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Jodie McGovern: What’s Next must follow footsteps of #MeToo

July 16, 2018

Has the #MeToo movement unceremoniously concluded with our having purged the nation of misogyny? Or have you been left with thoughts of “What’s next?” and “There is still so much work to be done”? Me, too.

So what do we do? I work for a nonprofit organization whose mission is to both serve the needs of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and to work to prevent this violence. We view society’s perpetuation of toxic masculinity to be a root cause of power-based and gender-based violence. In response to this belief and as the next step in this movement, creating space to facilitate healthy masculinity is essential to the prevention of such violence.

Harmful gender norms perpetuated by our culture form what author and speaker Tony Porter calls the “Man Box.” This theme is reinforced by words boys often hear such as “man up,” “man enough” and “boys don’t cry.” This box represents a rigid understanding of acceptable manhood. In media, the measures of being a man are power, physical ability, financial success and attracting women. The constant societal requirement to meet these standards and prove themselves creates an environment in which some men assert power through competition and violence against others.

It may sound as if I am proposing the emasculation of men. I am not. The promoted gender norms that encourage hyper masculinity, such as dominance, limited emotions, athleticism, power and toughness, are touted as what a man should be, and demand direct avoidance of anything that is deemed feminine. “Feminized” traits such as empathy, softness, emotional responsiveness, etc. encourage women to be more adept at relationships and self-care. These traits and others that are classified as feminine are in fact just part of the broad spectrum of what it means to be human. Unfortunately, our society has decided that males are allowed to express only a small portion of that spectrum.

There are many great men, especially those who serve as role models and caretakers to young boys, and fighters of oppression. Many men have successfully escaped the pressure of the gender stereotype, finding ways to live as their genuine and authentic selves.

How do we self-correct as a society? One approach is to start in our interpersonal relationships and move outward into culture such as media and other systemic solutions that are catalysts for social transformation. These personal interactions are the places where incremental change occurs. We can create spaces for this to occur by facilitating mentorship programs and emotional intelligence curricula for children, and by portraying a variety of expressions of manhood in the media.

In addition to expanding the range of expression permissible to men, we need simultaneously to be interrupting thoughts and behaviors that contribute to rape culture, a pervasive mentality that encourages permissiveness of sexual violence, glorified objectification of women’s bodies, perpetual misogyny and victim blaming. A method known as bystander intervention includes calling out behaviors, from offensive jokes and catcalling to intervening when witnessing sexual assault. All of these efforts work to create an environment in which misogyny, sexism or power-based violence are no longer accepted.

What role should women play in these cultural shifts? Women need to be on our guard against victim-blaming, instead recognizing that sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator. The attitude that women should take steps to remain safe and avoid sexual assault misplaces responsibility for prevention back onto the victim. However, internalized misogyny is real -- that is, women hating other women. We have been so inundated with external misogyny that we often forget how to be our own voices of support. Of course, this is not the root cause of gender-based violence, but changes in these types of interactions can be part of the solution. Women need to become more aware of their thoughts regarding other women and embrace one another. This change is part of the solution.

Women have had to navigate spaces dominated by men for most of history. Rape culture is a byproduct of patriarchy, especially since rape tends to be perpetrated by men. Patriarchy and rape culture arise from and reinforce male power. In our journey toward attempted equity, women have adopted some of these harmful thought patterns, and must acknowledge how we are hindering our own success.

We are far from being finished with the #MeToo movement. What our society has learned is that men, women and children have in great numbers suffered abuse, harassment and worse. The vast majority of offenders are men; therefore, this is a men’s issue. The solution to the issue is that we as individuals and as a society must make it a priority to create safe and engaging spaces in which we no longer tolerate old, narrow standards for masculinity, but teach and encourage boys and men to be the healthiest versions of themselves and thus contribute to a society in which all, regardless of gender, are valued equally.

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