Originally published at Everyday Feminism.
As a kid, I secretly loved to dress up in my sister’s dresses and wear makeup, and even though I pretended to hate it, I loved playing Barbies. In time, though, bullying and intimidation taught me how I was “supposed to act.”
By high school, I tried to exude the stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be: I acted like a tough guy (once punching my best friend and nearly ruining a friendship simply because I didn’t want to show emotional vulnerability), and I constantly expressed toxic heteronormativity, objectifying and treating women like garbage.
Once I got to college, though, two important things changed the way I think about masculinity and my relationship to it.
First, women in my life shared with me the ways they’d been directly hurt by toxic masculinitythough sexual violence. Second, male mentors in my life reached out to me and helped me understand different ways of being a man.
These revelations were important for helping me find a path toward cultivating a different kind of masculinity. And it’s important for me to think of this as a path – because I’m still very much traveling in the direction of healthier masculinity while often losing my way, screwing up, and needing to do better moving forward.
As I reflect on my own learning, though, it’s notable that it took leaving my home environment and immersing myself in different ways of thinking to shift my reality.
This isn’t true for every man who embarks on the path toward healthier masculinity, but for those men who go to college, we find a unique opportunity to engage men.
Hence, “men’s work” and male-engagement programming are becoming more and more common on college campuses. Full-time positions are being created to focus on men’s engagement in creating positive community and ending sexual violence, and some schools are going as far as to create Men’s Centers (more on that later).
Unfortunately, though, while men’s engagement programs and positions offer unique opportunities for reducing sexual violence and promoting healthier ways of being men, there are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in doing this work as well.
As a result, I’ve compiled five dangers to consider and four suggestions for effectively engaging men on college campuses in hopes of offering some important considerations for students and professionals on college and university campuses who are taking up “men’s work.”
1. Men’s Work Lacking Intersectional Anti-Oppression Analysis Reinforces Oppression
Probably the single most significant issue with work on men and masculinities is also somewhat of an umbrella for the other four dangers: When we do men’s work without careful attention to intersectional feminism, we can recreate the very problems we’re working against.
A perfect example of this is the movement to create “Men’s Centers” on college campuses because of declines in net enrollment among men.
It’s notable that the cesspool of Men’s Rights Activism known as A Voice for Men has published content lauding the movement to create more “Men’s Centers” on college campuses. Historically, identity-based centers have been spaces for marginalized and oppressed people to find community and safe space in otherwise hostile college environments. But men are neither oppressed nor marginalized for their gender on college campuses.