Bro-Choice: Moving Men From Passive Allies to Vocal Stakeholders in Ending Oppression

We need men to move beyond a place of complacency and paternalism, and arrive at an understanding of their own self-interest in fighting for sexual and reproductive justice.

We need men to move beyond a place of complacency and paternalism, and arrive at an understanding of their own self-interest in fighting for sexual and reproductive justice. Pulling rope in one direction via Shutterstock

Until now, we’ve been far too comfortable with men occupying a lethargic role in the sexual and reproductive rights movement: that of passive allies. And while it’s imperative that communities and individuals most marginalized by reproductive oppression lead the way in building a new future, it’s also critical that we situate an analysis of masculinity in the reproductive justice framework, and equally important that men are enlisted to participate in that analysis.

Between the gang rape of an unconscious teenage girl in Steubenville, the massive rollback in access to safe abortion at the state level, and the wide-spread epidemic of gun violence in this country, one thing remains clear: silent and passive allies are no longer productive in a political climate that relies on men’s complicity in systems of oppression.

We need men to be agents of change in the fight for justice.

In our work at Choice USA, we’ve long known this to be true. Young men are overwhelmingly pro-choice. They understand the impact of reproductive and sexual oppression—not just on women’s lives, but on their own lives as well. And it’s important that we emphasize the distinction. We don’t need young men to participate in this work because they’ve been motivated by a sexist narrative about “saving our mothers, sisters and daughters” – a narrative often perpetuated by our own movement.

We don’t need a knight in shining armor.

We need men to move beyond a place of complacency and paternalism, and arrive at an understanding of their own self-interest in fighting for sexual and reproductive justice. We need young men to see the connections between masculinity and oppression—to be aware of male-privilege and their own insidious participation in a system that violates and dehumanizes women. We also need them to see the damaging impact this system has on their own lives. And the only way this can happen, is if we collectively embark on a movement to engage and recruit more young men into the feminist ranks.

Until we take this responsibility seriously, our movement will always be working at half capacity.

The overwhelming response we’ve received from young men across the country, excited about the bro-choice campaign, is evidence of a missing component in the current paradigm. What we’ve learned through our work with students fighting for access to birth control, comprehensive sex education, abortion access, and a world free of sexual violence, is that young men are ready to participate in this fight—but they’re reluctant to do so.

They’ve bought into the dominant narrative that reproductive rights is a “women’s issue.”

It’s a convenient narrative for both sides. We supposedly benefit from an expedient, catchy, and easy-to-consume narrative about the “war on women,” while our opponents benefit from an untapped resource in the battle for reproductive rights. They benefit from a narrative that reifies the gender system.

Don’t get me wrong. Reproductive oppression is rooted in a very specific politics focused on women’s bodies, and I would never advocate that we lose sight of that fact. But the equation is more complex beneath the surface. Every day, healthcare professionals and politicians make assumptions about our bodies, relationships, and sexual health needs – assumptions that impact all of us. The truth is that women aren’t the only ones who have abortions. Women also aren’t the only ones denied access to contraception at the pharmacy. And women certainly aren’t the only ones alienated by sexist and homophobic abstinence-only programs.

While women’s bodies are often the primary site of political control and state violence, reproductive oppression is about controlling and regulating entire populations of people—men included. And there’s no question that traditional masculinity is a powerful force in conditioning an oppressive gender system – a system that impacts men’s lives.

Consider this:

  • Men who idealize traditional masculinity are 50 percent less likely to seek out preventive health care.
  • Men with rigid views of masculinity are less likely to use condoms, more likely to unintentionally get someone pregnant, and far more at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Women are more than twice as likely to use contraception consistently if their male partner(s) are actively engaged and supportive.
  • Violence against women, girls, boys and men occurs predominantly at the hands of men.
  • Men are the least likely to report or disclose sexual assault, despite estimates that they make up 10% of all victims.

Until we bring these complexities into focus, I’m afraid we’ll miss the boat entirely. Until we prioritize this dialogue, men will remain in a state of paralysis.

At Choice USA, we have no intention of missing the boat. And we aren’t the only ones. Organizations like Men Stopping Violence and Men Can Stop Rape are working directly with young men to confront violence against women and collectively build a vision for healthy masculinity. The Strong Families Coalition, championed by our friends at Forward Together, are pushing a critical dialogue about building and supporting strong families, with an emphasis on not only mamas, but papas too.

Like each of these organizations, we know how important it is to engage men in this movement. That’s why we’ve embarked on a mission to highlight and lift up the work young men are already doing to challenge gender oppression in their own communities, and we’re recruiting more young men to do the same through a new campaign with a humorous spin on the pro-choice label: “Bro-choice.”

Sarah Silverman’s hilarious video aside, the Bro-choice campaign aims to disrupt the dominant narrative that reproductive justice is a “women’s issue.”  We’re working at the national level to spark this conversation, while empowering our student leaders with the skills and resources to expand the number of young men actively and vocally engaged in this work at the grassroots level. Men can be a powerful force in helping move our policy agenda forward, which is exactly why we’ve embarked on this journey. We know that in order to build the power we need to win on our issues, men have to be authentically and actively engaged in this work.

It’s clear that we can no longer afford to accept passive male allies. We need men to be vocal stakeholders in the fight against sexual violence and reproductive oppression.

Embark on this journey with us by signing the Bro-choice pledge today. And to continue the dialogue, tune in for our blog series on men, masculinity and sexual violence on Monday, April 22 – Friday, April 26.