Category Archives: femininity

Turning The Page On Violence Prevention and Gender Identity Development

I apologize, this is a personal post and a bitter sweet one at that. This will be my last blog post in my professional capacity with the Men’s Anti-Violence Council.

Still, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the many papers, conferences, programs, people, places, and things that I have observed in my year and a half and offer a few notes on what I’ve seen.

Historically (and still to this day), the anti violence conversation has been dominated by conversations about how NOT to be a victim. Blue safety lights, improved reporting schemes, buddy systems, safe rides, personal defense class, and rape whistles came to symbolize all that Universities were doing to combat sexual assault. I think it is safe to say that these methods alone were not doing the trick. In fact, Dr. Emily Greytak has some poignant things to say backed up by her research in “Beyond Blue Lights and Buddy Systems.”

The Don’t Rape movement came next. Clarifying campus rules, social norming campaigns such as “My Strength is Not For Hurting” and campus wide programming such as performing theatre and videos exemplified this pedagogical shift. While the research on best practices in this area are mixed, it was a significant evolution because it rejects at its core the fact that victims somehow “choose” to become victims.

Any student in the North Carolina education system can tell you how victims have been turned on their head and systematically made perpetrators of a different nature – perpetrators of speaking out about their attackers.

Bystander education was developed as a value added component of the Don’t Rape movement. It addressed all students, of any gender and sexual orientation as active agents to prevent violence. At its core is the principle that we all have a responsibility to speak out about cultural and behavioral red flags of violence. It gave every person a voice and power to stop violence in some way shape or form. The efficacy of this approach is seen in the addition of the Campus SAVE act which MANDATES bystander intervention trainings not just for students, but faculty and staff.

But in all of my limited time working in this field, I have yet to see a good response to the phrase “boys will be boys.” Some have argued that boys “shouldn’t” be boys or that boys can be better than “that” (a synonym for boys being, by default, “bad boys”) but there has never been a credible counter narrative about what boys CAN and WANT to be. This is especially true given the varied lived experiences of boys from differing cultural, racial, religious, socio-economic, or geographic upbringing not to mention the experiences that gay men have and continue to face in the United States.

The Men’s Rights groups might argue that this stigmatization is where misandry and women are somehow oppressing boys, but I reject this claim as well because it merely reinforces that violence is somehow a part of being a boy and that all men must “reclaim” this heritage. In other words, man up boys, because otherwise women will get you and other men will mock you. Once again, using the threat of demasculization in the eyes of other men to transfer responsibility.

So let me offer you an executive summary of “the next page.” Real Men, at least according to the media, men on the street, Men’s Rights groups, and Suzanne Venker (in her work The War On Men) are the following: Strong, independent, handsome, sexually attractive and sexually active, heterosexual, bread winners, and otherwise dominant.

According to my sources (think little kids on the school yard, fraternity men, and athletes), any threat to these skills are considered bad. Like Sandlot, throwing “like a girl” is the WORST of all possible insults.

So we hide our fear, we don’t admit our weaknesses, refuse to ask for help, drink, drive, fight, and have as much sex as possible to prove ourselves. Or claim that others are less masculine than us.

Let me offer a counter narrative – being a cisgendered male / man is about being you without being measured against impossible standards of daniel-craig-as-James-Bond-esque behavior. Being a man is about being authentic, being honest, being open with others and yourself. Being a man is less about your biological sex and more about how you perceive your own masculinities. Being a man is about accepting yourself for who you are and accepting others as well. Being a man is about being ok with femininity in yourself and others and being ok with others regardless of biological sex being masculine in their own way as well. Being a man is NOT about NOT being a woman, it is about who you are in your gender identity and not about your sexual orientation. Despite a societal fascination with coming of age stories and rituals, being a man isn’t proven, it’s developed and understood through personal exploration.

But what does healthy masculinities have to do with violence prevention? Have you ever heard the phrase “make a man out of you?” Yeah…so have I. In Game of Thrones, it is often accompanied by a gratuitous sex scene. This is not uncommon. So often sex is closely associated with graduating from boyhood to manhood. It is an entitlement and barrier of sorts. 40 Year Old Virgin, American Pie, Sex Drive, Eurotrip, and Superbad have all tried to make this point.. Real men (see Don Draper or James Bond) are never turned down. Only weaklings, boys, and gay men can’t get women to have sex with them.

