Men’s Role in Advocating for Body Autonomy
The UNFPA defines body autonomy as “the power and agency of individuals to make choices about their bodies without fear, violence or coercion.” This includes the right to make informed decisions over one’s own life and future – a right which has been blatantly disregarded time and again in the lives of women and girls across the country and around the world. Communities and advocates must come together to dismantle the norms, laws, and practices that deprive individuals of autonomy. And it is absolutely essential to our collective liberation that those with power and influence are using their voice to uplift those who have been silenced by systems of oppression.
As male-identified team members here at A Call to Men, we understand the responsibility that comes with our inherent societal advantages as men. We know we need to show up in strength and solidarity for the human rights of marginalized communities – and we need you with us.
Women have the same inherent human rights as men, yet men often don’t advocate for or recognize the rights of women. We must step up and do better.
Ted Bunch, Chief Development Officer
Why is it important for male-identified folx to speak up about body autonomy?
Rickie Houston, Director of Healthy Manhood Initiatives: For too long, men have controlled the governing bodies that have made laws, policies, and practices concerning women’s bodies. The decisions are made for women without input from women. It is time for men to stand up and speak up for women to have the right to make choices about their bodies without fear, violence, and coercion.
Chamar Griffith, Director of Development: It is important for us male-identified folx to speak up about body autonomy because if we don’t, we continue to be part of the problem that deters true equity and safety for female-identified individuals.
Ted Bunch, Chief Development Officer: The autonomy of the male body is not often questioned, while the body agency and autonomy of women/girls is under near-constant threat. This disregard for human rights is a result of male entitlements and privileges (patriarchy) passed down from one generation of men to the next. It is the responsibility of male-identified people to break this cycle and call out injustices as they relate to gender. Women have the same inherent human rights as men, yet men often don’t advocate for or recognize the rights of women. We must step up and do better.
Tony Porter, Chief Executive Officer: The ongoing disregard for the body autonomy of women and girls in our society speaks directly to the harmful male socialization that we talk about at A Call to Men. The audacity to feel that we, as men, have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies comes from a place of viewing women as having less value than men, as objects, and as the property of men. In a male-dominating society, men are socialized into these beliefs from a young age. Learning and embracing the principles of healthy manhood helps to counteract this socialization, and urges us instead to honor and advocate for the full humanity of all women, girls, and those at the margins of the margins.
Josué Argüelles, Director of Youth Initiatives: It is critical we use our platform and influence in this male-dominated society to advocate for body autonomy – especially for women, trans and nonbinary folks – because in doing so, we are creating a world where everyone can freely make decisions about their physical selves.
For too long, men have controlled the governing bodies that have made laws, policies, and practices concerning women’s bodies. The decisions are made for women without input from women.
Rickie Houston, Director of Healthy Manhood Initiatives
What are some concrete ways men can help advocate for body autonomy in their communities?
Chamar: It’s not enough to “be one of the good guys.” Men – we need to open our eyes, use our platforms to elevate the voices of those at the margins of the margins, and stop legislatures that takes away their right to choose or limits their healthcare options. For all of us young boys and men, it’s time to have a clear understanding of boundaries, consent, and allyship.
Josué: We need to loudly and persistently challenge the narrative that body autonomy is just a women’s issue! Body autonomy can take different forms, such as vulnerability to violence – especially for marginalized communities. It can also mean a lack of accurate sexual and reproductive health information, or poor access to health services. Let’s educate ourselves on these issues, and understand that teaching others about individual bodily autonomy requires collective action. Let’s learn about the laws that harm bodies around the world, and challenge harmful ideologies ingrained within us. Some of the most powerful tools at our disposal are our privilege and our voices as men, which we can use to affirm and empower people who are at greater risk of experiencing violence when advocating for their own bodies.
Tony: Taking action to build a healthier, safer, more respectful world for all people by resisting patriarchy is what we do every day at A Call to Men. Body autonomy is one aspect of male domination – by addressing male domination in general, you are addressing body autonomy. We as men need to be promoting equity, actively supporting and participating in resistance movements, and promoting healthy manhood. The more we empower our fellow men to promote healthy manhood, the more men can be their authentic selves, and the less likely we are to be invested in dominating women (and all the various forms of oppression that comes along with that). In my own life, I advocate for the choices and humanity of women by being an active member of the domestic violence ministry in my church, promoting the leadership of women (especially in the church, where that is very uncommon and deeply needed), and encouraging the women in my family and community to pursue their dreams and not be limited by ceilings. As men, we must be a staunch advocates for women, and do so unapologetically. Let’s all stand tall in our aspiring allyship.
