The Violence of Men, Mass Incarceration and Transforming the #MeToo Paradigm

Posted on March 18, 2019 | Farah Tanis, Black Women's Blueprint

A photo captured during the March for Black Women which served over 3,000 people nationwide and took place over 2 days in 2 cities (DC & NY).

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Black Women’s Blueprint works to place Black women and girls’ lives as well as their particular struggles squarely within the context of the larger racial justice concerns of Black communities and are committed to building movements where gender matters in broader social justice organizing so that all members of their communities gain social, political and economic equity. They work to address the specific gender-responsive needs of women in the justice system and engage the community and their members in organizing and advocacy campaigns focused on justice reform.

Over the past year, the #MeToo crisis has triggered unprecedented interest in sexual assault and other gender-violence. Service programs for survivors of gender-violence is an increasingly crowded space, with survivors having a right to expect that feminist, women’s rights and gender-justice movements provide meaningful work to prevent first time victimization and revictimization. As a result, Black Women’s Blueprint along with other movement makers focused on politic of gender justice activism and liberation have been grappling with the high demand for arrests and incarcerations of those accused of sexual violence, an existing anti-violence movement reliant and loyal to local police and law-enforcement partners, and concerns about the viability of the popular Women’s March.

In a report by Common Justice, Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration, four principles to guide policies and practices that aim to reduce violence are described. They should be survivor-centered, based on accountability, safety-driven, and racially equitable. At Black Women’s Blueprint, we take this further and vision a future where we investigate when and where persons who brutalize others lost sight of their own humanity. In a practice that African elders refer to as “seeking to understanding the why so that we come up with a better how” to stop gender-violence not only in its repetition, but before it occurs we must devise a vision for an evolved pedagogy of prevention at the intersection of restorative justice which is inherently transformational.

What Would It Take to End Men’s Violence Against Women?
The factors that contribute to violent responses – whether they are factors of attitude and behavior, or related to larger social, economic, political and cultural conditions – can be prevented. For many in our Black communities, gender is never discussed, and neither are patriarchal doctrines which remain a root cause for men’s violence against women. However, earlier last year, Black Women’s Blueprint began testing its assumption that communities are ready to engage in meaningful conversation about patriarchy and Black sexual politics by creating a series of campaigns focused on women engaging men, rather than reinforcing the notion that men can only hear and listen to other men. We developed The Bystander Mixtape: Transforming Men from Bystanders to Interventionists.

This mixtape develops Black men’s (as well as others) awareness of their power to impact the safety, wellbeing and success of another, teaches how men can generate the positive actions of others by taking a stand to prevent sexual violence, and discusses the need for moral courage. We reinforced the idea that being a positive or active bystander does not mean using patriarchal aggression against the aggressor, but is a practice in caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them and acting in ways that benefit or help others. We made explicit that together across genders we needed to foster norms for mutual helping and responsibility, social and party/recreational spaces, and communities of allies capable of stepping up in situations of sexual assault, sexual bullying and sexual harassment.

Incarcerating Every Man Who Engages in Misogynist Violence Will Not Lead to Better Societies.
What drives our pedagogy and curricula at Black Women’s Blueprint is connectedness, interconnectedness, community support as part of integral personal development—a pedagogy concerning itself with the whole person and mainly, the person’s spirit regardless of crimes committed. We believe that it is time for a praxis and pedagogy of liberation rooted in the restoration of spirit, one that would abolish over-reliance on prisons, thereby interrupting the systemic molding of those who commit various offenses into more violent “offenders”. We can as gender-justice and prison-abolition movements collaborate to take our work further by contending with the largely neglected dimension of oppression—patriarchy, in our discussions of the criminal justice system. In our movements, we can partner with criminal/legal systems to head upstream and interrupt the production of people whom have been taught to brutalize women, girls, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming people in particular.

The time is now to shift our focus and give those who cause harm the skills to reject and liberate themselves from a misogynist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by which they are also destroying themselves. We can do this by visioning a more radical transformative justice movement whereby persons faced with incarceration or at the point of exiting the criminal justice system gain the opportunity to make reparation, repair harm, restore and make contribution to the common good in solidarity with all genders and their communities.

Farah Tanis is co-founder and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint which works at the grassroots and institutional levels to address the spectrum of gender violence against women and girls in Black/African American and other communities of color. Farah’s work includes the development curricula, policy development, technical assistance, and training focused on an intersection of economic and social justice issues facing women and LGBTQ communities of color on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Farah was raised in Brooklyn, is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Business, Institute for Executive Management, and possesses a B.A. in Science from NYU, an M.A. in Social Work from Fordham University.

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