Week 2: Exploring Masculinity

Monday June 30, 2014


The call for leadership gains traction as we move through the curriculum, entering the topic of masculinity and how young men choose to imagine their manhood and act in it. Before we call on young men to take a stand against violence towards women, first we must question why this charge is necessary and identify the factors that may be working against what should be an obvious moral stance.


While engaging students about their ideas of manhood, we create dual narratives on the white board – one that demonstrates an idolized message of masculinity and one that demonstrates masculinity as students actually live and witness themselves. The traits of the idolized message often include things like money, cars, clothes, and of course, women. Yet the traits that students identify within real men that they actually know, the same men they mentioned as leaders, are more often characteristics such as strength, compassion, and respect. During this process, students quickly realize that few, if any, live up to all of the qualities of the idolized man and we begin to break down this idea as unrealistic and unreasonable. These two narratives are then presented as competing narratives – fantasy vs. reality. Masculinity, as a mythological pinnacle outside of one’s self that can be reached via material things, is what we begin to refer to as “unhealthy masculinity.”

This is a necessary step, as unhealthy masculinity is the main culprit behind ideas and behaviors that we often refer to as “rape culture” and address later on in the curriculum. It is unhealthy masculinity that often regards women as objects and accessories. It is unhealthy masculinity that emerges at a young age and instructs young men that their value as a man is measured by their ability to obtain and maintain these objects. This is the first place where we expect young men to apply the lesson on leadership, by encouraging them to define manhood for themselves and not by others’ definitions. This builds a framework for “healthy masculinity.” As facilitators, we observe that the students who best grasp healthy vs. unhealthy masculinity are more inclined to understand and embrace the more difficult subjects regarding sexual assault.