“We all have these stereotypes: There are things men need to do to be recognised as men. They must be strong and they must not show emotion. They have to have this special personality before they are ‘real’ men. But that does not have to be the case.”

So says Lamees Azaar, who recently joined a group of 16 young people discussing masculinities in a Social Justice and Gender Roles programme organised by the organisation Ahel in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The programme is part of the organisation’s work to build ‘people power’ and community organising. The goal is for them to be able to identify problems and create solutions for themselves and other people in their communities.

UNDERSTAND HIERARCHIES AND AUTHORITIES

The session Lamees Azaar took part in forms part of Ahel’s concept of emancipatory learning in self-led discussion circles that uses principles of popular education to address issues such as equality, justice, oppression, authority – and masculinity.

“This work will help societal change along the way generally. In the part that deals with masculinity, we work specifically with imbalances in power structures, we challenge privileges and we create understanding of how we think about them,” says Suhail Abualsameed, who is an expert in masculinites and responsible for Ahel’s efforts on the subject.

“It is important to remember that masculinity is not in itself positive or negative. Our focus is on hierarchies, authorities, dictatorships and the top-down leadership that many expericnce. They are the problem – when masculinity is practised in harmful ways. In short, we work to understand the concept and use it positively,” he says.

BECOME ACTIVE AGENTS

The masculinity session at Ahel mix dialogue with reflection, participants’ stories and commitments.

“We listened to each other’s stories of masculinity, where we told each other about our reflections on how we ourselves can be active agents who create change in our own families and among our friends,” says Lamees Azaar.

“For example, if there are expectations to men to be strong and not show or have feelings, then it will be reflected in society. One will see that people have mental problems because they do not talk about emotions. So if society – and all of us – understand a concept like this properly, you will not only see it as something bad to show emotion,” says Lamees Azaar.

FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN

Also, the work emphasises that understanding masculinity and the dynamics of the concept is a question that concerns everyone and not just men.

“The traditional view of masculinity is that it is tied to men and then of course you also think that the course is probably only for men. Or that if a woman is interested in participating in such discussions, it’s because she hates men. That it must be because you are against men and want women to decide. But that’s not the case,” says Lamees Azaar.

Masculinity expert Suhail Abualsameed emphasises that understanding masculinity is relevant to all genders.

“It is not only men who have grown up with narrow and stereotypical perceptions of masculinity. So have women. That is why everyone must be part of this conversation,” he says.

Lamees Azaar adds:

“There is a growing understanding that masculinity is not a limited thing. For example, women can also show masculine behavior,” says Lamees Azaar.

COMMITTED AND MOTIVATED

Ahel as an organisation works to build ‘people power’ through community organising and popular education. The work takes place in Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon. The specific work that Lamees Azaar participates in happens in partnership with the Ruwwad organisation and targets youth in East Amman and the capital’s Jabal Al Natheef neighbourhood, including Syrian refugees.

Ahel and KVINFO

From the beginning of 2020, the Jordanian organization Ahel is cooperating with KVINFO.

The project focuses on vulnerable community groups and on strengthening the participants’ thoughts and ideas about taking part in society and standing up for their rights.

KVINFO and Ahel focus on norms of masculinity among the participants, empowering young people, women and organisations. As part of this work, we are exploring if GenderLAB, a tool for challenging existing gender norms developed by Copenhagen Business School and KVINFO, can be adapted and used. You can read more about GenderLAB by following this link – the link leads to a Danish site.

The cooperation is financed by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme under the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Despite the demanding circumstances these people live under, they show great interest in the subject of masculinities:

“Sometimes there is some resistance among participants. After all, we address deeply rooted understandings. But the young generation is quite open. They want change and are willing to look at everything possible,” says Suhail Abualsameed.

“It’s not so different from all other people. Perhaps quite the opposite: These people have themselves experienced how negative masculinity – understood as autocracy and dictatorship – can ruin their lives with tools as violent as conflict and war. They are deeply committed to and motivated for change, ”he says.

The participant, Lamees Azaar agrees:

“I feel like this topic would be good for everyone to talk about. Especially parents and the new generation of men. After all, we all have some thoughts that stall society where it is already. But when we understand things better, we find it easier to change our society.”

Still an ugly face

Ahel’s sessions in Amman, Jordan is, as far as it is known, the first of their kind to address and analyse negative understandings of masculinity as part of a broader work of organising people to create change in their communities.

However, Suhail Abualsameed has no doubt that it would be relevant in many other contexts:

“The need to discuss masculinity is not unique to Jordan or the Middle East. It’s everywhere. In fact, I would think that the misogyny that the far right in the West expresses is perhaps the most powerful in these years. No society has moved beyond, so to speak. The stereotypical perception of masculinity may have taken on a new form, but when it shows its face, it is still ugly,” he says.