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MENding CamBRIDGE: How One Local Men’s Group Is Redefining Masculinity

City of Cambridge

MEET WHITE RIBBON DAY CAMPAIGN AFFILIATE:

CITY OF CAMBRIDGE

For Liz Speakman, healthy masculinity is something that she thinks about every single day.

As the Domestic and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Initiative Coordinator for the City of Cambridge, her job requires it. As importantly, she is a mother to a three-year old son. Reflecting on a conversation shared with her husband the previous night, Speakman divulges, “My three-year old has a little mermaid costume that has sparkles all over it and firefighter boots. So he runs around the house in his mermaid costume and firefighter boots. We love that. How do we help him have a sturdy foundation where he knows that he is loved and accepted for the whole of who he is and that he can hold on to that when he is faced with a world that is going to tell him otherwise?”

The City of Cambridge is working to promote healthy masculinity that allows all men and boys to be true to their whole selves. They decided that one strategy to make these ideals accessible is through the lens of domestic and gender-based violence. They host myriad activities and provide trainings throughout the year.

City of Cambridge WRD Ambassadors And for several years now, the City has wholeheartedly signed on to the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Campaign as an opportunity to invite men and boys to step up and take ownership that domestic and gender based violence has deep impacts on all of our communities. Albert Pless, Program Manager for the Men’s Health League at the Cambridge Public Health Department, has been an active White Ribbon Day Ambassador and is featured in JDI’s Displays of Character: Men Reimagining Manhood. Pless has also helped bring in more men to play a leadership role in these efforts.

After the statewide 2015 WRD Campaign, Speakman, Pless and Nancy Rihan-Porter, Injury & Violence Prevention Coordinator for the Cambridge Public Health Department, realized that they needed to shift the responsibility for organizing these efforts from themselves to the men in the community. They vowed to change this and connected with JDI to host an open meeting for men in Cambridge. By encouraging men throughout the diverse Cambridge community to sign the WRD pledge, they are getting past the initial hurdle of starting the conversation. But once that conversation has been started, what are the next steps? How can they keep this conversation going and create meaningful social change? This is where Cambridge has excelled. The Cambridge Public Health Department and the City of Cambridge have brought together a group of men who meet to work on ending gender based violence in their community. Calling themselves MENding CamBRIDGE, this group is passionate about these issues and want to help. They want to learn how to be better fathers, husbands, and community members. And they want to teach others how to do the same. By harnessing the passion and expertise of local service providers and community members, MENding CamBRIDGE has ensured that their program is grounded in the needs of the community. These men know Cambridge and have unique insight into how to successfully distribute the message.

MENding CamBRIDGE For example, a few members of the group wanted to have a spotlight of a white ribbon displayed on Cambridge City Hall. They worked with the City Manager’s office to coordinate this and it was up for the week of the White Ribbon Campaign. The spotlight prompted many conversations about the White Ribbon Campaign and complemented the social media outreach.

One of the efforts of MENding CamBRIDGE was to get the word out about the White Ribbon Day Campaign and the role men can plan in ending gender based violence. The group created social media templates for the different departments of the Cambridge government. They encouraged men in all departments to post pictures of themselves wearing white ribbons with a set of hashtags. As simple as this may sound, it was a way of furthering engagement for the men who participated and reaching a larger audience of people who follow these leaders on social media and continue the conversation.

When asked what the future looks like for ending gender based violence, the City of Cambridge and MENding CamBRIDGE strongly believe that a shift has to occur. Speakman pointed to the need for prevention to start early and to focus on creating healthy masculinity as a way of changing the culture. This approach will be a positive model instead of a deficit model, which Speakman feels has a lot more buy in from the community.

The work of ending gender based violence is hard and there are very few immediate tangible rewards. In fact, it can get discouraging to watch the news and see all the horrible things that are happening. Speakman urges people to not fall into the trap of feeling overwhelmed and remember that you can make a difference!

She says, “Our piece may feel small and it may feel like we’re not really making a difference. And maybe my three-year old wearing a mermaid dress isn’t a big deal, but it’s a piece. My hope is that it is a step in the right direction. I have to do something and if this is what I can do, then I have to just keep doing it.”

There’s no doubt that the work being done through the City of Cambridge will create lasting and meaningful change for current and future residents.

To find out how you can get involved in the City's work, visit:

https://www.cambridgema.gov/CityManager/domesticandgenderbasedviolencepreventioninitiative

Watch the video of Liz talking about WRD Campaign:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS3tNgIHBgU