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A Way to Win
June 3, 2003
by George Rolph

How do we reach those in authority when we talk about the bias men face in their day-to-day lives? This is one of the vexing questions facing men's groups and others interested in helping men who are being shafted by the family court system or ignored as victims of domestic violence.

I have thought about this for a long time and it seems to me that we cannot reach the whole system all at once. We need to target our efforts carefully and with skill. Writing long angry e-mails will not get us far. Neither will sitting on web sites and complaining; hoping that a judge or a senator or a member of parliament will somehow stumble across our efforts and instantly feel as outraged as we do. Life, unfortunately, is rarely that simple. I have done these things and I have learned that they do not work or advance the cause.

Our targeted efforts must single out those with influence and who already have a mind that is geared towards real social justice without bias or favour. Naturally this raises the question: How do we find these people?

Finding others who feel as we do -- that the system stinks and desperately needs reform -- is not difficult but it can be a tiresome business. The answer is to read and watch everything. Newspapers, TV news and talk shows, web sites and bulletin boards are very useful in this regard. When a judge, senior police officer, politician, author, web master, lawyer, probation officer, senior social service worker, union official or journalist etc, expresses concern over some aspect of what we are fighting for, then get in touch. Thank them for having the courage to speak out. Ask them for more details of their personal point of view about the subject they were speaking on. Then expand the discussion to include other points that are related to those the original author made but try not to fire all of your guns at once. The noise can make people duck for cover instead of standing tall. Be aware that they do not need to agree with everything you think to be useful allies.

Simply typing their name into the google search engine and adding the word "contact" can often reveal a web site with an e-mail address that will enable you to write to the person directly. I needed to find a way to get in touch with a university professor recently so I typed, "contact professor blah blah" and instantly found a site with his e-mail address on it.

The next step is to put them in touch with others who feel as they do. If possible this should be people in the same field. For example, a judge will happily chat away to a lawyer or a politician but may not, for political reasons, be happy talking to a union official. At least, not at first. I have managed to do this by writing to the person concerned and saying things like, "Are you aware that justice blah feels the same way as we do over these issues? He/she may be very interested in hearing your take on these matters, would you mind if I put him/her in touch with you?" By working in this way a useful body of contacts can be established both country wide and across the globe. Because people feel secure when they realise that there are many others who share their views, they can often feel emboldened to speak out.

Another technique I have found useful in the past is to encourage my contacts to talk to real victims of the system and explore the pain and suffering these people go through. This has the effect of pulling the whole issue down from the heady realms of intellectual debate into the nitty gritty reality of peoples lives.

Beware of extremists! People who think women should be forced back into the home and chained to a kitchen sink, or beaten black and blue if they dare to argue against the male view are not welcome. Neither are people who are so angry that they cannot make a consistent coherent statement. All of us get angry at some time. If we are still raw from our experiences then maybe we are entitled to rant and rave for a while. However, most of us calm down again and begin to think as rationally as we are able about the mechanics of what happened to us. Those who have not reached that plateau of understanding (or refuse to) are more of a hindrance than a help. Their angry diatribes, no matter how well intentioned, simply drive others away.

Develop links with your local press. The local paper can be an excellent source of information as well as a perfect organ for expressing our concerns. Furthermore the local papers can be used to raise funds as well as awareness. They will often be happy to print a piece asking for volunteers to run help lines for male victims, for example, or address and stuff envelopes. They can also be useful as a way of appealing for office equipment and computers etc.

Draw like-minded groups together. A group of concerned grandparents who feel outraged at not being able to see their grandchild on the whim of a pissed off mother can be a useful ally to a group of fathers who are trying to get the law changed so they can see their kids. Together they make up a pressure group that can be very effective. Apart and in small numbers they may be of very limited use in the war we are all fighting.

In the end our job is one of education. We must bring these issues and concerns of ours to the wider public and those in authority in as non-threatening a way as possible in order to gather the support we all need to make the changes we all want to see. That is not to say that we cannot be controversial or even express our deepest concerns in strong language but we must employ a degree of wisdom and common sense while doing so. Our aim is not to frighten and intimidate, let the truth do that for itself. Our aims are to educate those who are blind to the truth and to win them over to the right side of the argument. If we succeed in doing that then we cannot lose.

George Rolph is National Domestic Violence Co-ordinator for the charity ManKind

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