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In preparation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I have been reflecting on what it means to me to be a man in anti-violence work. Exploring my masculine identity has been particularly salient and humbling for me this semester, as I have co-taught a group of fraternity men in the course, Greek Men for Violence Prevention (GMVP).
In GMVP, we explore masculinity through an exercise called the “man box” which illuminates stereotyped standards for what it means to be or act like a “real man.” We easily identified many aspects of the man box: “be strong,” “don't show emotion,” “be independent,” and “be dominant.”
Men are taught if they are not dominant they are not “real men.” This can result in some men feeling the need to “assert their masculinity” when challenged, feel entitled to sex, and, at times, exert physical violence.
These rigid gender norms are powerful influencers of behavior. They contribute to cultural norms that allow for victim-blaming, denial of the seriousness or pervasiveness of gender based violence, and protecting perpetrators.
I am hopeful, however, that these are learned aspects of culture and as such these attitudes and behaviors can be changed. I know I have learned many of these lessons from others having the courage to challenge me and my own problematic views or behaviors. Thus with humility, I offer some actionable steps to begin to address these problems:
- Challenge people when they use problematic language or undermine others using gender-based stereotypes or related statements. You can say something as simple as: “What do you mean when you say that? It sounds like you’re saying all women are ____ and that is not true from my experience.”
- Engage in empathy and perspective-taking when someone tells you about negative experiences they have had as a woman or girl. Say affirming things like: “That sounds hard and unfair” instead of trying to solve the problem or question them about the validity of their experience.
- Evaluate the media you consume. Google the Bechdel test (i.e., watch a show, movie, or other media and consider who are the people in protagonists roles, what are they talking about? Who are the directors, executive producers, and writers?) Men are taught to assume this is just “the way things are” instead of critically evaluating who creates, directs, and provides the lead roles in narratives and stories we adopt as a culture. You can choose what media you consume or not. You also can choose which products you purchase or not. Do not discount your role as a consumer and talking about problematic aspects of products you like or do not like.
- As men, we are invited to share our voice and perspectives in work, classroom, and social settings. Sometimes it is more important to listen, to not fill space, and move back to allow others to share.
Written by Christo Raines, a Counseling Psychology doctoral student who co-teaches SW672: Greek Men for Violence Prevention.