It’s time we reject this narrative as well. Sex (and physical/emotional intimacy) is a joint conversation between partners of any gender. It has nothing to do with coming of age of men through sex, violence, or financial coercion. The “nice guy” has no more entitlement to sexual gratification as the man in the mask who takes a person’s freedom at weapon point and no person in between.

Long story short, If I have learned anything this past year and a half, it’s this. Let’s talk. Let us talk openly, honestly, and in a safe environment. Boys and Men WANT to talk about issues of sex, manhood, and healthy masculinities. So often I have heard the refrain “no one has ever asked me.” So let’s ask. Let’s ask young boys what it means to be a man. Moreover, let’s ask ourselves, our friends, our media content providers, and the systems around us.

I think the answers might surprise us. In a good way I imagine, but some not so good ways too. But that, ultimately, is a good thing. At the very least, we’re not letting the conversation be dominated by the few and the hostile.

Together, we can create safer communities and supportive environments for all gender identities.

This is Jacob Oppenheimer, signing off.

Have you seen Tom Matlack’s mangina?

I frequently link to content on The Good Men Project. I often agree with their vision and appreciate their transparency about their journey in discovering what it means to be a good man. I appreciate their willingness to struggle with this concept while doing what most of us do. They try and be the best friend, father, partner, brother, son, and coworker they know how to be while always aware that they could be better. They struggle with being a good man, a real man, and a strong man. They make mistakes, learn and try again. The important piece to me is that they are willing to celebrate their successes and share their struggles.

However, I also love it when we can inject some humor and satire into this discussion. A common knee-jerk reaction to men who aren’t willing to swallow society’s definition of a real man and who are willing and able to criticize and reflect on these concepts, is to label them a misandrist traitor. This is why I loved Tom Matlack’s piece entitled Have you Seen My Mangina?

It was a perfect illustration of gender policing and many of the ridiculous restrictions that are placed on men. I love the way Tom described his confusion during his journey to decipher the meaning of the term and whether or not he is a mangina or has a mangina? The examples that he solicited from his friends and colleagues were hilarious. It was great to see his eventual reclamation of the word and feeling of pride in being a man who was comfortable being himself. That flexibility, humor and compassion is a great example to set for other men and boys. I still cringe at the term mangina and all of the potential negative connotations about the inferiority of females and femininity. That term is not what I like about this piece. In fact, that term is what I abhor about this piece.

I’m advocating for more examples of men who embrace attitudes, behaviors and other men who perform in ways that are not often appreciated or tolerated by society. If more men could move past feeling ashamed and being shamed by others because of constantly failing rigid, impossible and arbitrary rules of manood, we would have a lot more healthier and happier men.

It would be nice to live in a world where individuals were not bombarded with derogatory and hateful words when they step outside of the socially constructed box. Until then, I hope that more individuals can reframe these words and celebrate the diversity and flexibility that allows them to define who they are.

Medal of Honor has become feminized?

This post is important on several levels. Today, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta from Hiawatha, Iowa became the first living medal of honor recipient in 40 years. He was inducted into the Hall of Heroes, an honor which only 3,400 Americans have received. In 2007, Giunta’s platoon was ambushed in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan and cut off from the rest of the squad. Sgt. Josh Brennan was hit 8 times and Sgt. Franklin Eckrode was hit 4 times by enemy fire. Giunta was hit twice but advanced to attack two Taliban fighters who were dragging Brennan away. He killed one Taliban fighter, wounded the other and rescued Brennan. The ambush was so intense that every single member of the platoon was struck by enemy fire. Giunta performed an act above and beyond the call of duty, the principle standard for receipt of the Medal of Honor.

However, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association believes that we have feminized the medal of honor. Fischer has an issue with medals of honor being issues for saving lives instead of taking lives. According to Fischer “So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night? I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.” So many things wrong with that sentiment I can barely contain myself. I’m not sure I can even put it into words. I have no idea what feminized means or why it should be considered a bad thing. Has anyone seen the documentary Lioness about female combat veterans? Read the statements from Sgt. Giunta below and watch the interview with him. If his actions, humility, bravery and courage are represented by an award and a culture that is considered feminized, then our society would benefit greatly from getting in touch with its feminine side.

Click Read More to watch an interview with Sgt. Giunta and his gracious reaction to being called a hero.

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Have you heard about male studies?

I’ve heard about this from about 15 different sources and I tried to ignore it, but it looks like it is not going away anytime soon. So there was a conference last week at Wagner College (where?) that launched a new discipline called Male Studies. According to the FAQs section, male studies was created to specifically focus on “males as males” and to address the growing problem of misandry.

