Many of you may have already read about the tragic wisconsin spa killings that left seven women dead including the seperated wife of the male perpetrator who had only recently renewed a restraining order on her husband.
On the tale end of domestic violence awareness month, the story reflects similar paths of aggression in relationships publicly and privately across the United States.
Rather than dwell on Wisconsin in particular, or the theory of male aggression, heteronormity and privilege in general, what if we changed the script today? What if today’s blog was not about facts, figures, assessments, or research but instead asked for stories, thoughts, concepts, and conversations? With that in mind, I want to pose a potentially controversial idea based in ideals and dreams.
Maybe it is time we reconsidered our definition of prevention work?
In my introduction to violence prevention work, I was introduced to prevention 1.0 as a consultant in my national fraternity. “Don’t break the law assholes” as my boss jokingly put it. Basically, prevention 1.0 was about educating students about the laws of the land and telling men not to rapists (or perpetrators) and women not to be victims. To date, we still do some of this prevention 1.0 work through campus affirmative consent campaigns, self-defense classes, buddy programs, or safe rides.
That is not to say that we as society should abandon self-efficacy and policy education. It offers a solid foundation for the many non perpetrators to maintain their current behaviors.
So then we introduced prevention 2.0, or how to move from non-perpetrator/non-victim to an active bystander model engaged in promoting campus safety. This model has had noticable impacts on college campuses and communities across the country. It is reflected in the number of “speak up” campaigns, the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, the Coaching Boys to Men, and the Green Dot program among many others. Bystander education is a fundamental component of the model that the Men’s Anti-Violence Council utilizes in its own professional development and educational programming. But at the same time, bystander behavior is also predicated on the perpetrator/victim binary but adds a tripod to help stabilize what was once a very dangerous campus and community climate by giving so called “non-engaged” participants a voice in violence prevention.
What if we looked at the noticable changes and said that what we were doing wasn’t prevention work at all, per se, but rather intervention work at the systematic level? What if we wanted to redefine what prevention actually meant and instead focused on fundamentally redefining the system in which we lived? I ask this question because both prevention 1.0 and 2.0 work is fundamentally grounded in the idea that violence or inappropriate behavior of some form or another WILL occur. But SHOULD it occur? Can we even imagine a world in which verbal, emotional, or physical violence in some capacity is NOT the norm? On one hand we might call them interventions of sorts, but I do believe there is a significant role for prevention work 1.0 and 2.0 in the foreseeable future.
Participating in the Healthy Masculinity Action Project’s Healthy Masculinity Summit in Washington DC was an eye opening experience for me personally and professionally. It forced me to ask this very question because, I certainly do not want to abandon the necessary work we’re doing now, but is prevention 1.0 and 2.0 work ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don’t offer some other world vision. Even if we did offer something different, what would prevention 3.0 look like?
I am still not entirely sure, but the summit certainly offered a few stories that offered an alternative. I think the most compelling of these stories was shared by facilitator and guest panelist Cole from the Brown Boi Project (I would HIGHLY encourage you check out their work) around the idea that there was not just one masculinity, but MANY masculinities. It correlated with the many stories I had heard in the research from Jackson Katz’ “Macho Paradox” and Michael Kimmel’s “Guy Land” and William Pollack’s “Behind the Masculinity Mask.” In all of these books and in the stories I hear on a day to day basis, there is a constant need to prove, to yourself, your best guy friends, and compared to men around you that you are somehow “man enough” in today’s society.
The Brown Boi Project asked a different question. Do you feel healthy, whole, and you? None of those questions depended upon others for healthy or positive responses. None of those questions required the denegration of others as affirmation of your own responses. In an effort to seperate sexual expression and identity from gender expression, it offered the first true counter narrative to mainsteam masculinity that I had been working with in my short time in the field of violence prevention. For the first time, it offered a world where masculine and feminine were not diametrically opposed statement of values but societal descriptors of strengths that could be inhabited by any gender or sexual identity .
Most importantly, these strengths could be values neutral and more or less appropriate based upon the individual in the context of a given task or situation.
If strengths, in the context of the StrengthsQuest persuasion, not just physical strength, could be values neutral, then could we have a society that values cisgendered men who demonstrated feminine strengths, a trans man who demonstrated mixed masculine and feminine strengths, or a cisgendered woman who demonstrated masculine strengths?
Furthermore, if strengths no longer needed to be affirmed by others and reinforced though gender and sexual binaries, what role would violence have in society? Other than perhaps the organized spectacle of sports, violence would no longer be the last resort of the binaries out of control assuming that we could foster a true counter narrative in today’s society based less on affirmation through others in the binary and instead focused on promoting respect, integrity, and compassion for everyone.
As I said at the beginning of this blog entry. This narrative is by no means complete. It may even be pretty inarticulate. Counter Narratives and healthy masculinities on a spectrum conversations are not easy put in a box with a catchy slogan and shipped from campus to campus. Moreover, the conversation is only in its infancy, so to speak. But if we are serious about violence prevention, is it not worth exploring our own stories about what a world without violence might look like? Rather than focus so much on what people SHOULD NOT do (or look out for others doing) what happens if we spend a little time each day talking about what we think ourselves and our communities SHOULD be doing and how we can help each other do those things?
This blog entry is the personal reflection of Jacob Oppenheimer and certainly does not reflect the policies and practices of any of my respective organizations, however, I chose to post on the MAC blog because I think it is important that men in particular, spend more time now thinking about what does it mean to be a healthy masculine guy to whatever degree we feel appropriate for each of us. Moreover, when we next think to laugh about something “frilly” or “overly sensensitive” or otherwise “unmasculine” what does that say about our own discomfort about masculinity.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to be a man and / or have masculine strengths. I just think it’s time we spend a little time loving our own masculinity and re-affirming what positives our strengths bring to ourselves and our community and how we benefit from working with many people with many strengths.
Let’s create a healthy and whole counter narrative as Cole told me. Let’s start talking about what prevention 3.0 might look like!
I invite you to continue the conversation here on this blog, on other forms of social media, in your community, and with the organizers of the Healthy Masculinity Summit. The Men Can Stop Rape Organization is a wonderful collection of professional practitioners and researchers and the Healthy Masculinity Action Project is only in the beginning of its two year time frame. Check it out here!