#BeThatGuy: 7+ Everyday Ways that Men Can Transform Masculinity

Ron-Swanson

I recently wrote a piece on my personal blog that highlighted seven men who are transforming masculinity, and I was blown away by how well it resonated.

It shattered all of my daily hit totals and is still bringing in a strong number of people to the blog on a daily basis.

In reflecting on the post, I realized that it was so popular because it touched on an unfilled need.

We need more resources that teach men how to transform masculinity to make it more responsive, less violent, and more inclusive of the tremendous diversity of masculinities that can exist.

And though I detest most everything I see coming out of the Men’s Rights Movement for the ways it is dripping with misogyny, this is one area where I agree with many of its activists: We need a new masculinity!

We need to talk about what a more inclusive masculinity could actually look like beyond “Real men cry, too.”

Now, I rarely agree with those MRM activists about what that masculinity should look like, but in my experience in social justice work, sometimes you have to look for growth points wherever they exist. At least we agree on something!

So let’s start there.

If masculinity needs to be transformed, in what ways can we change it so that men can more fully realize themselves without hurting others?

Here are a few of my suggestions.

Listen More

This one is really hard for me.

I preach listening all the time, but I often struggle to practice what I preach.

If other male-identified people received the same conditioning I did, they were told to make sure that their voices are heard and that they have the last word.Don’t worry about talking over people (especially women). Just assert yourself and your voice!

So a simple way that men can begin to transform masculinity is to listen more.

Obviously it makes sense to start by listening more to women and trans* or genderqueer people, but really, we must do a better job of listening to allpeople.

Hell, we could use to do a better job of listening to all beings: the earth, animals, plants, as well as people.

The point here is that when we are constantly asserting ourselves into space and conversation, we have no capacity to learn.

When we are constantly asserting ourselves into space, we are constantly in a state of vulnerable power, one where we exert power over others to hide the fact that silence and listening can be terrifying.

After all, listening might mean that we have to actually hear people and thereby change ourselves and our practices.

God forbid that we open ourselves up to learning from the experiences of the world around us through listening.

That might mean that we don’t, in fact, have all the answers, as we were taught from the earliest of ages!

Show More Loving Affection

I remember writing an essay about myself in seventh or eighth grade, and in that essay, I boldly proclaimed, “I still cuddle with my mother!!!”

Then something changed.

I got the message.

You do not cuddle, especially not with your mother.

Now, obviously the messages we receive in middle school and early high school are some of the most extreme, boiled down messages about our identity that we can possibly receive, but the message has stayed with me.

There aren’t many spaces in my life where I share loving affection with people outside of my partner.

Men, particularly in the United States, tend to have a complicated and fraught relationship with touch.

We don’t really show affection to women who we are not in a relationship with or who are not immediate family members, and we almost never show loving affection for other men.

Thus, men have a responsibility to change this. And doing so will be tricky.

After all, we have to consider all of the people who may not want our touch at any given time because of legitimate (fear or triggering of sexual violence) or less legitimate (homophobia) reasons.

So we must start with our most inner circles and move out.

We must tell the men who we love that we do, in fact, love them.

Whether through hugs or pats on the back or even a simple hand on the arm of a friend, we must find a way to show those we love that we care about the healing power of touch.

We must find ways to extend loving affection beyond our partners or immediate family members.

Make Enthusiastic Consent a Daily Value

As I came of age in my sexuality, I was taught that consent was something very specific: If she (because it was never taught in a gender-neutral way) says no or stop, that (probably) means you don’t have consent and (probably) should stop.

Needless to say, my consent education was—well—lacking.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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Christmas_fight

The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

A Message to Megyn Kelly: Jesus Wasn’t White

In case you missed it, Aisha Harris wrote a really awesome piece about how it’s about time we stop depicting Santa as an old White dude and start picturing him as a penguin.

Aaaand then this happened:

Yeah . . . You heard that right.  “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”

Ummmmm . . . No.

Megyn, let’s start by talking about geography.  I’m sure you know most of this, but it’s worthy of review.  Jesus was born and lived in the historical land of Palestine/Israel.  It’s in the Middle East.

What that means is that Jesus was most likely an Arab Jew (though he may also have had some darker-skinned, North African roots).  If you’ve never met an Arab Jew, here are a few modern Arab Jews who might act as a good reference.

So Jesus likely looked more like these folks than like this:

Beyond all of speculation about the color of his skin, though, there’s the contention that Jesus was “White.”  Considering that our modern understanding of Whiteness came about in the process of European colonization, particularly the colonization of North America.  There was a long history of Europeans looking down upon darker-skinned people from other continents, but the idea that all or most European people were of the same “race” was laughable until it was needed as a tool of control in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s.

Thus, even if Jesus HAD been light-skinned and blue-eyed, he wouldn’t have been White.  He would have been seen as a Semitic Canaanite, someone “other” to the Europeans like the Romans or Greeks who made their way through the region.

