Columns, Opinions

Thomas ’21: The case for a men’s revolution

Staff Columnist
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The idea of masculinity has been on my mind for some time now. I was first introduced to the concept in an English class my junior year of high school. Fast forward a few years: I now find myself serving as a student co-coordinator of the Masculinity Peer Education program here at Brown. Our program introduces various organizations on campus to discussions about masculinity and helps to create a healthier environment in group spaces.

My work with masculinity and peer education has profoundly informed how I’ve understood the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which a 19-year-old man killed 17 people. Following the shooting, there have been various articles — printed in publications from the New York Times to Harper’s Bazaar — that link the shooting to the broken state of the American man. These pieces examine how harmful the unrealistic expectations of conventional masculinity can be to men and the world at large, and how these expectations can lead some men down dangerous, violent paths. In light of the Parkland shooting and broader conversations about assault and equality, it is now the time to recognize the crisis of masculinity afflicting our country and the need for a comprehensive redefinition of manhood: a men’s revolution.

Such a revolution would prove beneficial to everyone, not just men. Upon hearing the phrase “toxic masculinity,” one might first think about how it impacts other people. What can often be overlooked, though, is that men suffer greatly from toxic masculinity, too. Thanks to toxic masculinity, men are encouraged to constantly meet a range of unrealistic expectations: to exaggerate dominant traits, embody stoicism through extreme emotional suppression and never show any signs of weakness. For example, men are much less likely to seek help for mental health issues and much more likely to suffer in silence than their female counterparts. Redefining what it means to be a man is a possible remedy to both these external and internal problems. A man not seeking to fulfill a harmful expectation is less likely to perpetrate harm against another individual and himself. Additionally, the redefinition of manhood will help men figure out our role in the 21st century. How can we productively participate in our communities if we’re still holding on to archaic, harmful notions of what it means to be a man? The narrow boxes in which men have to fit right now do a disservice to everyone. A large-scale change of the expectations applied to men is necessary if we ever wish to see the liberation of all people — regardless of gender.

Obviously, to champion the need for a men’s revolution and not provide any idea of what it might look like isn’t helpful. But a men’s revolution may be easier to catalyze than we might think. With respect to young people, we might look at how youth sports teach boys harmful ways to act and interact. Coaches should emphasize the difference between competition or athleticism and hypermasculinity. One need not be toxically masculine — overaggressive and dismissive of other people’s feelings — in order to be a great athlete. Further, the school system ought to support counseling in schools and encourage male students to seek help. Letting boys know from a young age that asking for help is a normal, human thing — rather than something outside of the “masculine” norm — would aid in this effort.

On college campuses, the revolution might see more schools creating programs similar to the Masculinity Peer Education program I’m involved with now. Such programs would continue the education around masculinity that will have already started at a young age. This reinforcement of a more flexible approach to masculinity will pay dividends for men and society as a whole. We can use sexual assault as an example. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of female college students and 5.4 percent of male college students “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.” By openly exploring masculinity and the ways in which we are socialized to adhere to toxic expectations, men will be able to understand the role they play in sexual assault on college campuses and work to change that role, while also working to embolden male survivors of sexual assault to share their experiences. Once they graduate, young men will be able to apply the knowledge they’ve internalized and make full use of it in their everyday lives. In the workplace, workshops specifically centered on masculinity that clearly lay out appropriate boundaries of behavior and human resources policies might also prove beneficial.

My vision for such a revolution is certainly not comprehensive, and will require lots of time and the active participation of people of all genders and backgrounds. And it’s possible such a revolution has already begun: Adam Rippon, one of the first openly gay athletes to compete for Team USA at the Olympics, just won a bronze medal while actively rejecting the narrow, predefined stereotype of a “real man” as a large, lumbering and aggressive athlete.  In the age of the #MeToo movement and Women’s Marches, it’s time for men to have a parallel revolution — one that will liberate not only men, but all of society, from the constraints of toxic masculinity.

Quentin Thomas ’21 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to