The problem with the Bro-Choice campaign

Bro-Choice

Choice USA has announced its first Bro-Choice Week of Visibility, a campaign to engage men in the fight against rape culture and for reproductive justice. The organization writes:

One year ago we hosted our first Bro-Choice panel to talk about ways young men can become authentically involved in reproductive justice. With the response to that panel, we knew this was only the beginning of the conversation.

The Bro-Choice campaign continues to be a place to lift up the work that young men are already doing for reproductive justice, but over the past year this campaign has evolved to include much needed conversations on rape culture and sexual assault prevention.

So we are excited to launch the first-ever Bro-Choice Week of Visibility as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month! We’ll be spending the next week engaging in a dialogue about rape culture, masculinity, and how men can be more vocal as stakeholders in the fight against sexual assault.

Choice USA offers some concrete ways men can learn more about sexual violence, including a blog series and a webinar scheduled for next Tuesday. I’m enthusiastic about working with allied men to stop assault, and so I want to be 100% behind this campaign.

I have to admit, though, that something about this doesn’t sit right with me. I understand Choice USA’s motives, but attempting to “masculinize” a feminist effort so dudes can feel comfortable condescends to the targeted men (who I’d imagine will join up because of their convictions, rather than a transparent gimmick and a “p” switched out for a “b”) while simultaneously prioritizing them. The clear message is that guys can’t be part of a generally woman-led movement, and we need to cater to their need to feel manly. And, as we know from working with fantastic activists of all genders, that just isn’t true. 

This well-meaning strategy assumes a clear gender binary–in which male- and female-identified activists need separate little cubbies to feel adequately differentiated–that reinforces the same essentialism that underpins rape culture and reproductive injustice. As Maya said of Choice USA’s targeted audience, “Why can’t they just be pro-choice?”

In addition to these larger problems, I’m also just skeptical that this framing will resonate with young men. What do you all think?

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13 Comments

  1. Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    It looks to me like a very standard “highlight a subgroup that’s underrepresented” event. It’s not like they’re pushing stereotypes about masculinity – if anything it looks like quite the opposite.

    Your point is well-made that focusing on the role of men in the movement emphasizes and relies upon a discrete gender binary – but it’s puzzling to me that this is so concerning to you on this occasion, when there are so many (praiseworthy) events focusing on the role of women in other contexts that don’t draw similar criticism.

  2. Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you. I hate the idea of “bro-choice”… it’s frustrating on a lot of levels that any issue tagged “female” still for so many young men is at best deemed “not a concern of mine” or at worse deemed “only for pussies.” It’s also pretty cheesy, a lot like during October when people wear shirts that say “save the tatas” or “save second base.” However, I do think it is extremely useful (whether we like it or not) to come at this issue in a way that the young men who think of themselves as “bros” might be attracted to. No matter how much we don’t like that they don’t see that gender is fluid and that gender roles are messed up, the young men who are comfortable with the status quo and/or comfortable in their cis gender maleness, especially the young ones whose brains have not formed fully, are the ones that will never be reached by leaving it at “pr0-choice.” I think sometimes you kind of have to cater to the LCD to get their attention, and then and only then can you sneakily tear apart their assumptions and show them something new. I think if this helps bring NEW men to the movement, rather than the ones who are already involved, then it’s a noble goal even if the name sucks. Will it work? I don’t know. But I’m happy Choice USA is trying.

  3. Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    So..here’s what I have to say about this post. Quit worrying about the word, start talking about the campaign itself. Choice USA is by far one of the most forward thinking and inclusive reproductive justice organizations out there.

    Step back for a moment, out of the world in which all of us feminists agree and understand feminist rhetoric and, and put yourself in the position of your average college student.

    You are your average male college student who parties a few nights a week, won’t sleep with a girl if she says “no,” believes in “a woman’s right to chose” but thinks you personally have nothing to do with it, you live in relative accordance to most hetero normative standards, or maybe you don’t but you don’t see your role in this movement..you are involved in a bit of activism around your campus..but are generally unfamiliar to the framework of the reproductive justice movement.

    I think you, mister average, are the “bro” that Choice USA is targeting.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if more men were actively involved in the reproductive justice movement? Fighting for equality, acknowledging that they too are stakeholders in this stuff? Well..as of now..there aren’t too many. I think what Choice USA is doing is pretty brilliant, just trying to draw men in, not as allies, but as stakeholders.

    I don’t think the goal is to create separate “cubbies” for men, but rather, a space where men feel welcomed and encouraged to become active..like they won’t be told off by all those “angry man hating feminists,” but rather welcomed by feminists who believe in equality and freedom.

    If the language has to be a little more bro-ie than we’d like, so be it, that can be addressed later..but right now, lets get more people involved in the movement first, don’t you think?

  4. Posted April 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think we should get caught up in the name and what we should be focusing on the campaign with a positive message to get men involved. How is this any different from organizations such as “Men Can Stop Rape?” Either way, I’m happy to see it.

  5. Posted April 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that most guys I know actively do NOT feel part of the movement. And frankly I don’t blame them. I see and hear plenty from within the community that is not friendly towards male allies or their viewpoints. We have lost countless potential allies as a result of this.

