The continuum of male engagement: A model for more effective engagement with men and boys

Rus Funk sitting and speaking at meeting

By Rus Funk

Several years ago, while still relatively new to this work of engaging men, I was facilitating a presentation to a mixed group of college students in North Carolina, USA. A male student, agitated at what he experienced as some of the “male blaming and male bashing” that I had engaged in, angrily yelled that I sounded like some sort of man-hater (he added a homophobic slur that I won’t repeat here) and he couldn’t believe he was expected to put up with this ****!

Taken aback, I responded with some focused and (in retrospect) biting sarcasm towards him and his comment. I justified my response, at the time, by feeling that he was a “lost cause” and I wasn’t going to reach him anyway, and as such, decided to summarily dismiss him and his position.

What I failed to account for was the other students in the room (both men and women). By summarily dismissing him and his position, and by using biting sarcasm to do so, I effectively dis-engaged some of the students from the rest of the conversation. While they may have been uncomfortable by his comments and his display of frustration, some of them were made more uncomfortable by my response and dismissiveness. The end result being that I not only lost him, but pushed some of the students further away.

The ‘Continuum of Male Engagement’ model

This was prior to my having created the Continuum of Male Engagement. With this tool in place, now, I realize that my response to this one person probably pushed some of the men who were hesitant or curious, towards being un-interested or resistant. While I think I was right to not try to engage this one man (I don’t know that I see any benefit to defining him as a “lost cause”, but in the moment, it seems to me a waste of time and energy to focus to much on his opposition), I would have handled that differently in a way that invited those men who were hesitant or curious, rather than pushing them the other way.

I developed the Continuum of Male Engagement as a tool to assist activists in being able to more effectively and strategically engage men in efforts to prevent gender-based violence or promote gender equality. Over the years, it has been used quite widely, and over the course of 2017 – 2018, I did a substantial re-vision and re-development of this tool and created supplemental tools.

The visual above depicts the continuum. The basic notion is that men are positioned differently in their readiness to be involved. Rather than attempting to engage all men, activists do better if they attempt to align the engagement efforts with the relative readiness of the men who we’re seeking to engage.

I’ve found, both in myself and with activists with whom I’ve worked, a tendency for activists to have as an operating premise, the need or desire to convince men to get involved. When we find ourselves in a position of having to convince men to be involved, we’ve set ourselves up to be ineffective. In my experience, when I find myself feeling the need to convince someone of anything, I often slide into becoming increasingly argumentative – up to and including being combative (which is often experienced as being bullying). Since few people want to be convinced (which has an inherent sense of being judged and found lacking in some way), I not only lose the opportunity to effectively engage this person, but also some portion (many, perhaps most) of the folks who are watching this interaction.

A key foundation of effective engaging men is that engagement is ultimately a relational effort. It’s about creating a relationship with the men I’m aiming to engage, to understand and deepen their relationship to ending gender-based violence. Attempting to convince someone of anything is rarely an effective means to establish a relationship.

“Convincing” strategies are best left to those men categorized in the left three categories of the continuum. Even there, convincing is rarely effective. With these categories, I suggest, we focus our efforts on reaching out and responding: reaching out to those men who do not yet know that they do have a relationship with gender-based violence; and responding to those men who spew hostile rhetoric.

Engaging efforts focus on those men who, to some degree at least, have already come to recognize that gender-based violence is a significant issue and that they have some responsibility to address it. They may not know how, they may be hesitant or cautious, they may be overwhelmed and not know how to add this to their already too-full lives…but they have, if you will, already been reached.

It’s worth noting that the form of violence can also have an impact on men’s readiness or willingness to be engaged. In the US context, I have found that men tend to be less willing or ready to be engaged in addressing sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, than they are in addressing sexual assault or domestic violence.

More information about the continuum of male engagement, as well as some of the supplemental resources can be found at rusfunk.me/continuum-of-male-engagement.

Rus Ervin Funk is a consultant with more than 30 years experience in mobilizing men to help end violence against women. Rus co-founded: DC Men Against Rape (now Men Can Stop Rape, Inc.), MensWork: eliminating violence against women, inc., the Own It Initiative (a project of the Center for Women and Families), the Ohio Men’s Action Network, White Folks Against Racism, the People’s Coalition for Justice and much more. He is the secretary of the Board of the National Center on Sexual and Domestic Violence, serves as the Co-Chair of Male Engagement of World Without Exploitation (WorldWE, an international coalition to combat human trafficking and exploitation) and is a co-founder of the North American MenEngage Network (NAMEN – a US and Canada network of efforts to engage and organize men to promote gender equality and gender justice) a where he currently serve on the Steering Committee, is the Newsletter Editor, and serves as the NAMEN representative to the board of the Global MenEngage Alliance. More information about Rus is available here.


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