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

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.  

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  • ProLifeTogether

    Not on my watch…father of five, grandfather of six. Life in all of its forms is wonderful and not to be tampered with in the name of choice. This is not a freedom, it is a bondage, robbing 55 million people, men and women, in the past 40 years of their rights. I will not stand with you. I will love you but tell you that your choice is incomplete and uncaring. This nation was founded to defend every individual, of all believing and sacrificing for the truth that all are created equal.

    • L-dan

      Because forcing people to risk life and health to carry unwanted pregnancies *isn’t* bondage, and *isn’t* robbing them of their rights. I truly hope all of the children and grandchildren you risked nothing to produce were wanted by the one(s) who carried them, but they’re not an excuse to rob others of the right to chose what happens to their bodies.

      Telling me that my body does not belong to me is not love. Don’t expect us to be grateful that you won’t stand with us, nor actually consider us equal.

    • Amanda Kazarian

      My husband will be helping me pay for my tubal ligation procedure at planned parenthood. Not everyone wants babies deal with it.

      • Susan Lowe

        Just curious. Why isn’t he having a vasectomy? It’s less expensive and has fewer potential complications than a tubal ligation.

    • cjvg

      So telling a woman she can not have sex without risking pregnancy (regardless if that might negatively affect her health) is making her equal to a man who can have sex without any consequences to his health?!

      Are you aware that before the wide spread acceptance of birth control in the US 1 in every 100 women died in childbirth according to the CDC.
      Unfortunately they did not keep records on how many died from pregnancy or after child birth, or even how many became permanently disabled.

      None of the men, absolutely 100% of them ever (although they did have the fun part of causing these pregnancies) ever died or became disabled as a consequence of sex without contraception.
      Walk through a turn of the century grave yard for a change, and check the family plots.
      Most men had multiple wives and their wives did not die of old age.
      These women died in the prime of life, usually with a baby buried beside them who died with them.

      It is always so easy to insist on restricting choices for others if you NEVER have to live with the consequences!
      Just a little hint here, woman actually do count as being alive!

      • Susan Lowe

        Actually, a lot of men before the 1940’s eventually died of syphilis due to unprotected sex. Unfortunately, they often brought their diseases home and sterilized or killed their faithful wives.
        The rightwing religionistas often claim that the sexual revolution began with the invention of The Pill. In fact, men have always lived as if there were a sexual revolution.

    • Emen Ihta

      By “in the past 40 years” I’m assuming you mean the passing of Roe v Wade. You do realize abortions were performed long before that right? Like since the beginning of time? As in by any means necessary . If a woman does not want to be pregnant, she WILL find ways to terminate it, legal or not.

      • ProLifeTogether

        Emen, we have seen murder all the way back to the gates of Eden. It will never be right. Amanda, there is no condemnation in not wanting to be a mother, there is wrong in terminating an innocent life without cause.

        • Susan Lowe

          “Life” cannot be truly determined morally, legally or scientifically. It certainly cannot be determined by people who do not share my values or my faith.

        • Carla Clark

          Yeah, so by making abortion illegal, you are ‘murdering’ (I’m using YOUR definition of murder, not the legal definition, of course) women. Of course, THAT goes all the way back to Eden. There IS a cause for termination of a PREGNANCY. The fact that no one, and I mean, NO ONE, can use another person’s body against their wishes, not even to save their lives. If a woman wants a man to stop raping her, she may use deadly force to prevent it, after all. In that case, unlike the fetus, there IS a capability to be innocent or guilty. Ok? Thanks. If God didn’t want fetal life to be ended as a result of abortion, He should never have created pregnancy, and especially so that it was created in just one sex. My God is not a misogynist. Therefore, He knew that women should be capable of terminating pregnancies they did not want.

          Btw, the biblical God, YOUR God, apparently, killed a lot of fetuses, DIRECTLY.

    • HeilMary1

      I’ll bet you used your wife’s pregnancy disfigurements as excuse to cheat on her and secretly wished she died in childbirth! You view those “missing” 55 million as target practice, slave labor, canon fodder and trophy mistresses. Our Founders left mother-saving abortions to the discretion of midwives and you know it!

      • Susan Lowe

        He might have been the faithful type but he’s overreaching when he tries to tell the women of the United States of America what to do with their lives.

    • Susan Lowe

      You don’t really care on what basis this nation was founded. You care about what the pope tells you to care about.
      Seriously, dude, take care of your pedophile problem. That’s what may earn your church some respect. This relentless war on women isn’t bringing you any converts in enlightened countries. All of your growth is coming in countries where people can barely read and don’t know that what your best known for these days is money laundering and child sexual abuse.

  • CEO

    Well written. I look forward to more men as my allies in this community!