Their argument is that male studies needs to exist because men’s studies only focuses on men not boys, research needs to pay attention to sex as well as gender, multiple disciplines like biology, psychology and anthropology need to contribute, and focus must be on males across the lifespan. Several topics of interest were also discussed on the site including boys’ performance in education, suicide among males, psychological disorders and the declining numbers of males entering and completing tertiary education must be explained.

Basically, their argument is that no field is paying attention to these issues in these ways, which is absolutely not true at all. I think what they are doing is creating a field because they don’t agree with how current research is framed and potentially because no one wants to publish their stuff.

There are over a hundred scholarly, peer reviewed journals that examine men, masculinity, gender, males, physiology, and sex differences covering all of their topics of interest and more. Here’s an example. I searched on the University of Iowa e-journal database and in five minutes I found the following journals.

  • American journal of men’s health
  • International journal of men’s health
  • Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality
  • Journal of Men’s Health
  • The journal of men’s health & gender
  • Journal of Men’s Studies
  • Men and masculinities
  • Men’s Health
  • Psychology of men & masculinity

and the other 120 journals that deal with gender and sex. Plain and simple. Everything that is listed on their reason for existing list has been covered or is being investigated by men’s studies during the past 30-40 years.

Click here for a look at Inside Higher Ed’s article about Male Studies.

The Sexist blog posted their reaction to male studies and potential differences with men’s studies.

Johnny Weir and masculinity

Here is the press conference where Johnny Weir addressed the offensive comments of newscasters Claude Mailhot and Alain Goldberg.

When talking about Weir, the newscasters commented “This may not be politically correct, but do you think he lost points due to his costume and his body language?” Goldberg responded that Weir’s mannerisms might hurt other men competing in the sport. “They’ll think all the boys who skate will end up like him,” he said. “It sets a bad example.” The pair joked that Weir should take a gender test like female South African runner Caster Semenya was forced to undergo after stirring up speculation that she was really a man. Mailhot suggested Weir should compete against women.

I thought Weir handled the situation beautifully. In a press conference addressing the comments and his reactions, Weir stated:

“I’m not somebody to cry over something or to be weak about something. I felt very defiant when I saw these comments. It wasn’t these two men criticizing my skating, it was them criticizing me as a person, and that was something that really, frankly, pissed me off. I hope more kids can grow up the same way I did and more kids can feel the freedom that I feel to be themselves and to express themselves and that’s the most important thing.

I think masculinity is what you believe it to be. To me, masculinity is all my perception. I think masculinity and femininity is something that’s very old fashioned. There’s a whole new generation of people that aren’t defined by their sex or their race or who they like to sleep with. I think as a person you know what your values are and what you believe in and that’s the most important thing.”

You can view the entire press conference below.

Dodge Charger commercial spoof

Remember the Dodge Charger Super Bowl commercial? The one with the expressionless male faces who stared listlessly into the camera while Michael C. Hall rattled off all of the activities that they would endure or forfeit simply to drive  a new Dodge Charger. In case you have not seen it, I’ve posted Man’s Last Stand below.

Recently there has been a rebuttal spoof  of the commercial called Woman’s Last Stand.

I am tired of this beaten down, lifeless, and disengaged masculinity emphasized by advertisements like this. The only joy he has and the only reason he will engage in the relationship is to get into a car, most likely to drive away from his partner and all of the “sacrifices” he has made? Who knows what he’ll have to give up when his partner demands that  he act like a caring human being and actually contribute to the relationship?

Embrace your inner girl

Watch Eve Ensler give a passionate talk at a TED conference in November, 2009. Her introduction asks us to imagine that inside of everyone there are “girl cells” that we have been taught to suppress. Her message is that every individual is capable of being a fully human, emotional, empathic, caring and complete human being.

However, society has placed restrictions on these qualities, typically drawing the lines at sex. Masculine traits are often valued and reinforced while feminine traits are dismissed and supressed. In some parts of the world, simply being a woman can lead to mutilation, rape, torture, slavery and death.

For me, the most powerful part is the stories she tells about girls around the world who have overcome shocking adversity and violence. It’s unfortunate that some interpret her message as “Girls are good” and “Boys are bad.” It’s sad when a meaningful, heartfelt and life-changing message is dismissed due to inaccurate and defensive reactions. Thanks to Kelly for finding and posting the link to this great talk.


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