At ManUp Inspire Conference 2018, our student leadership groups were tasked with an activity that was designed to help them explore examples of sexual violence and harassment in their schools. It came to our attention, that our boys are very good at identifying what is right and wrong. Almost all the guys were able to contribute insight and experience around harmful and hurtful behaviors in their communities. The boys were equally quick to come up with intervention strategies and prevention ideas. There was however, a notable gap in the general knowledge and understanding around the nature of sexual and gender based violence. It turns out, many of us have not been able to wrap our heads around why men behave this way or, more specifically, what internal ideologies contribute to these harmful behavior patterns. While we can’t present an especially academic perspective, we can present some of the more compelling findings from our groups over the past several years. We are calling these ‘the dangerous mindsets’, the subtle / subconscious ideologies leading to destructive behavior patterns and treatment of women.

The More Sex I Have, The More Man I am
The first of three dangerous mindsets is the idea that we must succeed in sexual conquest to achieve masculinity. As young guys, we battle all sorts of inner feelings and compulsions around sexuality. It’s often very difficult for us to manage, or even understand, what our minds and bodies are telling us. Powers of attraction are very strong. When we mix these powers of attraction with peer pressure and media influence, it can create an enormous false impression that we must seek out and attain sex and sexual attention. Many men even measure their masculinity and self worth by the amount of sex they acquire. This is very dangerous behavior and thinking because it suppresses our need for intimacy and socio-emotional relationship. Men become numb to the emotional implications of sex and become increasingly invested in their conquest for sexual supremacy. Unfortunately, this ideology has long been exposed as a dead end road and a slippery slope of loneliness that men tend to self-medicate with more sex and less intimacy.

Out of Sight / Out of Mind
A second dangerous pattern that we come across in our work is the prideful / self-regulating / internalizing young man. This is the type of guy that avoids conversation and introspection around his sexuality. Often, these young men believe that they are not vulnerable to the constant barrage of messaging and imagery conveying toxic masculinity and rape culture. These guys tend to take a passive approach to growing up. All the while, the subtle but pervasive cultural poison erodes the substance of their values and ideals. Sadly, we often find guys like this putting themselves above the law. They are often found displaying the behaviors and patterns that they outwardly condemn. The antidote to hyper masculine pride is humility. We need to find ways to get the boys seek the perspective of other caring and wise people. We need to get these boys around role-models who can model self-awareness and self-improvement behaviors.

Sex Is For Me Therefore Girls Are For Me
Lastly we have our concerns about a mindset that allows boys and men to seek personal pleasure without any regard for the impact their behavior might have on the girls involved. These experiences of pleasure aren’t necessarily exclusive to sexual acts but include using women’s images for visual pleasure, making jokes at girls’ expense and especially sharing nude photos. Sadly, there is a large group of guys that aren’t able to understand that it is not healthy to use people for personal pleasure. These guys continue to seek out networks of nude photos of their peers and they continue to engage in derogatory conversation. The bottom line is that these behaviors pose direct harm to the female subjects and contribute to a widespread culture that promotes male objectification of women. We need to help this group of guys get out of these cycles by challenging mindsets. We need to invite them into non threatening conversation where they aren’t immediately put on the defensive but rather provided with the opportunity to have someone walk through their tendencies with them and help them see the dangers that they present.   
“Guys, it’s time man, this has been going on for too long and … It’s just time”. These simple words were shared, by new ManUp ally Kyries Hebert of the Ottawa REDBLACKS, following the ManUp conference on April 26th, 2018. Hebert’s simple message was a plea to the young leaders in the crowd to join in and confront sexual violence in a way that we can create a real change in our city, province and country. If ever we hope to actually get some of these mountains to budge, we need to keep studying and exploring root causes. Perhaps, we can intercept these mindsets before they manifest themselves in behavior.

MIND ON MEN – QUESTIONS TO PONDER

  1. Have you taken the time to explore your own mindsets? Do you feel that any of these things exist in your own mind in any way? If so, you should talk about those feelings with someone you look up to so that they can help you iron them out into something that will support your development and the wellness of your future partners.
  2. Do you have any ideas of how you might intervene when you observe behaviors that suggest one of the “Dangerous Mindsets” might be present in one of your buddies? When you are thinking this stuff up, try to make sure you build strategies around supporting and not pushing away.

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