My point is this: if your goal is to further the racist hierarchy established by rich Europeans (people we now would consider White) by distorting history, then we see you.  We’re on to you.  And we won’t let it stand.

If, on the other hand, you’re just that ignorant of history (which I highly doubt since you are a brilliant, well-educated woman), then please do me a favor and read this.

Oh, and also check out this phenomenal follow up from Aisha Harris.

Beyond Being a White Knight: 8 Ways Men can be Allies to Women at Parties

I spend a lot of time thinking about parties.

Not only do I love parties, but a big part of my work is encouraging sex-positive party culture on college campuses.

And while I love to party, I have to remember something: Parties can be profoundly dangerous places, especially for women.

So it leaves me wondering this: Aside from the environmental changes we can make to ensure party culture is more sex positivein what ways can men act as allies to women at parties, particularly as we look to prevent sexual violence?

Whether you’re in the club or at a house party or a school-sponsored dance, men have a responsibility to act in solidarity with women to ensure that parties are fun and safe for everyone.

When it comes to party environments, though, that’s not exactly simple to accomplish.

After all, attempting to be a good ally to women can quickly devolve into some paternalistic “white knighting” that can easily recreate the very systems of power and marginalization and oppression that we’re looking to undermine.

And as I sat down to write this piece, it ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. Every idea I came up with for how to be a good ally at parties seemed to easily devolve into paternalistic ugliness.

So I reached out to my community!

And once again, I was reminded about how this work must be done in cooperation.

8 Ways Men Can be Allies to Women at Parties

In turn, the following list is reflective of my community: friends, acquaintances, other bloggers, family members.

While some ideas are my own, many, even ones not directly attributed, are reflective of the powerful community in which I am fortunate to be grounded in my work to prevent sexual violence on college campuses.

1.  Don’t Be ‘That Guy’ 

Arguably the most important thing that a man can do to act in solidarity with women in party atmospheres is to make sure you aren’t being the one to make others uncomfortable (at best) or to act predatorily (at worst).

What I often say is that men who openly espouse feminist ideals and who know how to “talk the talk” of solidarity are sometimes the most dangerous to women.

After all, those of us who can drop some bell hooks or speak to the performative nature of gender roles have the potential to gain trust and to exploit that trust to manipulate, assault, or otherwise hurt women.

In short, if we want to be allies, we have the most responsibility to buck our social conditioning of what it means to be a man.

We have the responsibility to consider the impacts of our actions on the women around us, even if we are not intending to make them uncomfortable.

In the words of my friend Jen, “If you comment on a person’s appearance, be aware it could be unwanted attention and make her uncomfortable (especially in alone situations or when it turns into harassment).  Don’t jump to calling her pet names (sweetheart, babe) or to making requests of her (smile for me, etc).”

In short, don’t be that guy – the guy who actively is hitting on everyone, who is ogling women’s bodies, who’s enabling other men to prey on women, who is performing traditional, toxic masculinity.

2.  Don’t Be Paternalistic

One of the trickiest aspects of attempting to ally oneself to women as a man in any context is avoiding paternalism – acting on behalf of women as if we know better than them – but it’s particularly tough to avoid in party environments.

After all, parties tend to be loud, busy, complicated, and people are there for a variety of reasons.

Thus, we might see a woman on the dance floor who has someone grinding up on her. Even if she has a look on her face that we interpret as discomfort, it’s hard to know how to proceed.

After all, maybe that is how her face looks when she’s really into something! Or maybe she is uncomfortable, but doesn’t want help from a stranger. Or maybe she is uncomfortable and wants help, but not from a male-identified person. Or maybe she’s getting ready to handle it herself.

The key here is not to assume we can “save the day” and to be respectful and defer to women when possible.

If you have a relationship with the women in question, a simple check-in can go a long way: “Hey! How you doing? Wanna get a drink with me?”

If you don’t know the person in question, sometimes even making eye contact and giving a concerned look can allow her to signal whether she might want your help.

From there, perhaps the best way to proceed is to engage the guy who’s acting inappropriately.

Talk to him, distract him, and if she’s uncomfortable, she can move along. Doing so helps share the agency, allowing her to still make a decision about how things should go forward.

Perhaps, though, the best way to be an ally is, as my bestie Becca put it, to consider “how you position yourself in a room/situation. Sometimes removing yourself from a room/situation altogether can be a form of allyship in itself.”

In a party environment, sometimes the best thing we can do to avoid paternalism is to be aware of the space we are occupying in parties and consider how we’re interacting with women and act accordingly, which may mean removing ourselves from a situation.

After all, offering a woman a ride home (even with good intentions) could be the most threatening thing she’s experienced all night.

Lastly, recognize that when you try to be an ally, sometimes you’re going to screw up and totally “white knight” the situation.

If that happens, apologize where necessary and try to learn from that experience.

3.  Err on the Side of Intervention

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.