“Be Strong.” “Be a Man.” “Man Up.” “Don’t cry.” How many of us hear these phrases and cringe at how they reinforce the dominant narrative of masculinity? The social norms around this narrative also shape the belief that men are to be intimidating, controlling and aggressive if they want to be respected. While cultural differences exist, the social education of becoming a man transcends diverse communities. The wealthy, the middle class, the poor, every race, color, and creed, no one is exempt from the pressures to conform to this construct of masculinity.
It’s not a stretch to understand how, if left unchecked, these norms include learning to use violence and a willingness to be violent.As we launch our 8th annual MA White Ribbon Day, I ask myself what it would take to change this narrative. How do we support and encourage the men who think and act otherwise?
If we peel back the layers in male culture, we find that these behaviors are supported by the extreme stereotype. In fact, they are the characteristics of hypermasculinity, which is "a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior”. Research has repeatedly shown that behaviors related to hypermasculinity are associated with sexual and physical aggression towards women. Risk factors for violence against women, children, and men are behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that see domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault as inevitable.
So what does it mean to be masculine? What are the characteristics that we want to celebrate and want our sons, nephews, and other young men to emulate? What are the qualities of healthy masculinity?
What would it take for all of us to reimagine manhood? Everyone can help to encourage healthy masculinity by:
- Promoting healthy, respectful communication and behaviors to children and adolescents by modeling it yourself with others. Talk about these issues with your children friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
- Speaking up and acting when you see worrisome behavior can help to prevent harm or abuse.
- Asking schools and elected officials for policies that prevent violence and promote healthy relationship based in respect, equity and inclusivity.
- Holding media outlets accountable for potentially damaging messaging. Write a letter to the editor or contact their sponsors when you’ve seen or read inappropriate or violent messaging.
- Taking the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Pledge, or becoming an Ambassador.
With your help, we will turn these aspirations into reality. We look forward to working with you this year!