College campuses have become some of the most dangerous places for women due to the increase of sexual violence and the perpetuation of rape culture, distorting what is and is not normative and acceptable. In my role as a scholar practitioner in higher education, I engage with young men across the spectrum of masculinity. I’m often faced with the same question: “how do we begin to undo 18+ years of socialization and shift an entire culture of male domination on campus?”
While the work can seem overwhelming, we must hold out hope for our men and boys. Sometimes, the answers and progress only come when we sit with the pain and challenges. I believe one of the greatest gifts of higher education is developing the ability to ask bigger questions and learning to challenge the answers we’ve been given.
This semester, I experienced a group of young men assemble on campus, through their student organization Brothers 4 Brothers, to hold space and discuss the Man Box and sexual violence. It was messy! They didn’t always use the “right” words or frame their thoughts “properly” or in a manner we tend to reserve for academic experiences, but that’s the point. A driving force in moving toward solutions is stepping into the discomfort and challenge.
Sometimes we have to step in it to step through it.
I listened to these young men stumble through their stories and eventually develop a deeper interest in being fully present. I watched them physically study each other as they began to model vulnerability, easing the tension and uncertainty. The dialogue around attraction and romantic interactions with partners was tough as they worked through what they’ve been taught, what they live out, and the behaviors and beliefs they want to pursue.
They offered up familiar lived experiences about the pressures to conform and the spaces on campus that reinforce the performance of and loyalty to our narrow norms of masculinity. These young men shared how certain attributes of the Man Box are required to survive in their communities. They shared how they betrayed their own interests due to the consequences they faced for openly expressing what made them their most authentic selves.
Over the weeks, I felt my own empty voids open. Voids created from having to compromise my own authentic self over a lifetime to prove my loyalty to masculinity and give an Oscar-worthy performance. I felt the weight of my mask and the fatigue of playing the role, over and over, day in and day out, with no days off. After a while, you see your very gifts, interests and motivations as flaws.
#LIVERESPECT is an on-campus movement for college students who want to promote healthy, respectful manhood and prevent dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, bullying and all forms of violence and discrimination. Campaigns like #LIVERESPECT are critical to shift dominating cultures and create conditions in which all students can thrive. We need college men in all aspects of the collegiate experience to be a part of the solution and invest in their own development, as well as the safety and well being of those around them.
Moments are the momentum of a movement.
You can create moments that make a lasting impact on a young boy’s life. You can model vulnerability. You can create space and opportunity for men and boys to be their authentic selves. You can embrace a model of healthy, respectful manhood.
You can #LIVERESPECT.
- RahK Lash, A CALL TO MEN Trainer