  • Roe v World

    Good article. It really saddens me when men don’t realize how much reproductive healthcare access affect them and the people they care about. It’s not just a women’s issue. Here’s hoping we see more bro-choice advocates.

  • Keith DeJarnet

    This is a great article but it’s missing a key point. As someone who has testified in front of the State Affairs Committee of Texas recently against an anti-abortion bill I can tell you from experience that when a man steps forward to be “Bro-Choice” he can expect to be
    walking into hostile territory. Fortunately I was given permission to speak on behalf of the women in the group I was representing, which I stated quickly, but the female legislators wanted to rip me in half because in their eyes and the eyes of the rest of the committee this
    “is” a female issue. Also, this article was written by a male calling for action and I think that’s wonderful and I hope more men step forward to help but the real question is…do women “want”
    our help…? I’d love to hear opinions on this. As a black man (I was born in the late 60’s and prefer black to african-american) I know that the civil rights movement could not have succeeded with out enlightened caucasians and other races joining the cause along the
    way and history has shown this to be true. So again…do women truly seek enlightened men to join them in this cause or would we be walking into hostile territory if we do so…?

    • cjvg

      Yes we do, and no you will not be walking into hostile territory(at least not from the women I know).
      I believe it is about human rights rather then a “female” issue, in this instance it is females that are affected by it, but at its heart it is about human rights.

      Who owns your body, and who gets to tell you what you can or can not do with it.
      For all of us the answer should always be; “I own my body”
      This is our most basic human right!

    • Susan Lowe

      You may well encounter some hostile women just as whites encountered some hostile blacks when they joined the civil rights movement but the issue is too important to allow yourself to be put off.
      Welcome to the movement.

    • Media Watch

      We need men to stand up for reproductive choice, to never force sex, to wear condoms, to fight for male birth control pills, and to never force sex or claim they will use a condom then decide mid-sex to not use one. This has never been a woman’s issue it is a human rights issue saddled onto women’s backs. It is gun-toting males who spearhead many anti-abortion movement. It is ignorant male politicians who push legislation that cements men’s power over women’s reproductive choice. If men want to help and yet feel resistance– then please consider the history of abuse and know that little will change until each and every one of us fights for women’s right to reproductive freedom.

    • Carla Clark

      Keith, what do you expect when women are faced day by day with hostility from the male environment around them? Believe me, what you’ve received is MUCH less than any of these feminists have had to experience at any given moment of their lives. If you truly wish to help I suggest you readjust your thinking and not expect to be given a big hug of gratitude every time you enter into a space created and designed for and by women. Harsh, maybe. But that’s the reality. If you think you can do that, you are more than welcome to join the movement.

  • SleeZee Lyers

    Andrew, I agree, it’s important to support a woman’s right to choose.

    It’s important to make sure the morning after pill and emergency birth control are present at all emergency rooms and at pharmacies throughout the country.

    It’s important to support a man’s right to disavow parental rights and financial responsibility for an unwanted child he is ill-prepared to father during the first trimester of pregnancy.

    It’s also important to support a rebuttable presumption of joint shared custody of children during a divorce.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this Andrew.

    • Susan Lowe

      You are not welcome to the women’s movement because, like the anti-abortion crowd, if you’re given an inch, you’ll take a mile and decide that it’s your right to deny a woman’s right to choice.
      If you don’t want to pay child support, I recommend a couple of condoms or a reversible vasectomy.

      • adam77

        Since when do you say which men are welcome in the repro-rights movement and which are not? Men are NOT second class members of this movement and prochoice men do NOT have to pass a pervasive femininst PC test. We need to support abortion funding because we oppose school taxes and the term “prochoice” is itself unfair to China and the One Child Policy.

        • adam77

          And why are you femminists censoring my longer comments detailing municipal contraception funding strategies? What gave you the right to censor full and equal male membership?

          • Carla Clark

            Um, BIOLOGY? There are MORE methods of female contraception than there are male contraception, after all. So what gives YOU the right to decide what and how contraception will be funded for what will be MAINLY women affected? THIS is why WE get to decide who is included. Because WE are trying to gain EQUAL RIGHTS to men, and whining about not being included and losing your privileges, is NOT the way for women to GAIN them. DERP.

        • Carla Clark

          Yes, you ARE. Men are the privileged class and they are the very part of the SYSTEM that created women as the second class. If you want to be part of the movement, you have to listen to us, this time around, and finally let US tell you how these policies have affected US. Sorry that your privilege of being treated as first class ALL THE TIME is being taken away from you.

          Btw, China is not a Pro-Choice country. It is legally Pro-Life, and politically Pro-Abortion, NEITHER of which is Pro-Choice

      • SleeZee Lyers

        Susan, if you can, ignore all the other battles that envelop us for the moment, and please just answer this question seriously and without snark,

        How is telling a man that if he doesn’t want to pay child support to use condoms or to not fuck, any different than telling a woman that if she doesn’t want a baby, to use the pill, or not to fuck?

