It's On Us: Healthy Masculinity and Sexual Assault Prevention

Photo by Hannah Aspnes / The Falcon

Editor's Note: This article is part of a blog series for Women's History Month featuring stories of men and women working to create a more equal and safe world. May we all continue to partner and pray together for gender justicedownload our free March 2015 Prayer Calendar.

In September 2014, the White House launched “It’s On Us,” a public awareness campaign designed to engage campus communities in the prevention of sexual violence.  So far, more than 200 campuses have signed up to organize student-led It’s On Us campaigns.

While the first It’s On Us public service announcement features male and female celebrities asserting the importance of everyone practicing bystander intervention, the second PSA focuses specifically on men. A core part of the initiative is to get all campus men—especially male students—involved in preventing sexual violence through intervention, which according to the Task Force “can be an effective way of stopping sexual assault before it happens, as bystanders play a key role in preventing, discouraging, and/or intervening when an act of violence has the potential to occur.”

Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) helps college campuses and communities implement bystander intervention programming in a way that develops and deepens the work begun by It’s On Us. We not only focus on men, but we add “masculinity” and “healthy” to the mix. Some of the emerging research indicates a need for this. Sarah McMahon and Alexandria Dick, for example, reveal that men are less likely than women to intervene in situations of sexual assault. They attribute this difference to the social norms of hegemonic—traditional, stereotypical, unhealthy—masculinity, characterized by “heterosexuality, strength, and sexual prowess.”

A valuable part of bystander intervention work in communities and schools, then, is helping men and boys understand how unhealthy social norms of masculinity can prevent them from intervening to stop sexual assault. Healthier forms of masculinity, however, can help boys and men become part of the solution by practicing prevention. As part of our Healthy Masculinity Action Project, we have developed some core values and actions to spread the message of healthy, nonviolent masculinity:

  • recognizing unhealthy, risky, and violent masculine attitudes and behaviors that are harmful to the self and others
     
  • replacing unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors with emotionally intelligent attitudes and behaviors that respect the self and others
     
  • learning to empathize with the self and others
     
  • supporting gender equity and other forms of equity
     
  • learning and using emotional and social skills to constructively challenge unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors expressed by others

At MCSR, we don’t believe that men are naturally or biologically violent, or that somehow the need to kill, maim, rape, and more generally dominate is written into the language of our genes. If no genetic code binds us to violence, if no destiny of murder and mayhem irrefutably awaits us, we can choose to intervene when faced with unhealthy, harmful masculine attitudes and behaviors. We can choose healthy masculinity and present it as choice for men and boys. It’s on us to do so.

Patrick McGann is Director of Strategy and Planning for Men Can Stop Rape.

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