Healthy masculinity: a call to boys, men, and guys on this campus

By Jessy Hegland

heglandje@mnstate.edu

What does it mean to be a real man? Have you ever felt pressured to look muscular, slim, big, and strong?  Have you ever been picked on if you didn’t fit those notions on how a man is supposed to look? What about your interests?  Have you ever been called a “f*g”, “wuss” “p*ssy”, “queer bait” or “girl”?  What about being told to “be a man”, “man up,” or that “real men don’t cry!”  What about the messages of entitlement that men must objectify and pursue a woman even though she has expressed she disinterest? What do recent sexual assaults mean for men on this campus?

Does being a real man mean reaching up to that “hero” archetype?  In recent pop culture I have noticed many guys see themselves in this role.  Look around, there is a superhero movie coming out every couple of months. Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, Thor, and many more.  It’s interesting to me how much these heroes mean to some guys.  But put these same guys in a real-life situation, for example, the bystanders in the dorm room who were watching what was happening to the young woman who was assaulted. The heroic archetype within them is nowhere to be found. I wonder if it’s because of a herd-mentality or just fear of speaking up and speaking out, because “what will the other guys think?”

When a conversation about this assault on campus is going on, it gets shut down by someone (usually of the male persuasion) saying the tried and true MANtra, “Not All Men!” Indeed, most men do not commit violence, but their silence toward the men who do speaks volumes.  The conversation then moves forward into victim-blaming and slut-shaming.  And then the focus is on what women can do to prevent sexual assault.  That is a very one-sided way of dealing with it.  The question that should be asked is: What can men do to prevent sexual assault?

Messages are all around us, whether it’s from the media or from tradition. Traditional notions of masculinity tell us that men must be aggressive and dominant, show no emotion, be sexually potent, and never take ‘no’ for an answer.  If a man does not fully fit into the traditional notions of masculinity, he is shamed and ‘gender policed’ by his peers and told he isn’t a ‘real man.’ Over and over again, stories in film and television are about men overcoming adversity, either by fists or guns, and then getting the girl at the end for the reward.

But it turns out women are not rewards for good deeds, entitlements, or objects. Women are human beings.  By dismissing the conversation about what rape on this campus means for men is surrendering to the notion that a man’s natural state is that of lost control and violence. In my experience, by knowing so many different men, I know that isn’t true.  But what has resonated time and time again whenever things like this happen is the sound of silence. Silence is compliance to violence against women.

But the call to men to end sexual assault is here. Stand up, speak out, claim your own identity and have the integrity to take a stand.

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