        Is it an acceptable argument to tell a woman that abortion should be illegal and if she doesn’t want a baby she she should use the pill or not fuck?

        If that’s not an acceptable argument, why is it acceptable to tell a man that if he doesn’t want a baby he should use a condom or not fuck?

      • Big Softy

        It’s a bit narrow minded to believe that to be a feminist you need to possess a vagina.

    • Carla Clark

      Women will often receive custody more often because they are the ones who actually SEEK custody more often. And the reasons women are GRANTED custody, has just as much to do with misogyny, as anything else. Btw, your wallet does not equal a woman’s body. That’s a very gross comparison, anyways. Men and women can disavow parental and financial rights IN THE EXACT SAME WAY. Giving MORE rights to men is NOT the answer. DERP.

  • Doc Kimble

    Kids are given Sex Ed for 12 years, but they never get comprehensive info on abortion. Get rid of Sex Ed entirely, and just show the procedure at about the same age as they get Driver’s Ed. Showing films of the results of drunk driving, bad driving, etc., has saved millions of lives, showing an abortion procedure can do the same. Sex Ed today is the equivalent of teaching kids how to drive drunk. Sex Ed shows too little; it shows just enough to ensure failure. It can’t possibly be done correctly in schools. Co-ed Sex Ed is a recipe for disaster, which I believe it’s designed to be. Our leadership has failed us, utterly and completely.

    • Carla Clark

      They are given abstinence-only sex ed, so sorry. There is more comprehensive information on abortion, than there is on sex. TOO bad. And, again, what about showing a video of childbirth? When I saw that video that gave me FAR more pause than an abortion video EVER has or will. Sex Ed shows too little, precisely BECAUSE of your anti-comprehensive-sex-ed cohort, that just wants abstinence-only sex-ed taught in classes. Which means you are a hypocrite and a misogynist who is PRO-abortion, just like the rest of them.. It’s time for you to get a (new?) nickname.

    • blazintommyd

      How about open heart surgery for meat eating or cancer surgery, show that too? Sex ed: This is a penis, it shoots jism and feels really good. The woman has a little button and the whole surrounding area of her vagina also feels really good when stimulated . So each can stimulate each other or themselves and feel really good but the jism contains the human seed and a woman may be used like a garden for that seed and thus may get pregnant if the man inserts his penis into her vagina and shoots his jism in her. What’s so Satanically Mind blowing about that? It seems to me you should be able to tell that to any child of any age it’s called the reality of human and animal life which is fun. So be happy and enjoy !! I was doing yard work the other day and willow pods were blown all over an area of yard but all of them aren’t going to become trees, get it? So if I rake them up and dispose of them as yard waste am I interfering with the “will” of the primordial male god and creator? But instead you “Conservatives” get into this male domination trip by claiming the false authority of an imaginary personal god – e.g., god jizzed on the blank lifeless mother earth and said let their be life. This is essentially what the bible says, people Israel. The whole idea is the epitome of male chauvinism written by men. Don’t “Conservatives” ever become adults? Apparently not.

      • Mabon Ap Modron

        No gays or transgender people in your sex ed… conservatives should actually be relatively okay with it. :P

        • blazintommyd

          or merely make vague and amorphous statements that are impossible to respond to 8-|

          • Mabon Ap Modron

            Sorry, it put the reply to the wrong comment. <.<

    • Jennifer Starr

      I can’t figure out if you’re making a really lame ‘Fugitive’ reference or trying to pass yourself off as a Doctor, which is something that you clearly are not. But let me tell you my experience with sex-ed vs the stuff they told us in youth group in the ’80s. Youth group told us that our virginity was the most ‘valuable thing we possessed’–which is apparently supposed to be a compliment but is really one of the most insulting things you can tell a female–and that we should save it for our husband and that once we lost it we’d be ‘ruined’–along with a bunch of other fear-mongering rubbish that I promptly dismissed as the BS that it was. Sex- Ed, on the other hand, taught us actual facts about sex, the risks and benefits, how to know when we were ready and when we weren’t, not to be pressured into it, and the ways to protect ourselves if we did decide to have sex. And it was hearing the actual facts that led me to decide at that time that I was not ready for that kind of relationship and that I wanted to wait. Facts did that, Mr. Kimble. Not moralistic garbage.

