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Nordic networks initiate a discussion about gender norms

Young boys are repeatedly exposed to extreme gender ideals in films and advertisements. Men are often portrayed as strong lone wolves with a preference for violence as a means to solve problems. The Nordic MenEngage network wants to initiate a discussion about gender norms, change the stereotypical male norm and stop the violence. Today they are hosting a conference in Oslo.

There is a growing global movement focusing on men and gender equality. The conference titled Making the Invisible Visible: Transforming Social Norms among Boys & Men for Gender Justice in Practice is arranged by the Nordic member in MenEngage associations and aims to disseminate the network’s knowledge to more people. The conference is funded by the Nordic Gender Equality Fund, which is administered by Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK).

 Ole Nordfjell

‘At this point in time, there is no obvious arena for dialogues about masculinity norms. We have invited a variety of actors to the conference, such as organisations that work with boys and young men, in order to expand the discussion,’ says Ole Nordfjell from the Norwegian organisation REFORM.

The about 100 conference participants range from municipal workers and gender researchers to activists and politicians. The programme includes workshops on how to engage boys and young men in the anti-violence work and how to deal with negative gender ideals for men. A panel discussion will focus on how to involve more men with migrant backgrounds in the struggle for gender equality.

‘We think this is an important issue in the wake of the Cologne debate, where men with migrant backgrounds were pointed out as perpetrators. It’s important that we share knowledge about integration in the gender equality work,’ says Ole Nordfjell.

Problematic norm of violence

Alexander Blum Bertelsen will participate in a panel discussion titled The Voices of Young Male Activists. He is a young Danish feminist with a background in the political youth movement. At present, he is completing a programme in peace and conflict studies at Lund University in Sweden.
‘My studies have made me think a lot about the norm of violence that we men have to deal with. Being a man means that you’re constantly expected to use violence,’ he says.

 Alexander Blum Bertelsen

According to Alexander Blum Bertelsen, the image of the strong man who is eager to resort to violence is a central element not least in pop culture. He believes that this norm is a strong reinforcer of the gender power structure, and also that it affects international relations.
‘Mostly men are in charge of foreign policy and military operations.’

He thinks that white, heterosexual men should use their privilege to change the male norm. Alexander Blum Bertelsen is calling for a communication climate where instead of rejecting people who say the ‘wrong’ things, we see a potential for a constructive discussion.
‘Instead of labelling a person ”anti-women” or ”racist”, it’s important to see the context. It’s not the individual that’s wrong, it’s the structure. What I mean is, it’s important to turn wrong into right!’

Recommendations will be submitted to the Norwegian government

A greater aim of the MenEngage conference is to reduce gender-related violence in society. This is an issue the Norwegian organisation REFORM has focused on for a long time. In 2015, they managed a Nordic project that focused on how to combat violence among young couples in the Nordic region. During the MenEngage conference, the recommendations from the previous project will be handed over to a representative from the Norwegian government.
‘It’s a good thing. We hope that the Norwegian government will take the recommendations seriously,’ says Ole Nordfjell.
He sees obvious advantages of Nordic cooperation in the area of men and gender equality.
‘We are sufficiently similar but the differences in methods and practices are exciting, and can be imitated.’

Updated 23 January 2020