Every time you pressure a man to perform masculinity in a certain codified, narrow way—you are traumatizing him. The man-box itself is an act of violence.
On today’s Evangelist conference call, Good Men Project publisher and CEO Lisa Hickey talked about her insights gleaned while attending the International Conference on Masculinities. One of the panels she had gone to was on men and trauma, and she explained how Christopher Anderson, a Good Men Project contributor and Executive Director of MaleSurvivor.org had spoken about having a trauma-based framework to look at both men and life in general. That is, we need to start assuming men have or will be traumatized at some point in their life, and give them a model to deal with that trauma. And that trauma support should be taught to everyone—just like CPR or sex ed is taught. And Chris had come up with a model which was “Believe, Be Present and Thank You”. If everyone had just that that framework for dealing with people who had trauma, the world could be a better place.
A second speaker on that same panel was Steven Botkin of Men’s Resources International. He spoke about how the pushing men to “stay inside the man box” and conform to a very narrow definition of masculinity is, by its very nature, traumatizing to men. When someone says “man up” or “c’mon, be a man” or “don’t be a sissy” or “you’re so gay” — the intention is to traumatize a man into not behaving in a way that is natural to him. The man box itself, therefore, is an act of violence.
We then opened it up to discussion:
Jed Diamond: As someone who has lived with and worked with these issues for many years, I appreciate this perspective. “Believe us. Be present”. That allows the silence to be broken, a silence I do attribute to the man-box. The Man Box tells us we should handle pain and hurts by ourself. There was a cartoon I saw a while back, a couple is sitting at a table, and the man has a fork stuck right in the bridge of his nose. And the woman is the cartoon is saying, “That’s what I like about you Lou, you’re tough.” There is also an expectation that men should be traumatized because that is the ritual of being a man, it is part of what it means to be a man—that you should be able to handle it. If we as individuals can solve this, it is one of the most important social problems we can solve. If we can solve this problem, I believe, so many other problems of the world can also be solved.
Travis: As a victim of abuse and as an adult, I often find myself wondering how much of social slights I should live with. If someone makes an off-color comment, where do I draw the line? Where do I jump in?
Jed Diamond: “One of the things I have learned is to just say “ouch!’ when I hear something that hurts. It is a quick way of acknowledging my own hurt and letting someone else know that something they said hurts me.
Kozo Hattori: There’s a saying you’ve probably heard: “hurt people hurt people.” But with men—when they are traumatized, men are taught that it is not trauma. So as a man, you are hurt and you don’t know you are hurt and then you go out and hurt other people. There is a model for forgiveness that says in order for there to be real forgiveness you need a confession of the trespass, discernment and then forgiveness. And I wonder if now that that confession has been made that the man-box is a violent act, we can start to forgive the man-box and move forward.
Mike Patrick: When you speak of ‘hurt people hurt people’ consider the source. That is, what we really need to do is to figure out how to get that hurt person to deal with his or her pain, so that the hurt doesn’t come out against someone else.
Mark Sherman: Men still are seen as jerks. Their stories are not seen as important. Women are seen as victims but men are not seen as victims. This too may be part of the man-box.
Jed Diamond: When we see people hurting others—with woman we often look for what has happened to them. We look for the source. But with men, it’s just a part of ‘being a man’ we don’t look for the source.
Kozo Hattori: A good example of this, to your point Jed, is the show “Orange is the New Black”. It takes place in a women’s prison, and every episode tells the backstory of women—how they got there, what there past life is. And in every case, you find out the woman was a perfectly normal, fine and compassionate human being who happened to get thrown into these terrible circumstances that forced her to do whatever terrible deed ended her up in jail. On the other hand, the men on the show—they’re just all dickheads. The show never tells these men’s backstory. OITNB portrays these men as being dickheads just because they are men. They have no backstory. On the show, only women have backstories.
Brent Greene: I just joined in this call a few minutes ago. I want to talk about a significant news event that happened as part of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. First of all, understand that fraternities themselves are part of a male alpha movement….And as a member of a franternity myself, I quickly found out that the fraternity I had joined when I was in college was not favorable to other religions, races, etc. I was disgusted with this after 6 months. But in addition to the extraordinary treatment of hazing, you were also pressed all the time to conform to a very narrow point of view. You were called out any time you stepped out of he range of acceptability—whether it was the way you wore your hair, what sweater you wore, or what girl you dated. And this one event at the University of OK continues to write the narrative of what bad men are like.
Jed Diamond: For anyone who hasn’t seen these, there is a series of articles by Mark Greene, and one in particular that I want to point you to is “Why Do We Murder the SBeautiful Friendships of Boys?” Mark’s articles speak to the woundednss of men and how men get sucked into the man box. And by the time those boys get to fraternity age, we don’t realize they are wounded,
Brent Greene: The fraternities try to be helpful, and certainly some are, but some are still creating the worst type of social manipulation possible, where they break down the boys confidence, break down their spirit, and then encourage them to go out and hurt others.
Lisa Hickey: As you were talking, Brent, I recognized some of those same tactics in the PUA community . For those who don’t know, PUA’s are Pick up artists—and they teach men—young men, just out of college—to pick up women by insulting them, hurting them—it’s the same sort of social manipulation you were talking about. So the cycle continues.
Also – panel I was on at the International Conference on Masculinities was about men and fraternities. And there were some angry people in the crowd – school administrators were angry because they didn’t know what programs were actually effective in changing behavior about sexual assault on their college campuses. “Where is the research?” they were asking, and rightfully so.
Mark Sherman: I’ve been trying to get a White House Council for Boys and Men—there is already one for Women and Girls. Part of that panel would be to get more funding for research. Because we don’t know what it is going on with boys.
Lisa Hickey: This is going to sound absurd, but I think part of the man box is the part that says ‘don’t do the research…we’re fine, we’re good, we’re in control here. Nothing to see, move along.’ And that is why it is so important that we change that narrative, get this conversation out there.
What do you think? Is the Man-Box inherently traumatic? Please join this important discussion in the comments.