We are living in an era where the definitions around masculinity and femininity are being discussed in more deep and meaningful ways than ever before. This is a good thing. As our society continues to progress and evolve, it is important to recognize how far we have come and realize what works and what doesn’t in terms of how we represent and live out our gendered identities in the world.
There has been an increased focus on masculinity, particularly those of a toxic nature. When we look at high profile cases of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence by the hands of powerful men (the NFL, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump) we would be foolish to think their examples and subsequent excusing from those around them does not have a trickle-down effect to young men in their formative years.
Compounded with these public figures, the increase of access to online pornography which is commonplace among the social media and digital generation, we need to have strong community leaders guiding our youth toward healthy, respectful behaviors and attitudes that don’t seek to demonize others in any way.
Which is why organizations like A Call To Men are vital in the world today. They are a violence-prevention org. that teaches programs all over the world, engaging men of all ages and backgrounds to understand the importance of the manhood that prevents and calls out harassment and violence toward women, and seeks to change the way others think about gender.
Aside from working with groups of male adults and putting on seminars and programs for men within various industries around the world, an important part of the organization’s focus is on teen boys. They have a program called LiveRespect which is being introduced to 18 schools across the US.
A Call To Men facilitators work with educators at the schools and teach them to foster meaningful dialog about issues such as sexual harassment and violence toward women, and also seek to dismantle harmful myths about masculinity that continue cycles of violence.
The Boston Globe recently profiled a school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is adopting the LiveRespect curriculum for its male students. In 2016, a number of students implored school administration to take action regarding a series of sexual harassment incidents perpetrated by male students toward females. These culminated in a school talking, prompting the school to take this seriously.
Since then, teachers and administrators have recognized the need to address the issue of not just harassment, but the inherent values taught to boys about masculinity.
“The nine teachers, coaches, counselors, and administrators talked about the pressure for boys and men to be strong, assertive, and brave, to protect women, but also to sometimes view women as property. They discussed the fear of appearing vulnerable and ways that “soft” emotions like sadness or fear can be channeled into anger — an emotion that can be more socially acceptable for men to express,” wrote Boston Globe reporter Jeremy C. Fox.
Jeremy interviewed A Call To Men’s co-founder Ted Bunch, who said the group was founded after him and fellow founder Tony Porter saw the rise of the women’s rights movement. Their idea was to reach men who have been caught in cycles of abusive behavior, as well as male bystanders to help them understand the role they can play in preventing and stopping gender-based harassment and violence.
“We’ve been taught that women have less value than men. We see it every day. On any sports field that you go on, you can see a coach — a good guy, a wonderful guy — or a father or an uncle say to a boy, ‘You’ve got to throw harder than that, son. You throw like a girl’,” said Ted.
At the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, parents will have the option to take their kids out of the LiveRespect program in the same way they are allowed to with sex education curriculum. From our point of view, we understand the legalities of schools doing this, but it is a shame. Both sex education and this type of unique gender examination is what we need to see more of at such an early stage in life in order to prevent predictable cycles in adulthood. However, this is a positive start and we can only hope the impact of this program will convince parents of its validity in the lives of their sons.
One of the female students who organized the walk-out demonstration last year was pleased with this new program and hoped it would make a difference.
“It’s important to stop this idea that your masculinity depends on suppressing femininity. Change takes a lot of time,” said Bentley Sloane.
It has not only been helping the students, but also some of the teachers and educators at the school who didn’t even recognize their own misconceptions about gender and violence. One also expressed how other influences in the lives of students can impact the way they end up defining masculinity.
“This is cultural, some of this stuff. This is really heavy-duty ingrained into what they believe, and it’s religious to some — like men are men, and this is what it is going to be,” said Mike Tubinis, a guidance counselor.
The notion of violence being cultural is acknowledged around the world also. A non-profit in India conducts workshops with boys and men to help them understand that the messages they are told about how to treat women are not right, and to enable them to break cycles of misogyny which are so rampant.
A Call To Men has some great resources on their website, including the curriculum they use to teach middle and high school boys. If this is a topic you are keen to learn more about, there are a few other resources we highly recommend. The documentary ‘The Mask You Live In’, produced by the same team behind ‘Miss Representation’ (available on iTunes) is a great commentary on how the roles of men in society have changed with the rise of women’s rights, and how there needs to be a conscious investment into how leaders, teachers and parents help shape the identity of men beyond the harmful stereotypes of yesterday.
The documentary also addresses how toxic masculinity leads to patterns of violence and high rates of incarceration amongs men in the United States.
Another great resource is Dr. Jackson Katz, a powerful author, activist and speaker whose work takes him to groups like the NFL and the military to talk to men about violence. He believes that men need to be taking the lead on violence prevention initiatives, and that it domestic violence is not just a “woman’s issue”.
In 2010, A Call To Men CEO Tony Porter spoke at TED Women about the work he is doing with his organization, starting with the phrase “act like a man” and how they use it as the starting point to dismantling harmful and restrictive notions about gender.
When we see male leaders standing up and using their voices to create a more equal society, especially when they are engaging young men, it gives us hope for the next generation below. Watch Tony Porter’s speech below: