment sector #tystnadtagning, #närmusikentystnar (#silenceaction, #whenthemusicstops). Then it moved on to other sectors including law, care, school, women in vulnerable positions, and more recently #allavi (#allofus), addressing violence and harassment other than in the workplace. Individual cases of perpetrators—actors, media personalities, and politicians have been outed and forced to leave their positions. Within MÄN, internal discussions began with a central question: “What should our message be?”
MÄN is a unique platform for men to get involved in equality issues. Founded as a nonprofit feminist organization in 1993 as a platform for men to take action against men’s violence toward women, the organization works to change destructive masculinity norms and reduce male violence. Their vision is an egalitarian world free from violence.
“We get men to act, both in Sweden and around the world,” says Luis Lineo, MÄN’s president. “Many men contacted us seeking guidance. It became important for us to first emphasize the importance of men listening to women´s stories.” He says they started by making a list of suggestions for what men should do when they hear women’s stories of sexual harassment and abuse. They posted them on social media: They include:
- Confirm that you heard
- Practice self-reflection: What is my part in this problem?
- Talk to other men (don’t burden women with difficult feelings about being part of the problem)
- Take action; start taking steps to change your behavior and that of the men around you
Spokespeople from MÄN appeared more than a dozen times on national media talking about the need for men and boys to listen, confirm, self-reflect and become part of the solution to the problem that #MeToo made visible.
As the debate grew, more and more men contacted MÄN, not only to join the organization, but also to meet and talk about #MeToo and their possible role in the suffering #MeToo is addressing. Out of those conversations MÄN facilitators designed a module of “reflection conversations” for and by men.
With their considerable experience with self-reflection groups as a foundation, in less than 10 days, they were ready to host a group of men for five self-reflection sessions all held in a safe, confidential space, according to Lineo.
“Interest in joining a self reflection group was greater than ever before. At the first gathering some 80 men came, with almost as many on the waiting list,” she said. “We invited the women’s shelter movement to open the session. It was important for us to begin this effort with a clear message from the women’s movement.”
The organization’s position is clear, Lineo said: “Listen to women. Back women every day in your daily life.”
That October evening, Halloween, marked the start of a self-reflection movement within MÄN that continues to grow. To date, more than 30 groups have started around the country; many more are expected in the days ahead. Professional requests have resulted in MÄN conducting interventions at workplaces such as Dramaten, Sweden’s national theater, and within a tech company management network.
“We have started to link self-reflection groups to bystander intervention methodologies for a more systematic approach in workplaces,” Lineo said. “We have been in dialogue with a dozen private companies and public sector actors requesting interventions aimed at preventing sexual harassment and violence,” she noted.
For many men the self-reflection approach to listening to one another was completely new. Many described it as a new way of talking to each other. “Thank you, it’s been a long time since I had a conversation with other men that on so many levels felt so alive,” one participant wrote on social media. “It filled my heart with a sincere hope—and belief—in men´s ability to change.”
Hanna Navier is the communications manager for MÄN.