A Conference About Engaging Men: A Woman’s Perspective

Woman smiling at the registration desk for the IMAGINE conference

In June 2018, three MenEngage Alliance Europe members – Emancipator, Good Lad Initiative, and MÄN – held a conference about engaging men and boys in gender equality, and breaking down harmful stereotypes. The conference was built upon a collaborative two-year project in which young men volunteered to deliver workshops to boys in schools across the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden. Having worked closely to manage, mentor, and support the UK volunteers, Rebecca Collins (pictured above), Head of Development at Good Lad Initiative, shares her experience of being around men involved in feminist-informed work in this blog post.

One of the men coordinating the IMAGINE project addresses the room

Words and photos by Rebecca Collins.

Have you ever experienced being the only woman in a crowd of men? Before I started this job, that prospect would have filled me with dread conjuring images of rowdy pubs showing the football match or the hushed silence of lingering gazes as you walk past a construction site. And yet, since I have worked for Good Lad Initiative, I have found the joy of male company in our volunteers – warm, cheeky, honest, gentle, supportive, funny, kind, genuine, and non-threatening. This has now become the norm for the interactions I have with the men I work with. And last month’s IMAGINE Conference in Amsterdam – where I got to spend time with many of the project’s male volunteers – was no exception.

Being around men who are interested in gender equality and eliminating violence against women is a very gratifying experience, especially when they come from all across the region to spend a day sharing, listening and learning what they can do better. In a world full of #MeToo and #NotAllMen, of Weinstein and Trump, and of Rolf Harris and Larry Nasser, witnessing men committed to challenge the status quo is the antidote I need to the sexism I see, and experience, all around me.

Close up of some of the people in the audience, smiling and looking engaged

I was photographing the IMAGINE Conference and this afforded me the ability to observe from behind my lens, to capture candid, authentic and natural scenes and interactions. I saw men listening to women, asking questions and deferring to their expertise; I watched men not batting an eyelid at the sparkly nail varnish on male hands or the skyscraping heels on male feet; I noticed men being challenged and called out and reflecting on their behaviour; I witnessed laughter at jokes that were made at no one’s expense and “banter” where no one felt like the butt of the joke.

Shot from back of room showing woman addressing the room

It’s sometimes difficult to be a woman working to engage men and boys. I occasionally feel the pressure to the “friendly face of Feminism”: to be constantly approachable and understanding of mistakes, to show patience and gentleness to men on varying stages of their “journey”, to work hard to help men navigate what it might mean for them to be a Feminist too (or a Feminist ally or pro-Feminist). There are some times when I am filled with (totally justified!) rage and hurt and sadness at the slow rate of change – both for me as a woman and for everyone else who faces oppression as part of their every day.

But for every time I feel anger and pain I now have a thousand experiences of joy and pride and gratitude from my work with men to counter it. For every frustration, I have a well of memories that will make me remember that there are men that care and men that want to change. The IMAGINE Conference is one of those experiences and I couldn’t be happier I was there to witness it.

Close-up side-shot of four speakers on panel

Rebecca Collins can be contacted at www.ladyrebeccac.com.