Reaching Men for Social Change

A figurine made of cardboard boxes walking in the rain

Over the course of the last two years I have been facilitating a workshop about how patriarchy negatively harms men. The workshop is facilitated through a feminist lens and asks participants to list the characteristics that make up what it means to be a man or the “rules” they know that men receive. We then frame the conversation of these rules in the influence of patriarchy and how these rules harm men and put men in a position to continue to do harm to themselves and those around them.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the students who have attended the workshop and has inspired me to look beyond just this workshop to how I can have a larger impact on my campus community with changing the harmful, outdated model of patriarchal masculinity to something that does not oppress women and gender non-conforming folks. bell hooks put forth a concept of feminist masculinity that I highlight in my workshop. She specifically highlights the concept of consistent self-critique of actions and behaviors. Which made me think about the lack of a space for that to happen with men.

I know that there are many spaces that are designated (or feel) they are only for men, but those spaces generally do not engage men to think about what the impact is that they’re having within society. The space doesn’t ask them to think critically about their internalized expectations of manhood that they’re learned throughout their lifetime through explicit and implicit messages from the world around them. There is no challenge. And because there is no challenge to that systemic message, the space implicitly encourages a world where “boys will be boys”.

What would an organization look like that supports men critically challenging the patriarchal masculinity that they’ve been trained to follow? There are lots of models out there. The Oakland Men’s Project is one example. There is also a student group at University of California that meets to challenge patriarchal notions. I’ve also seen organizations on college campuses such as Men Against Rape and Men Advocating Responsible Conduct. And then there are research studies, books, and articles that could inspire something when combined all together.

But I know that I believe the following and we need to address it:

Male supremacy negatively impacts how I communicate with my partners, friends, and comrades. It negatively impacts how I want, express, conceptualize, and make love. It negatively impacts how I live my life and how I organize. Male supremacy hurts men’s relationships to themselves, to women and people of other genders, and to the earth. It has shaped out emotional lives so as to effectively advance a violent, militaristic, misogynistic, anti-queer, brutally competitive economic system. I am enraged by the resulting damage I see in men’s lives all around me.

Chris Crass – Toward Collective Liberation

I know that there are a lot of different ways to attempt to mentor young men. It’s important to me that I start contributing in some way so I’ll be looking for ways to engage men in having a challenging conversation or pointing to resources. What ways have you engaged men in speaking about social justice? Particularly in their role in contributing and/or challenging patriarchal masculinity.

Tell me your thoughts