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Men’s Voices, Men as Allies

Check-In: The Benefits of Being: Men's Investment in Ending Violence Against Women

by Pat McGann, director of outreach of Men Can Stop Rape

On one of my morning walks to the metro station, I thought about writing this Check-In and two things came to mind: "Free to Be...You and Me," the record created by Marlo Thomas and others in the early '70s espousing children's freedom from traditional gender stereotypes, and David Rider's August Check-In, "Good name in man and woman, dear my lord/ Is the immediate jewel of their souls - Iago, "Othello,'" in which he asks why he can't just be. I realized they both relate to a topic I have for some time considered vital but which we as men working in the field of sexual violence prevention have largely failed to articulate: how our work benefits men. I am certainly not suggesting we ignore or override improving the lives of women and girls; that should be of central importance. But if we truly want to achieve the cultural gender revolution that primary prevention ultimately requires, we have to consider what men get out of such changes.

In the 1960s, Betty Friedan proclaimed in The Feminine Mystique that women were leading quiet lives of desperation, trapped in days lived vicariously through children and husbands, resulting in a damaging selflessness. In a similar altruistic vein, we shouldn't ask men to commit to ending violence against women solely on behalf of women. It's simply too hard for the overwhelming majority of us – men and women – to completely hand over our sense of self to another, so that we are whoever that person expects us to be. We chaff. We curse. We grumble. We want some elbow room. While none of us can fully determine who we are, we nonetheless want some choice in the matter.

And that's what men's involvement in ending violence against women offers us as men: an opportunity to find our way through masculinity – some participation in how we define ourselves as men. While a part of our motivation for redefining masculinity is the link between traditional manhood and sexual violence, another might very well be our own dissatisfaction with the pressures and expectations placed on us by masculine norms.

Certainly this discontent has been my personal experience. I've struggled for years to free myself from a masculine detachment that characterized my emotional life, a stoicism that bound up any movement toward a fuller range of feeling and expression. Ever since I was a boy, I've thought of love in its most general sense as the greatest motivator, and yet spent much of my life paralyzed by the prospect of expressing the most common, everyday forms of affection. Hugs? No way. Wasn't going there. Too uncomfortable. And yet I desperately wanted closeness, contact.

Eventually, I began to embrace the possibilities of choice, though not easily or perfunctorily. I'm thinking, for instance, of the first time I suggested to my father we hug rather than shake hands, the both of us standing in the Rose Garden in Lubbock, TX, immediately after I had gotten married on Bastille Day, 1984. Looking back, it seems like I just blurted out my desire, but maybe I had plotted and thought about it for weeks ahead of time since my timing does seem strategic to me now. I must have known that I couldn't make a request like this in our everyday interactions; it had to be a special occasion in order to significantly reduce the chances of denial. And I think I played up this angle, saying when he extended his hand, "Hey, I just got married. I think we ought to hug." Not being a hugger himself, he looked a little befuddled, but then, to his credit, said something like, "If that's what you want, okay," and stepped forward. And we hugged. Very badly. Like squeaky, rusty, clanky machinery. And years later we continue to hug. Like less squeaky, rusty, clanky machinery.

When I think about conveying this concept of benefits and choice to the male youth we work with, it gets kind of clanky. We can't exactly tell them they'll be able to hug their fathers more if they get involved in preventing sexual violence, unless we want most of them to laugh us right out of their lives. But we can present them with an important point: traditional masculinity is telling you who you're supposed to be. And this allows us to move onto the question at the heart of our work: What kind of man do you want to be?

Written by Pat McGann. Pat McGann is the director of outreach of Men Can Stop Rape.


Provided by: Men Can Stop Rape


Men Can Stop Rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men's violence against women. We build young men's capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.

Visit Men Can Stop Rape at www.mencanstoprape.org


Strength speaks from the heart.

If there's a man in your life who represents a masculinity based on true respect, a sense of community and connection, and a commitment to gender equity, take a minute to publicly let him know just how much you value him. Write a sentence or two in his honor to appear in Men Can Stop Rape’s Profiles in Strength web site gallery.

And don't think Men Can Stop Rape is speaking just to women. Men, stand up and honor the male role models in your life who taught you there's a different, healthier way to be a man!




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