  • Doc Kimble

    When women choose contraception, I feel they should be fully informed of the consequences of their choices. Not all men are fully informed, not all women are either. Information isn’t gender-specific; it’s just information, without any particular agenda. In that spirit, here’s some information about contraception:
    Many women know that the pill can cause blood clots, stroke, heart attack, weight gain, and decreased libido. Less well-known is that it is classified as a group one carcinogen for breast, liver, and cervical cancers, which is the same classification as cigarettes and asbestos. This risk is highest for women who have not yet had a full-term pregnancy. While it is true that the pill decreases risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, these are rather rare types which most women have little risk of, while breast cancer is the most common cancer death among women of childbearing age. I hope your doctor has told you of these side effects if you are on the pill.

    • Carla Clark

      What about all the serious side-effects of childbirth. Not all women are informed of those, either. I have no idea why your first name is ‘Doc’.

  • Doc Kimble

    Think about it: once you start sleeping around, you’ve complicated your life to such an extent that the effects of those encounters are impossible to predict with any certainty, but all of those consequences have a negative component attached to them. Hoping there will be a good outcome from sleeping around is really just believing a selling point from someone who wishes to profit from your misery and the misery of others. If someone is teaching you it’s ok to experiment sexually, why would you think they have a good intention in doing so?

    • Carla Clark

      Having consensual sex increases the oxytocins in a person’s body almost 100% of the time. Having sex, consensually or not, does not always lead to pregnancy. Quit calling it sleeping around, then suggesting that the consequences are a form of punishment. It’s blatant ‘slut-shaming’. And some people aren’t ‘hoping’ for anything. Seriously, stop victim-blaming.

    • blazintommyd

      What you describe as “consequences” are social impositions created by so called “Conservatives”, allegedly grounded upon some sort of right to Will to convey private property; all of which is created/conceived by men which includes the social invention of private property and money further conjoined with how such men believe women are supposed to behave in order to ensure that a particular man’s jizz led to the birth of “his” child such that that man may will/convey his property by the male law of inheritance rather than ending up giving a child by another man’s jizz his property; and that’s all it is. The only other aspect is “Conservatives” insistence on preserving and protecting venereal disease as a deterrent to hopefully force people into monogamous marriage in further fear of additional punishments by an imaginary male god and his earthly male servants in the form of organized religion. Forced pregnancy is merely an extension of this same form of male domination over women

  • blazintommyd

    Be more direct – sex is fun and is a million times better when everyone lets it be fun. Start with nudity. Nudity is fun, sex is fun, sex nude is even More fun, butt, you don’t have to cum all the time (for the guys) because we’re doing it for fun not baby making. Like we can all be naked together but we don’t have to fuck unless everyone wants to. Just finding out all of these things together is fun too. As opposed to :OMG how awful :O this is scandalous

    • Carla Clark

      Um, some men DO do it for the baby-making, and some women don’t. Why are you associating ejaculation only with pregnancy?

      • blazintommyd

        I didn’t do that, but it just happens to be the only way a woman gets pregnant – so if you don’t want to make/get pregnant then there is no male imperative to cum – e.g., I can stroke my cock a little, a woman or man can suck my cock or lick my pussy a little but there is no moral imperative or otherwise to cum or make the other person cum; unless in the case of a man you want to get/make pregnant; or maybe you start fucking someone and it isn’t any fun so you stop but there is no necessity or imperative that either has to cum – e.g., well seeing that my cock is inside of you let me force myself to cum; or you have to because I’m a man and it’s your duty as a woman or a Gay bottom. The key is option. Like I can stroke my cock and cum or not cum, it’s my option and prerogative.

  • adam77

    Reviewing it again. It was more the male privelege line than the rape culture line
    that kept me from signing the brochoce pledge. Overpopulation activists are NOT
    preveleged and we have fought too hard to accept second class membership after 40 years
    of struggle.

    • Carla Clark

      Um, male privilege is certainly not specifically tied to being an ‘overpopulation activist’. In fact, women are more likely to be so. Which means male privilege occurs whether or NOT you are an ‘overpopulation activist’. Seriously, get a clue. Where do you think rape culture comes into play, through magical fairy dust, or male privilege?

  • Carla Clark

    To cjvg and MediaWatch, I most definitely think this is a woman’s rights issue. A human rights issue, second. Human rights issues would suggest that we, as humans, are seeking to improve our status to become equal to another species. Further to that, for the same reason that this is not a men’s rights issue, but a woman’s rights issue, it cannot be, primarily, a human rights issue. The REASON females are primarily affected is because of predominantly female organs. Uterus, placenta, ovaries, vagina.

  • Mabon Ap Modron

    I’m a transman, so the whole range of issues is tricky for me. I have the female organs, so in a limited physical sense, I am affected in the same way as a cisgender woman. But culturally, socially, etc… it’s a totally different place to be coming from.

    In fact, I have to admit to being scared off a lot of discussions on the subject because I’m sick of all the statements repeated over and over about how men do NOT have uteruses, because they just do not, while women definitionally do… I would like to be a part of these conversations, but there doesn’t seem to be room for trans people most of the time.