One of the most important realisations from the #MeToo movement has been the urgent need to think about how boys are taught to become men – and how that can lead to things like aggression, harassment and abuse.
The excellent thinker and writer Bell Hooks has argued passionately that society needs to look at the roots of male violence against women and, rather than simply attacking male sexual aggression, we “should try to find its source in the psyches of men damaged by abuse.”
And one programme that has been exploring ideas of masculinity and offering men different ways of thinking about being a man is MasculinUT at the University of Texas.
The programme, which has been running for a couple of years, is made up of public events, educational workshops, and other forms of student involvement on campus. They say their aim is to “impact campus culture to increase acceptance of gender diversity, promote healthy relationships with an emphasis on consent, and prevent interpersonal violence.” Excellent goals.
The scheme’s attracted more attention recently, including from terrified right-wingers at Fox News, for its cool poster campaign. The posters show lots of different students discussing their bodies, clothes, sexuality, sports and more…
These are some of the key themes about masculinity the programme is teaching:
1. Masculinity is, in fact, plural
“Healthy masculinity is plural: healthy masculinities. A healthy model of masculinity respects the range of ways to express a male identity.”
2. Being better at expressing emotions
“Part of growing up and maturing is learning to manage your own emotions. Keeping them locked up is not managing your emotions. Similarly, running away from others when they are being emotional or asking them not to be emotional is also unhealthy. To be a lovable and loving person, it is important to acknowledge and work through your emotions, rather than ignoring them or shifting them onto someone else.”
3. Making gender equality and violence prevention a priority
“Speaking up and taking responsibility for gender equity is one way to work towards equality. Learn about gender and how it affects people on a daily basis. Learn about male privilege in order to understand the invisible and inherent power and privilege you experience on a day-to-day basis.”
4. Being more affectionate and having better sex
“As opposed to what young men learn about male sexuality being voracious or somehow seeing it as a competition where women are a prize, sexuality should be seen as something two or more people can explore with full consent, on equal ground.”
5. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable
“Staying in a comfort zone does not always allow you to notice unhealthy ways of being, but taking a leap to surround yourself with new ideas and new ways of connecting to others will open up ways for you to develop healthy masculinities that are also respectful of others and do not need to be in control all the time.”
Fundamentally, all of this is about trying to break down the confines of ‘restrictive masculinity’ – the idea that men have to like certain things, act in certain ways and show certain emotions, like anger, while hiding others.
Hilariously – and expectedly – right-wingers at news organisations like Fox News and The Blaze have criticised the scheme for “promoting an LGBT agenda.” Because of course they would. Such an honest discussion of gender and sexuality forces repressed conservatives to confront their own identity, which is something they’ve been taught to never do and which scares them deeply.
Austin Smith, a student involved in the poster campaign, defended the scheme and said how important it’s been to young men like him.
He said on Twitter earlier today: “I’m proud to be a part of #MasculinUT along with some amazing people. I’m here to tell y’all this is an awesome program, that supports all healthy expressions of masculinity.”
But to the guys over at Fox News, you have nothing to fear. Think about yourself for a bit. Think about what makes you a man and how you can question what you’ve been taught since you were a kid.
You’ll feel better about yourself. I promise.
(Images: MasculinUT / Unsplash)