It’s not enough to “be one of the good guys.” Men – we need to open our eyes, use our platforms to elevate the voices of those at the margins of the margins, and stop legislatures that takes away their right to choose or limits their healthcare options.
Chamar Griffith, Director of Development
How do you help model the importance of body autonomy for the young men and boys in your life?
Tony: One of the ways to teach body autonomy to our sons and other boys is to teach them not to objectify women. To teach them to have value in women. To teach them that relationships with women are not rooted in sexual conquests. In order to do that, we have to create the foundation that we talk about at A Call to Men to teach boys to have an interest in women and girls outside of sexual conquests. To teach boys not to distance themselves from the experiences of women and girls to define what it means to be a man. Distancing requires them to have a lack of interest. You don’t have to have a conversation specifically about body autonomy. You have to teach boys to be their authentic selves. If I am having a conversation with my sons and other boys and teaching them to promote value in women – to see women other than sexual objects, teaching them that women are not the property of men, teaching them about equity and inclusion, teaching them about not defining manhood by distancing themselves from the experiences of women and girls, teaching them to be their authentic selves and not being strapped down by the teachings of the Man Box – if you are teaching them the qualities of healthy manhood, you are teaching them to support body autonomy for women.
Josué: Many of us (including men) have internalized patriarchal ideologies about our bodies, but we can practice modeling autonomy by caring for and loving our bodies, and by dismantling these oppressive narratives. By spreading this message and teaching our youth about consent and coercion, we empower them to make choices that ensure control over their own bodies, and help them to recognize when anyone’s body autonomy (including their own) is being violated. It is also important that we model holding other male-identified individuals accountable when boundaries are not respected or consent is not given. As mentors to the next generation of men, it’s essential that we model always asking permission as well as an understanding that consent is never fixed or ongoing.
Ted: As men, we can demonstrate the importance of body autonomy by showing respect for our own bodies and the bodies of others. This includes respecting boundaries, asking permission, and disciplining our bodies so that we can control urges that may be harmful to others. I make a point to teach my sons (and other young men and boys) that they get to say no to anyone and anything that they don’t want near their body – that no one has the right to cross a boundary that you’ve established, and they can (and should) remove their body from things that are harmful to them. By helping young men and boys to honor their own body autonomy, we are teaching them to honor the body autonomy of others.
If you are teaching young men and boys the qualities of healthy manhood, you are teaching them to support body autonomy for women.
Tony Porter, CEO
How do you interrupt harmful language/behaviors that threaten the body autonomy of women and girls?
Rickie: Being an aspiring ally requires a daily, ongoing practice of modeling respect for ALL women – and that absolutely includes challenging conversations or actions that are negative or denigrating to those at the margins of the margins. I am fortunate enough to spend my days teaching and modeling gender equality, and I know that men are critical to the success of this work. In order to achieve body autonomy for ALL women and girls, we have to interrupt not only sexism, but also the racism that women of color experience.
Josué: When we witness something that oppresses people’s body autonomy, let’s act on it and challenge it – especially with the men in our lives. We can model this by calling out the behavior, calling men into the conversation, and educating them to find their voice and use their influence to support body autonomy. Women of color, LGBQ, trans and nonbinary voices are at a greater risk of violence for speaking up about body autonomy. Let’s use our aspiring allyship in action to uplift those voices while ensuring we aren’t taking up space.
Tony: At A Call to Men, we stand on the front line of educating men, challenging men, and loving them through the process of teaching men. A big part of what I do is to try to prevent harmful behaviors from happening in the first place. And it’s work each of us as aspiring allies can do. By challenging the thinking of men. By empowering men to be better. For the most part, we challenge men through transformation. There’s a transactional way of challenging men – i.e. “what you did was wrong…don’t do it again or x,y,z is going to happen.” That’s transactional. We try to challenge men in a more enduring, long-term way by transforming men and our beliefs. We challenge men by touching their hearts. We challenge men by bringing them to a place of discomfort so they become uncomfortable with their own behavior. It’s that transformational challenge of men that’s my life’s work.
When we witness something that oppresses people’s body autonomy, let’s act on it and challenge it – especially with the men in our lives. We can model this by calling out the behavior, calling men into the conversation, and educating them to find their voice and use their influence to support body autonomy.
Josué Argüelles, Director of Youth Initiatives