By Beril Mese
Today we went a bit far outside of Berlin into the Eastern suburb of Marzahn to meet and talk with members of Dissens, an organization that works with boys to strengthen their gender identity and reflexivity through feminism. Bernard Könnecke told us about the “gender reflective” work they do and their purposes, while Katarzyna “Kasia” Wojnicka presented a summary of several larger projects they have worked in collaboration with other European countries.
Bernard told us he has worked with boys through the organization since the 1990s. He also thoroughly discussed the questions surrounding the connections between masculinity and feminism. The main ideas were represented to us in a triangle with three concepts: the privileges of being male in a patriarchal society, the disadvantages and costs men face—which is why they need feminism—and the diversity within males themselves regarding race, ethnicity, social hierarchy, sexuality, and other social markers. Dissens works with many theorists writing about masculinity and considers the differences between hegemonic masculinity and caring masculinity. “Caring masculinity” describes gendered behaviour that does not involve superiority, unlike hegemonic masculinity, which pushes men to prove themselves by asserting power over “others.” For Dissens, working with and empowering boys in conjunction with feminism is significant. They create male-only spaces in order to explore the complexities of identity and differences and to consider ways of incorporating true gender equality in their lives and personal perspectives.
Afterwards, Kasia told us about the Evaluation of European Perpetrator Programs project and Dissens’ cooperative research on the success of perpetrator-focused programs. She indicated that these programs are often mandatory for male perpetrators who were arrested; however, the project’s main concern is what happens afterwards. What I found interesting is that they do not consider women perpetrators a major issue, as the percentage is too small to be significant. I was intrigued by this policy because of my own research on women perpetrators and the roots of their violence in a course I took in Ireland about domestic and institutional abuse. I don’t think that the difference between genders on the “roots of violence” is that big of a gap. I also feel that excluding women from the culture of abuse and violence could perpetuate normative gender roles. However, I do understand their desire to be practical and work against the 95% majority group of the problem.
Dissens has also worked with and interviewed many experts who have written about masculinity, such as Michael Kimmel, Michael Messner, and Raewyn Connell. Kasia seemed unsure about how productive the outcomes of perpetrator programs are, but Dissens has helped to create a successful network within Europe that gathers information about these programs in order to share knowledge and exchange experiences and techniques.
The main questions that were raised during the discussion after their presentation surrounded the fact that they are a male-specific organization. Our group was interested in discussing the gender binary and whether the organization includes outreach to gender-queer or transgender people. Bernard told us about the gender queer specific work being done in Berlin, and when Heidi asked about men of colour and migrant/refugee men, we learned about organizations like HEROES (specifically for Turkish-German males) and Les Migras (which was also mentioned by Andrea Ottmer and other seminar leaders during our course).
In general, it was interesting to hear about work being done with the focus on men and masculinity. I wasn’t aware that gender reflective work with men and boys is prevalent across Europe, and, as Kasia mentioned, transnationally. I am hoping that the positive impact their research and work create can be spread around the world.
NOTE: The organization asked that we not take pictures during our seminar.
Beril Mese is starting her senior year at Colorado College this fall as a Music major. Her plan for life is to explore different cultures and its different aspects such as their music, social changes, and philosophies, etc. This means that she will be a very broke person.