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In the past, “Be a man” was a directive thrown toward any male who was displaying something other than brute strength. If a man was fearful, shy, passive or—god forbid—crying, it wasn’t uncommon protocol to instruct him to “Be a man.”
It seems that, more and more, the conversation is shifting. Thanks to early education programs like Men of Code, Men Can Stop Rape and ProtectHer, boys are getting a different message—one of support and acceptance for their emotions instead of shame. And, they’re also getting a different directive: It’s on you to stop violence against women.
Combating Rape Culture
Becky Lee, executive director of the domestic violence nonprofit Becky’s Fund, which focuses on prevention-based education, noticed back in 2012 that much of the school programming surrounding violence was focused on young women. The message was clear: You are responsible for preventing your assault and here’s how to protect yourself.
Lee says, “we’re so quick to judge” as a society when we hear of a woman speaking out as a victim. “What didn’t this woman do to prevent this?” says Lee.
Lee wanted to change this by starting with a male-based educational program in schools.
“We heard men saying they felt like they didn’t have permission to speak on domestic violence,” says Lee, so, with help from a grant from the Office of Violence Against Women, Men of Code was created. The six-week summer program is facilitated by high school coaches and coincides with team sports practice, taking groups of 20 to 30 teen athletes and educating them for two hours a day on topics like healthy relationships, consent, violence prevention, bullying and bystander intervention. There is role-playing, says Lee, applying the lessons to real-life situations students may encounter. Consent, she says, is “typically our hardest lesson,” as teens begin to understand what verbal consent sounds like, and that just because you may have been intimate one day does not mean you’re entitled to it the next.
In other words, boys are taught to go against the rape culture they are exposed to on a daily basis.
“We breathe in rape culture like air,” Carolyn Levy, a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., told DomesticShelters in 2017. She teaches a rape culture class at the university and says that sexual violence continues to be normalized and trivialized. It’s thanks, in part, to aggressive male characters in movies and TV who pursue women despite their protests, songs that brag about not taking no for an answer, and a continual perpetuation that “real men” don’t show emotion.
Of course, as any psychologist will tell you, when the only emotions acceptable for men to show are indifference or anger, the latter is typically the one that stands in for other healthy, but not as acceptable emotions like sadness, joy, love, or vulnerability.
Men of Code echoes similar outreach programs like Men Can Stop Rape, which targets boys and men ages 11-22. The goal of Men Can Stop Rape, says manager of national programs Adrian Valdivia, is to begin the dialogue early about masculinity, gender bias and what it means to be a man.
“We ask them to start thinking about who the strongest men are in their lives,” says Valdivia, and the boys often cite men like their grandfather or uncles, who turn out to be the most affectionate and vulnerable toward them. “The strongest men cry. They’re not strong by hurting someone,” Valdivia says.
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Do You Know What’s Going On?
Parents: Are you aware that nearly 5 million high school students in the U.S. are abused by their dating partners every year? A recent survey found that many teens believe their parents are in the dark about the dangers they face when it comes to dating violence. Find out more in “Survey Says … Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
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