When engaging in conversations about programming for gender equity, a common question is: why are we focusing on men when we should be centering other experiences when we’re working on gender equity? However, ignoring specific gender mechanisms of masculinity runs two risks. First, as Dr. Jane Fried writes in the foreword of Masculinities in Higher Education (2012), people who work for gender equity “have been so concerned about the historical dominance of men they have failed to notice the price men pay for remaining in their historically assigned roles” (p. ix). The price includes higher rates of injury at work, higher rates of certain stress-related illnesses, higher death and suicide rates, and more. Second, as Michael Kimmel writes in Guyland (2008) and other publications, even though studies of education, health, and psychology in higher education tend to be male-centered, they take for granted the gendered mechanisms that shape men’s and male-identified students’ lives, making it hard to see what masculinity has to do with students.
Attending to masculinity can illuminate many important issues and take us a step closer to creating a dialogue for gender equity. Specifically for college students, research shows that espousing very restrictive aspects of masculinity results in men underperforming in college, participating in risky behavior that affects their health (such as binge drinking or drug use), and developing particular emotional and mental health problems that cannot be addressed unless we understand the specific vulnerabilities created by certain aspects of masculinity.1 For Voices Against Violence, this also includes restrictive definitions of masculinity that can result in violent or aggressive actions when alternative behaviors and expressions are not explored or encouraged by peers. A program that addresses masculinity (note: it’s not a men’s program, but a masculinity program) should also help everyone in the university community to understand the privilege that comes with masculinity, simultaneously with the vulnerabilities that come with restrictive masculinity.
Moreover, gender equity is a conversation between all gender expressions. Jane Fried writes in the same book mentioned above that while social and gender roles built slowly over centuries, changes in the expectations of men and women have happened very quickly. As the gender binary is challenged more and more, and as women challenge traditionally feminine roles, men can also use a program that addresses their shifting position in society in healthy ways. This should be of benefit to all students in the university, as our campus culture depends on all of us flourishing and relating to each other in healthy, non-violent ways.
Project Goals and Guiding Principles
Why does UT Austin need MasculinUT?
What do Healthy Masculinities Look Like?
What is Restrictive Masculinity?
Masculinity and the Intersections of Social, Cultural and Political Identities
Capraro, R. L. (2000). Why College Men Drink: Alcohol, Adventure, and the Paradox of Masculinity. Journal of American College Health, 48, 307–315.