Sandra Kim, Everyday Feminism, Jan. 23, 2013.
Our boys are being bombarded with messages on how to be “manly”—not all of them healthy. Men Can Stop Rape pairs with Sandra Kim to help parents support their sons’ healthy development.
It’s pretty common for us to worry about how women, especially our own daughters, are put into gender boxes and encouraged to engage in behavior that hurts them, simply because they’re female.
It’s far less common for us to worry about men, including our own sons, and what gender boxes and harmful behaviors they’re taught, simply because they’re male.
But they are. Boys as young as 4 year old are told to “be a man!”, usually in response to them crying or showing fear.
And as they grow up, they’re bombarded with messages that say to be a “manly” man, they need to:
- Be big and strong
- Be physically aggressive and ready to fight
- Show no emotions – especially fear or pain but anger is just fine
- Feel entitled to objectify women and sexually pursue women regardless of whether or not she’s interested
You only need to look at our thousands year old history of warring groups that pillaged, looted, and raped to see where this dominant idea of masculinity comes from.
It doesn’t take a leap of faith to see how this history has led to our society and media promoting images of masculinity as inherently obsessed with fighting and sex.
And then having some men turn that image into a reality where they feel entitled to assault and dominate others, particularly women.
Yet we seldom hear about how this male violence is connected to our traditional notion of masculinity.
So many men are caring, responsible, and non-violent people. But while many men don’t use violence to express their feelings or control others, many don’t feel comfortable showing the other sides of them for fear of being called “gay”, “girly”, “soft,” or “emotional”.
That’s why we need to change the conversation around masculinity. We need the definition of masculinity to reflect the diversity present in men beyond the narrow box they have now.
Not only to reduce the level of male violence but to also support men in accepting all parts of themselves and expressing themselves fully—without being shamed.
One organization fighting to do just that is Men Can Stop Rape. Through their Men of Strength Clubs (MOST Club), they have pioneered a violence prevention program that provides young men in middle school, high school, and college with a structured and supportive space to build individualized definitions of masculinity that promote healthy relationships.
Based on their highly effective program, here are some ideas of how to talk with your son and other men in your life about what masculinity means for them and its relationship to their lives and violence.
Here are the six topics she suggests – go to the Good Men Project to read the whole post.
1. Meet Them Where They’re At
2. Help Them To Identify Male Role Models They Know
3. Discuss How the Media Presents the Ideal Man
4. Discuss How Traditional Masculinity Shows Up In Their Own Behavior
5. Discuss the Role of Traditional Masculinity in Violence, Particularly Against Women
6. Discuss How Nonviolent Men Can Be a Part of Ending Violence