    I like what you want but for that to happen the feminist community needs to include men and make them feel alot more comfortable within. That may even mean changing some of our viewpoints or how we express such viewpoints. Until we are ready to do I don’t at all blame them for taking this approach. Frankly if you reversed genders I too would want my own group.

    • Posted April 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I agree it’s really important for men to a part of this movement, but why are we so concerned with making them feel comfortable? Certainly, shaming and hostility doesn’t help anyone. But do we work to help white people feel more comfortable in the anti-racism fight, just to bring them on board, for example? Hell no, cause that’s not gonna help anybody either.

      • Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Because unless you make them comfortable WITHIN the movement why would they participate? I’m not saying to gloss over or ignore issues but rather to actually listen and engage with them. To not dismiss them just b/c they are male. To listen to their viewpoints and not immediately just turn around and tell them they are wrong or can’t understand b/c they aren’t a woman, etc. And to not assume that we are always right and they are always wrong. Everyone makes mistakes even feminists.

        If we aren’t willing to do that we can’t blame them for not participating. Sorry if that waters it down for you but it’s the reality of the situation.

        • Posted April 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          Respect and consideration is a given, if that’s what you’re pointing to here. But beyond that, we don’t owe the group that oppresses us anything else. As women we are so conditioned to accommodate men that it unsettles me when I hear us talking about making them feel more comfortable within this movement. We absolutely can blame men for not participating just because they don’t feel comfortable. Undoing privilege is a whole process of feeling uncomfortable, layer by layer!

          Like I said earlier, hostility, shaming, etc. = not ok, and not what I’m advocating. But men pushing their boundaries and feeling discomfort while doing so in this movement, hearing things they’re not used to, being in roles they’ve never considered, questioning was they thought was true, feeling vulnerable, unsure, even scared? Great, powerful stuff.

          I’ll also point out that in no other oppressed group do the oppressed concern themselves with making their oppressors feel comfortable in order to have them become allies.

  6. Posted April 23, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I feel like you are projecting a ton onto this campaign based solely on the name. From what I’ve seen, the campaign is meant to draw more men into the discussion and challenge both gender norms and the prevalent belief that being prochoice is a gender-based issue. It’s not trying to masculinize a feminine effort–it’s trying to challenge what it means to be masculine, thereby undermining its importance. In other words, it’s trying to do the exact opposite of what you are concerned about. And just because the word “masculinity” is in the press release doesn’t mean Choice USA is saying that being prochoice is masculine. Seems obvious to me that it would be important to bring men into the sexual assault and rape culture discussion, given that men are a driving force in its perpetration.

    Regardless, I always thought the name was intended to be a funny pun. It’s tongue in cheek–not aimed at bros but aimed at those men (me included) and women that like to joke around using variations on the term bro. I thought that was obvious on its face–but then again maybe that’s just because I joke around using the word bro a lot.

  7. Posted April 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    > The clear message is that guys can’t be part of a generally woman-led movement, and we need to cater to their need to feel manly.

    The first half of that is a message that is already present everywhere, including here. It’s [redacted for ableism] to chase men off by dismissing their concerns and then object when someone tries to reach out to them.

  8. Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Pretty surprised by this post. It seems like you judged a lot based on a name that is pretty clearly supposed to be funny, not serious. Looking at the pledge it seems like exactly the kind of thing we feminists would want men to be thinking about.

    Look at your own logo, it does pretty much the exact same thing the word “bro-choice” does – take something traditionally thought of as sexist is turned around in a funny way into something good.

  9. Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Since a bunch of men are wandering in to tell the women that they’re being overly suspicious, illogical, and overemotional, and reaching out and catering to men is a GREAT idea because men are GREAT and deserve unabashed catering at all times…

    I’m willing to bet it’s a bad idea, and we SHOULD change the name.

    Or else why do these men have such a freakin vested interest, if not to preserve a facet of the patriarchy, within feminism?

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      You don’t have to listen or care what men think. But similarly, the hypocrisy should be evident if you ever find yourself asking, “Where are all the men?”, or “How come men aren’t getting it yet?”, or “Why won’t men join us in this movement?”. No, it’s not the duty of women to encourage or pave the way for men to join them. But perhaps they can be satisfied with a carefully crafted message or branding or campaign that gets men to be part of the transformative process?
      In a perfect world, males SHOULD be capable of motivating their activism all on their own. Yet, what oppressive class do you know of that has ever lit their idealogical lightbulb independently – in a vacuum? Who is born with an innate sense of WHAT exactly the issue is – and all it’s layers – and HOW they can change it? Has your understanding and passion for feminism not been inspired, shaped and nurtured by others’ influences? I tend to think of this as a collective effort! All the things that are necessary for society to evolve, when it comes to social justice: raising awareness, consistent and wholistic education, compassion-building, developing an empowering narrative, devising real-world solutions, and acting on them over and over and over!
      Choice USA’s campaign targets younger men who perhaps have not cemented their world view. I believe that allies are not born, they are made. Who’s gonna help make them?
      Please don’t assume men’s motives for posting on a forum for discussion. If ever there was an appropriate post for men to chime in on, it’s the one that addresses a media campaign solely focused on male-identified peeps, and ends with the question, “What do you all think?”

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