Mind and Body

Breaking out of the man box

Tony Porter leads a symposium challenging men to take an active role in preventing domestic violence

Photo courtesy of the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Members of the military who participated in the April 11 symposium, "Changing the Culture, Stopping the Violence, sponsored by the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 4/17/17
The recognition that men need to play an active role in prevention of domestic violence was brought home in a powerful presentation by Tony Porter, the co-founder and CEO of A Call To Men.
What are the ways that the public conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault can become part of a larger conversation in our schools? Are there better ways to engage with athletic coaches around sexuality at the high school and college levels? Will the R.I. General Assembly finally enact legislation this year that prohibits men who have been convicted of sexual violence or domestic violence from owning guns?
When ConvergenceRI taught freshman English at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, it was required to have a debating exercise as part of the course’s curriculum. The students were presented with the topic: resolved, a woman is justified in killing her attacker in self-defense if she is being raped. The reading material for the exercise was “Against Our Will” by Susan Brownmiller.
The debate subject resulted in an emotional catharsis for many of the 18-year-old males in the classroom, challenging them to think differently about their behaviors toward women – hopefully, changing their worldview.

PROVIDENCE – When Tony Porter took the microphone at the “Changing the Culture, Stopping the Violence” symposium on April 11 in the Rotunda of the R.I. Convention Center, he issued a challenge to the men in the room to take an active role in preventing domestic violence.

The gathering, sponsored by the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, attracted more than 140 participants.

In the audience was a broad cross-section of men, including a number of men from the military in uniform, educators, students and professionals. About one-quarter of the audience were women.

Porter began by reciting the numbers about sexual violence in America: one in five women will be sexually assaulted, and one-third of all women will be victims of domestic violence. “It’s insane,” he said.

Porter then showed a short video clip of a young boy, a toddler, receiving shots from a nurse, with the father encouraging his son to “be a man” and not cry, even if it hurt.

The young boy, tears streaming down his face, echoes what his father told him to say: “I’m a man.”

Porter then asked the audience to participate in the analysis of what they had seen in the video, as way to recognize the kinds of socialization at play: the idea that men don’t cry, the idea that men are in control, the idea that it is wrong for men to express their feelings, and by doing so, recognizing that this was a way in which men distance themselves from the emotions of women and girls, ingrained in the culture.

By saying “you’re the man,” Porter asked the audience, “what does it say about your mother?’

Escaping from the “man box”
Throughout the morning, Porter engaged the audience directly, asking questions, urging them to share their own experiences, and to reflect upon the ways in which they were taught to be in control, even if they weren’t.

One member in the audience, who raised his hand when Porter asked the participants if they were in a loving relationship, was asked to testify about what that meant to him, in describing how he saw his wife and their relationship.

Another member of the audience, an educator, talked about wanting to find a different way to talk with his students about what it meant to be a man.

Yet another member of the audience, an athlete, talked about how his football coach purposely tried to motivate him by making him angry.

The message in movies
One of the slides that Porter showed was a collage of advertisements for popular action movies, including Lethal Weapon, Training Day, and Gladiator.

Porter then explored the messaging around the way that what it meant to be a man was portrayed in the movies.

At the close of the symposium, Porter asked all the men to stand with him in a willingness to take an active role in preventing violence. Then, in closing, all the men turned around to listen to Damaris Roman, a SOAR member, give testimony about her own experiences with domestic violence.

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