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Commentary on How To Stop Boys From Becoming ‘Me Too” Perpetrators

Melissa Jeltsen’s, article, How To Stop Boys From Becoming ‘Me Too” Perpetrators, in the January 13, 2020 edition of clearly identifies relationship abuse as a societal issue requiring a multi-prong approach. The article presents an over view and summary of a research study conducted on boys in a middle school athletic program. Utilizing a well-known and evidenced-based program, school athletic coaches spent 15 min per week speaking about respectful behavior towards girls covering topics such as aggression, degrading language, digital abuse, consent and other issues. Also discussed were regressive ideas about “what it mean to be a man.”

Challenging norms and societal views is paramount in primary prevention education models and must continue. Additionally the education needs to progress in topic-depth and discussion to high school, college and workplaces. However, noticeably present in the article is the implicit undertone that men are villains and women are victims. That, as a societal norm must be challenged and discussed. We should not label an entire gender and believe the issue will somehow resolve itself.

I suggest that along with presenting evidence-based programs we also challenge the idea of “masculinity” and propose new language and open-dialogue. Society views boys/men as bigger, more aggressive than females; this is evident in television, movies, and the internet. The words we choose to use, “you run like a girl” or “boys don’t cry” is a clear and convincing message that as a boy/man these actions are not acceptable. Let us remember that emotions fuel actions. Therefore, the action is a public display of the very real emotion he is feeling. By the words we use we diminish the emotions of a boy/man and imply…”we don’t accept this behavior” leaving only aggressive actions as acceptable.

Let us think this through again, from a very early age boys are conditioned to be masculine…not a bad thing however when the only societal acceptance of masculine is equated with aggression and stymied emotions then you have the beginning of a societal crisis. We have boys who become men who believe they must exert their masculinity and the potential aggressive behavior and degrading language starts to creep in. In addition, when surrounded by others who are like-minded or not able to be pro-active bystanders and call them out on their actions/words; the cycle continues and the silence is construed as “we accept” this behavior.

So, what are possible solutions? How do we, as a society, transition from the long held regressive masculine beliefs to a more healthy view of masculinity. Boys/men have feelings, they have fears, they have concerns, and they are vulnerable. Why do we find these so threatening? Why is it wrong for a boy/man to cry? Why shouldn’t he say what he fears and what he is concerned about? The issue, as you see, lies with us, it lies with society. We must begin the open dialogue of what it means to be masculine and that you can be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. If we challenge long-held beliefs and continue the primary prevention education perhaps, we will see a decline in gender violence. We cannot and should not do one without the other. We must create a space where boys/men are fully able and encouraged to express themselves without the fear of being labeled a “sissy” or “bullied” for being like a girl. Feelings and emotions are gender-less; it is we, as a society who label them. The labels must come off!!

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