Whenever I introduce myself and share that my job title is Coordinator for Violence Prevention and Healthy Masculinity programming, I’m usually met with, “Wait, what is your job title?” “What does that even mean, ‘healthy masculinity?’” “But you’re a woman.” At this point, I am used to the confusion and inquiry. And I admit that I am still figuring out this work from a critical and intersectional framework. I’ve learned a lot after 18 months of masculinity-focused research and four months in my current position.
Positions like mine can't be seen as a Band-Aid to cover-up systematic problems. I want positions like mine to exist, but I fear that institutions use them to either address masculinity without an intersectional lens or to ignore the root issues on our campuses and in society. If you sense your campus says or believes the, "But look! We have this position!” mentality, critically think about why. Rape culture and sexual violence thrive on the silence of men and on the desire of men to "cover" for other men who more actively perpetuate sexual violence and rape culture. I’ve consistently seen colleagues, family members, and friends cover for men. I know I’ve done it, too. I got involved in ‘healthy masculinity’ work because I believe it is a critical form of primary prevention. Unfortunately, a lot of universities tend to care more about band-aid solutions and looking like they are fixing a problem than actually addressing the systemic root causes of violence and oppression. But I get it, change takes time--and often money and resources.
The newest version of the SEXUAL VIOLENCE-RELATED PROGRAMS AND SERVICES CAS standards are a great framework for understanding the multi-level approach necessary at our institutions to facilitate change. This includes critically examining our policies, reporting structures, accessibility of resources and support people, trauma-informed first responders, and the campus climate we all play a role in creating.
What perpetuates a culture of violence? When I talk with students, I’ve had success in using this hate/bias pyramid. I focus on how bias is the foundation of violence. I give them tools based on upstander/bystander intervention techniques on how to engage in self-work, but also question media, peers and their family members. This is often successful because it works on multiple levels: sexism, racism, and homophobia to name a few…but it first begins with them recognizing that something is bias-motivated. That inherently, some of the things they’ve been taught or believe about the world is hurtful and harmful to others. At some point, the light-bulb usually goes off and they recognize to eliminate or stop violence, we need to get rid of the bottom layer of the pyramid: our biases. And we all have them.
Remember that silence is complicity. People (mostly men) who need to be part of this conversation-on challenging masculinity, rape culture, and violence-are often silent. Recently, friend and colleague Jamie Utt spoke to many of my difficulties in doing this work in, “Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses” (I highly recommend his article if you have not read it yet). I found myself reading along, nodding my head, and verbally saying “yes!” to each of his points. Then I reflected on what I was so excited about, and realized it was because it had been a long time since I’ve seen or heard a man speak-out, and call out, the work we do with college men. Woah.
Jamie chose to a) not be silent and b) state our work must be intersectional and intentional.
Intersectionality is important. Women and non-binary folks are critical to the reconceptualization of masculinity and gender expression not just on our campuses, but in society at large. At the same time, men need to do this work with other men and do so even when women aren’t around, not count on women to do the work for them, and not question our (women and non binary folks’) place—or competency—in this work. We have an opportunity to not only provide needed support to the students we interact with, but hopefully plant seeds of change.We can all do do something. This includes recognizing our own biases and assumptions surrounding “men’s work.” Sometimes the best place to start is with changing the self.
Libby Thorson is Coordinator for Violence Prevention and Healthy Masculinity programs at West Chester University in Southeast Pennsylvania. She received both a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Master of Science in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. You can contact her via email at [email protected] or Twitter @libbythorson.