Falling back on male stereotypes to excuse behavior needs to change. Aaron W. Voyles shares New Year’s Resolutions that come from his work with college men.
I wanted to start 2015 by talking a little more about myself. I recognized that while my title is at the bottom of my column and I’ve given a bit here and there, for some of readers, my background in masculinities might not be clear.
I know some may not agree with my thoughts, but they come from my experience and my story, so I am happy to share them here. Others thoughts and experiences may differ drastically from mine, and that’s okay. My intent in sharing my story is to bring another voice to the conversation—not to attempt to speak for all men.
I started my interest in men and masculinities working in housing at a primarily female institution. Male students and staff members came up to me repeatedly just to talk or to get my perspective on things. I stumbled into being a role model in a place where I ended up being the only male working in student affairs.
Unlikely though I was as a male role model (never considering myself particularly dominating or ultra-masculine), I somehow thought I had no choice at the point. I was the only male in a position of leadership in that whole division of the school. The experiences the men on that campus shared with me helped me to learn more about college men and myself.
Since that time, I have continued my journey in men and masculinities by working with some all-male residence communities, getting involved through National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, teaching about men’s identity development in a student affairs master’s program, and participating in various presentations and dialogues in the field.
Tony Porter comes up often in this work, due to his work on the collective socialization of men, or “the man box.” I see the man box in my work with men. It tells men and women both what a man should do. Through doing so, the discourse around men makes certain behaviors allowable and other not allowable.
In my work with men over the years, I have often led an activity called, “Because of the man box, I…” where we start by identifying the ways in which the social constructs of masculinity have influenced our behavior. It’s important to recognize that these do not excuse behavior, but to understand that our behaviors are a combination of our own actions in the context of the environment we are in. Here are a few of the more common responses to this activity:
Because of the man box, I ate more than wanted to.
Because of the man box, I drank more than I wanted to.
Because of the man box, I made fun of someone.
Because of the man box, I told an inappropriate, racist, sexist, or homophobic joke.
Because of the man box, I had sex with someone when I didn’t really want to.
Because of the man box, I have never told a friend I loved them.
The pressure to become a man and to assert that masculinity on others contributes to a cycle of gender-based violence, of male depression and suicide, of the continuing trends of men succeeding at a lesser rate than women. These are negative trends not just for men, but for all of us.
Raising men to lack the ability to unpack their emotions can lead to men using the only emotions they are allowed to by the man box—anger and violence. It leads to men thinking it is okay not confront one another about inappropriate behavior. Who wants to look like the uncool sissy who tattles on everyone? It leads to the culture of bystanders.
The man box, through much of the literature and research out there, has a negative reputation and is filled with dark shadows of masculinity. But it also provides opportunity.
As part of my activity, after we discuss the man box, I ask people to revisit the phrase “Because of the man box” with an action statement. I receive a lot of wonderful answers to this statement, and they seem fitting in the time of New Year’s resolutions.
Because of the man box, I commit to respecting my body and the bodies of others.
Because of the man box, I will play with diverse games with my niece.
Because of the man box, I will call out people who tell me to “man up.”
Because of the man box, I will educate myself on sexual assault.
Because of the man box, I will call my father and tell him about my week.
Each of these activities and each of these commitments, no matter how simple, serves as a saw, cutting holes into the man box. Yes, it is a strong box, but when we cut holes in it, we expand its capacity. More commitments and more direct actions eliminate the shadows and allow for more behaviors to fit inside the man box.
In looking at societal construction of masculinities, through action we can change discourse. Through changing discourse, we can change what behaviors are promoted or delimited. I use this activity to start a conversation about masculinity with those around my campus.
The more I have personally become aware of my gender through experiences like working at a predominately female school, the more aware I have become of the gender issues, positivities, and struggles of others.
I still have much to learn in this continuing conversation, which is why I enjoy repeating this activity with multiple groups. It’s why I enjoy reading the articles on this website. I encourage you to consider adding sharing sessions and resolutions around gender to the conversations you engage in on manhood and being a man.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Carol VanHook/Flickr
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
The Meaning of a Decanter
Can Tattoos Help Men Talk About Themselves?
Everybody Wants to Fit In. Everybody Wants to Stand Out.
That Time Snuggleupagus Made Me Uncool
The Space Between Lifts
Video Games as a Way to Connect with College Men
Broken Lantern Blues
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat