I recently sat in on my first Mobilizing Men Task Force meeting, sponsored (and lovingly supported) by Tim Love and Ted Rutherford over at TAASA- Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
The room was filled with highly motivated people representing several agencies including the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center and the Ft. Bend County Women’s Center.
The MMTF was formed out of the need to engage men in the fight to end sexual violence. These meetings also discuss the stereotypical definition of masculinity out society has constructed and how it plays into sexual violence. Masculinity is often seen as the tough and rugged. Big machines, big muscles, big ambition, big paycheck; but when talking about gender, size just shouldn’t matter.
Currently, the stereotypical definition of masculinity that is pressed onto our youth is that of the conquering hero, ever active in attaining physical dominance over other males, and sexual dominance over any female he desires. In this definition there is little room for the artistic and creative energy to flow. These young boys who are “in touch with their feminine side” risk being teased, bullied, or isolated if they do not strive to fit the definition of a “real” boy.
This is apparent even in something as simple as a bicycle. Ted Rutherford brought this example of inequality to light during the MMTF meeting. He showed pictures of children’s bikes and had us analyze the messages. Boy’s bikes are generally decorated in black with flames or dark earth tones with the theme of construction vehicles or tanks and guns. Girl’s bikes are usually pink or purple, with a white wicker basket, complete with colorful tassels or flowers.
But what if a young boy wanted a bright colored bike? The colors could appeal to him. The basket could seem useful, and the flowers or tassels may be attractive and look fun. What does he risk by riding this pink bike? What do his parents risk? Is his “boy-hood” called into question? Most likely, yes. Not only by the other boys around him, but by adults and female children as well.
What message does this give to young boys?
THIS is who you are. You are rugged. You are competent. You are in control. You are aggressive. It is not okay to step outside of what “we” have decided is masculine. And above all else, it is not okay to be associated with anything feminine.
The feminine becomes distasteful, and all the emotions, games, colors, clothes and body parts that are feminine are repulsive or entertaining. Active steps must be taken to avoid being associated with the feminine.
But we work in sexual violence prevention, not bicycle production. So, to say that all boys who ride Combat Rocket 6000 will become abusers is a stretch. But, to fabricate and reinforce unrealistic standards and expectations for boys and girls, creates a world where even the “good guys” accept systemic violence against women.
Men of all walks become disconnected from their emotions by the male socialization process. This process pushes them from accepting the feminine as equal to them. The feminine must be “less than” in order for them to achieve masculinity. And what easier way to show that you have power over someone than to enact violence (especially sexual violence) on that person?
Without the ability to empathize with people around them, how can men begin to support not only the women they love, but also themselves, in the fight to end sexual violence?
TAASA’s Mobilizing Men Task Force is one of many groups geared at engaging men, and challenging the harsh definition of what a man “should be”. If we want to eliminate sexual assault, we will also have to shift the definition of a man to include empathy, caring, and love.
Corey Ann and MichaelElaine; Hope Alliance Prevention Team