Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Understanding the Man Box

Students and guests gather for the event
I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend one of the last panels that have been a part on an ongoing campaign focusing on Sexual Assault Activism Month. The event I attended was called Well Meaning Men Breaking Out "The Man Box." This event was possible through the efforts of Student Health and Wellness, the East Texas Crisis Center, and the Step Up Against Violence group.

This event was a multi-part presentation that began with a video outlining the different aspects of what a "Man Box" is. On the flyer that was available to those entering, the following examples were written:

Inside the Man Box 
* Don't cry or openly express emotions with the exception of anger
* Do not show weakness or fear
* Demonstrate power and control especially over women

Outside the Man Box
* Anything associated with being a woman
* Anything associated with being a gay man
* Sensitive

In the most broad terms, a "Man Box" is a systemic means by which other men control and shape the attitudes of 'what being a man is,' attitudes that can be used to enforce and sustain the abuse of women. The video presented was uncompromising in its narrative. it showcased uncomfortable, but real, examples of how the attitudes of The Man Box can be seen around us. The most powerful point of the video for myself was a segment where a question was posed:

Pepe the Penguin rock'n the skirt look
Would you step in and prevent a man from hitting his wife?

The video presented examples of men talking about how, no, of course they would not get involved in the domestic issues of another couple. The video then presented another scenario through a question:

Would you step in and prevent a man from hitting a female stranger?

The video then showcased men with drastically different tones. "Of course,' they said, [paraphrasing] 'at that point what is going on is criminal.'

My friend Sean volunteering to
help out at the event!
The next phase of the event welcomed Dr. Acadia, Rabbi Katz, Rev. Stephenson, and UTT alum Josh Grijalva. Each spoke in their experiences regarding the Man Box concept, some of the stories being especially profound and honest. Josh Grijalva described moments within his own life that might have been uncomfortable to hear but it was nothing when held up against the bravery it took to present. Stories and lessons on violence are uncomfortable, they make your guts twist inside and they made you feel. The important aspect of that energy is to then connect to the humanity behind the words. Hearing about violence is awful, but to survive it? To re-tell it? To cry out for others to not follow a false model of 'masculinity?' Every panelist had a lot of heart and courage to stand before others and present the facts about things many in society do not even want to talk about, let alone confront.

As the child of a verbally abusive father, I detest being yelled at, yelled around, or even hearing yelling in person. I suffered through a great deal of psychological violence at a young age and learned to understand and control the emotions within me regarding this at an older age. For myself, understanding was what helped me. This is not always available for others, especially those who have confronted physical violence. Speaking for myself, knowing events such as this one are trying to help shape the understanding of what masculinity is or is not is important. Only through knowledge can a person understand his or her options, the paths they can take to prevent violence and to educate others how to prevent it as well.

Defining 'masculinity' is something that every cis-male and masculine centered person  needs to understand on their own terms, but compassion for women and knowing the role men have in helping prevent their assault is something that all humans should embrace.

Dr. Acadia, Rabbi Katz, Rev. Stephenson, and Josh Grijalva speaking together

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