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Bob Pease: Engaging men in violence prevention

Bob Pease: Engaging men in violence prevention

An example of an experiential workshop

Bob Pease, Professor of Social Work at the University of Tasmania gives a detailed account of one of his workshops to demonstrate how he makes people, in this case men, more aware of their privilege.

I did a four hour workshop in Sydney last Monday. There were 26 people in the workshop: 21 women and five men. This is often the case of course. Women are more interested in engaging men in violence prevention than men are themselves.

I invited the five men into an inner circle and the women observe, and rolled out a long sheet of blank paper from one end of the room to the other. On that paper I drew a timeline from 50,000 BC to present day.


I say to the men, “I want you to reflect upon and think about everything you know about men’s mistreatment, discrimination and abuse and violence against women. It can be something you know about historically. You might be familiar with the burning of women in the 1700s because they were believed to be witches. It might be Chinese foot-binding. You may be familiar with other historical events.

“Or think about what you know in terms of the contemporary, something that happened three or four years ago. On the way to the workshop this morning you might have had the radio on. There might have been something about violence against women that struck you.

“I also want you to think about the women in your life who may have been impacted by abuse and mistreatment and violence – something that happened to your sister, your mother, your daughter, your partner, a female colleague or friend.

“I also want your perspective on whether you’ve ever been complicit in the reproduction of this. Were the times when you really felt you should have spoken out? Or engaged and challenged the violence of other men and chose not to?

“I also want you to think about the abusiveness in your own behaviour. You may choose not to disclose it, but I want you to think about it.”


So I had the men sit quietly for about a minute or so and then invited them to come forward and name what happened, give a time when it happened, and put a few words on the timeline – without discussion.

Drawing of women being burnt as a witch

When asked, they identify historical practices, contemporary practices. And I join in. Slowly events start to come forward. If there’s nothing personal down, I will say in 1997 the sister of my best friend was raped at a beach in Melbourne. Then the men will start to come forward and will identify the abusiveness of their father against their mother. They will talk about the women in their own lives that have been impacted.

Sometimes they will come forward and they’ll name events where they’ve been complicit. Sometimes they’ll even acknowledge their own violence. In about 40 minutes, that timeline is full, going back right through historical things up to things that happened yesterday. Personal things. Then I have the men sit with it.

Every time I’ve done that exercise, it brings up powerful emotions in the men. It’s a very powerful exercise. It’s illuminating for men to find they know so much about it. But when they see it all on the timeline across the ages they think “God this is systemic. This has just been going on for years and years and years.” For the first time they actually get what women have been saying to them.

Women's resistance

Then I say, “There’s a good side to this. Women have not been passive victims. Women have fought back. And I give them the chance to reflect on what they know about women’s resistance – the suffragette movement, equal rights, night marches, women’s refuges. I get the men to acknowledge that women have been actively involved in resisting this misogyny and sexism and abuse.

And I say “There’s a lesson from history of men being allies with women. You might be aware that there were men who spoke out in the 1700s against the burnings. In 1991 I organised in Melbourne what I think was the first march by men against violence against women. We talk about the allied role men can play.”

Of course women are observing this. And we invite women to comment. For many of the women this is the first time they’ve ever seen the men actually get it.

Then I will say “What are you going to do about it?” I’ll contract the participants in the workshop to make clear commitments and that will be followed up.

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Back to Challenging privilege, the flipside of oppression