In the wake of the #MeToo movement’s recent explosion, a wave of empowerment, excitement and exhaustion has swept the nation. As women’s and other marginalized voices are amplified, anxieties have risen to public consciousness: How, in this time of feminist reckoning to raise a boy; how to determine assault from bad sex; how to consume problematic art.
Amidst discussions about sexual assault and masculinity, many — particularly those who identify as men — have been asking: what can I do?
Reexamining the role of masculinity, in the world and on our own campus, is the first step to becoming a better advocate. Strict gender norms and masculine stereotypes do not only harm women; they inhibit men. Creating a space to discuss masculinity and its ramifications would not only serve the safety of woman at Tufts, but would promote a freer atmosphere for all students.
Other campuses have already designed programs to begin this process. In Spring 2016, Northwestern University launched NÜ Men, a six-week “dialogue experience with the intention to challenge its participants to critically examine and deconstruct their own masculinity, to examine the systemic connections between traditional masculinity and gender-based violence, and to create personal definitions and counter narratives to dominant masculinity.” The initiative was launched as collaboration between Northwestern’s CARE (The Center for Awareness, Response, and Education) office and SJE (Social Justice Education). It features an in-depth itinerary that focuses on identifying and addressing masculinity as it relates to violence, personal health and privilege, among other issues.
Though Tufts students pride themselves on their social consciousness and commitment to progressive values, this campus is not immune to the effects of masculinity. From sexual assault (yes, it happens here) to cringe-worthy Tinder messages to racial fetishization; the ways in which masculinity manifests on campus are manifold. To ensure that we channel the energy behind the #MeToo movement into lasting change, we must go beyond the reactionary responses endemic to call-out culture. We must spark dialogue — not tweets or International Women’s Day Instagram posts — but nuanced, challenging discourse among those most susceptible to the force of masculinity.
This is where a program like NÜ Men would improve Tufts’ campus. Whether helmed by CARE or Counseling and Mental Health Services, an initiative to tackle masculinity would be a welcome addition on the Hill.
An initial concern around the effectiveness of the program arises when we consider who would opt to partake in this program in the first place — probably not the students who would benefit most. However, there are many ways to incentivize such a program. Something as simple as course credit or even food could encourage students to participate who may not be interested originally. Better still would be to promote this type of discussion to be institutionalized in predominantly male organizations, such as fraternities and certain sports teams. For men who spend a lot of time in male-dominated spaces, it is that much more valuable to encourage open dialogue about the repercussions of masculinity.
An initiative of this kind would offer men a proper space to be vulnerable, helping them navigate the complexities of masculinity without judgment. It would inspire men to be open about their mental health, actively challenge stereotypes and speak up when others can’t. It would encourage men to communicate with their friends, partners and themselves. Most importantly, however, it would be an investment in the greater health and safety of the Tufts community.