Category Archives: Healthy Masculinity

Responding to the Election

On Wednesday, the day after the election, about a dozen Princeton men met over lunch to discuss the results. We spoke of our anger and our sadness. We grieved: a man who personifies rape culture, who brags about committing sexual assault, will become our president. A man who props up his own fragile ego by objectifying and dominating those he deems beneath him. A man who rejects diversity and change as a threat to his power and privilege, responding with violent rhetoric and exclusionary action.

American voters have asked for sweeping changes in Washington, yet our work as an organization will remain the same.  We will be steadfast in our devotion to respect and inclusion within the Princeton community and beyond: we believe that diversity enriches our lives in countless ways; we believe that all persons are worthy of respect; we pledge to look for ways to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable and the excluded; we pledge to listen to the hard truths spoken by those different from us, and to use our privilege to amplify their voices.

The model of masculinity President-Elect Trump projects is organized around threats and acts of violence, shame, and exclusion. Our first thoughts are with those who do not enjoy our privilege as Princeton men, those who have already been victimized by people encouraged by the President-Elect’s example. We denounce these acts and we stand with those who are hurting and fearful.

We also acknowledge that this toxic masculinity is pervasive and a part of us. Men in our culture are taught never to appear vulnerable, or wrong, or even simply caught off guard. The resulting image of what it means to be “a real man” is extraordinarily narrow, painful, limiting, and sad.  Without the capacity to be vulnerable, we can’t enter into real relationships of intimacy and care. Without admitting we’re wrong, there’s no way to learn, to become better for the people who love us and for the communities that need us to be a part of solutions to our pressing problems. Without an openness to being caught off guard, our desire for power and control will slowly choke out any possibility of surprise or joy in our lives.

On Wednesday, the men of the MAVRIC Project recommitted to the work of expanding our personal and collective image of masculinity. We see strength in openness and connection; we see courage in vulnerability and solidarity amidst difference; we see integrity in the willingness to transform in the pursuit of richer, fuller lives for ourselves, for those we love, for those we disagree with, and even for those we do not know. We hope you will join us in living out these values during our troubled times.

Why dudes let dudes say sexist stuff

Oh, Billy. Oh, Billy Bush.


Who would have thought that Billy Bush would play such an important role in this election cycle? Or that one role he would play would be to inspire men to ask how they can intervene when they hear other men make sexist comments?

Billy dropped the ball big time. He had a chance to speak up when Trump went beyond misogynistic comments and advertised his past acts of sexual assault. Instead, Billy egged the Donald on.

That terrible tape has led many men to ask how they can respond differently, disrupting rape culture when and where they can.

Aliya Khan offers six clear options over at Everyday Feminism; if you’re full of confidence and ready to go, stop reading this now and go there. But if you’re uneasy about the prospect of speaking up when someone in your crew says something that doesn’t sit right, read on.

It seems like we as men feel that there are three major hurdles to intervention. Let’s put them each into context.

  1. It won’t make any difference. Wrong. Even as many of us feel ham-fisted speaking up, research shows that even the most gentle push-back can have an instant effect. Despite the traditional image of men as cowboys who don’t give a damn about what others think…we do. We’re sensitive to social status, and adapt quickly when our jokes don’t get a laugh.
  2. I’m the only one who feels this way. Very probably wrong. In his talk last year at Princeton, Chris Kilmartin cited studies that show that upwards of 75% of men are uncomfortable when they hear sexist language. We don’t speak up because we think that we’re the only one, when in fact, we represent the overwhelming majority.
  3. I have to have a speech preparedNope. There are many different strategies–again, Aliya Khan offers productive ways to have a direct confrontation and ways to indirectly signal that you’re not cool with this kind of talk. But the number one principle is just to speak for yourself, about how you feel in this moment: rather than jumping right to judgment on the other person, use “I-statements,” i.e. “Dude, I don’t think that’s funny” or “Dude, I’m not comfortable with that kind of talk.” No dude can argue with that.

The stakes for speaking up can feel high, but in fact, they’re really low. At the very least, you’re signaling to the other men around you who are uncomfortable, too, that they’re not alone, and that empowers everyone to speak up next time. But again, studies show that small gestures make waves. Dudes will get the message.

Breaking out of the “man-box”

A few months ago the NY Times published an article about Jaden Smith (the son of actor Will Smith) appearing as a model for Louis Vuitton’s women’s wear ad campaign. Jaden is in the far right of the photo below. This ad is an example of how individuals who identify as men can do things that “break the rules” and defy our expectations about masculinity. Whether it is a man crying in public or doing something as daring as wearing a skirt – breaking out of the man-box includes going against a whole range of usually American stereotypes about masculinity.

Jaden Smith modeling for Louis Vuitton's women spring-summer ad campaign. Image by Bruce Weber
Jaden Smith modeling for Louis Vuitton’s women spring-summer ad campaign. Image by Bruce Weber

Conversation starter: What are your thoughts when you see men do things that go against our socialized expectations about masculinity?

Challenging gender stereotypes

Socially there are a lot of expectations based on our perceived gender identity. We usually call these socialized expectations gender roles and gender norms. These socialized norms are constantly reinforced and become so widely accepted that they become stereotypes. The video below illustrates how stereotypical beliefs about “women’s work” (household cleaning, cooking and doing laundry) can be easily passed on from generation to generation but also can easily be challenged by people who support gender equality and #healthymasculinity.

***Admittedly the video is heteronormative (depicting a straight couple as the norm) but its message is still powerful regarding gender equality.

Conversation starter: What are some other examples of gender stereotypes that you have seen reinforced in your life?

“Man Box” rules

Socially there a lot of unpsoken rules about being a man. One of the main rules according to Robert Brannon includes “no sissy stuff”  or “avoid feminine behaviors”. A primary example of this is men crying publicly. Now there are exceptions to this rule especially in sports. Men are allowed to express emotion after a “heartbreaking loss” or during a retirement speech.

Culturally we are fascinated by men crying. One illustration of this is the “crying Michael Jordan” meme that is very popular on social media. The meme is funny but also shows that men expressing vulnerability can be treated as a joke. Healthy masculinity is about supporting men in expressing a wide range of emotions not just the culturally accepted ones.

crying Jordan
Michael Jordan crying during his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Conversation starter: What are some other examples of when the “man box” rule “no sissy stuff” is used for humor within popular media?