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Peters and Vann ’17: Storytelling to transform gender norms

By and
Op-ed Contributors
Monday, March 21, 2016

We believe in the power of stories, for better or for worse.

In our society, the voices that most need to be heard are too often silenced. The stories we hear from men (primarily cisgendered men) are often told in a way that silence the voices of women and trans folks. White men’s stories in particular are often told in a way that, at best, crowd out the voices of people of color, and, at worst, actively seek to discredit their experiences through systemic oppression.

Most men have never thoughtfully examined what healthy masculinity can and should look like. That’s part of how privilege works: As part of the dominant group, you’re rarely forced to examine your identity and place in society because society was designed with you in mind.

Modern society is quick to bestow unearned privilege on men, and there is nothing in place to teach men, young men especially, how to avoid abusing that privilege or how to leverage it for good. Men and boys are boxed in by a rigid definition of masculinity, and they’re scolded whenever they begin to stray from that norm.

We are taught to accept the gender binary as a biological imperative that can never be questioned rather than a social construct that needs to be dismantled.

Too often, that work of dismantling falls on those whom systemic oppression harms the most. Those voices should always be held up, amplified and honored. But it is also critical for people, like ourselves, who are beneficiaries of immense unearned societal privilege to play an active role in combating what bell hooks has termed the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

While intersecting identities mean that not all men enjoy the same amount of privilege, it’s in all of our interests to combat patriarchy.

hooks writes in her book, “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love”: “It is true that masses of men have not even begun to look at the ways that patriarchy keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. To know love, men must be able to let go of the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change.”

Rather than being taught to cope and verbalize their emotions, young men are mocked when they show any perceived “weakness.” So they learn to mask emotion and show no fear, hurt or pain.

This socialization breeds men who refuse to seek help, both in the classroom and for mental health issues like depression; who work to acquire sex at all costs while paying no attention to the harm being done to others in the process; and who are isolated from real, meaningful relationships in any facet of their lives.

We joined with additional student organizers Justice Gaines ’16, Ricardo Jaramillo ’18 and Molly Sandstrom ’17 to put together our upcoming Men’s Story Project: Looking Within, Speaking Out event because we believe it’s critical for those who identify as men — in any way or in part — to stand on stage and openly share their personal struggles with masculinity and rigid gender roles. We hope to show others (who may be dealing with similar struggles) that they don’t have to live within the constraints of toxic masculinity. In this society, men need to know that they have the capacity to love and the ability to change. The event will be March 23 at 7 p.m. in Salomon 101.

But these stories aren’t any more valuable than the untold stories of those who men have historically silenced — and we’re committed to creating more spaces for those as well. That is one of the reasons we are offering a storytelling workshop the day after our event that will provide students and staff members of any and all identities a chance to write and speak their own truths.

When it comes to the power of all of these stories, we believe it needs to be a both/and and not an either/or.

The Men’s Story Project was started by Jocelyn Lehrer and launched in San Francisco in 2008. In bringing it to Brown, we have been fortunate to attract a wide range of sponsors and co-sponsors including the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Masculinity101, BWell Office of Health Promotion, Brown Athletics, the Swearer Center, Student and Employee Accessibility Services, Greek Council, the Brown Center for Student of Color, the LGBTQ Center, the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, Alpha Chi Omega, Beta Omega Chi and the Office of the Vice President of Campus Life and Student Services.

We believe the sweeping buy-in from these University offices and student groups stems from a recognition that we lack spaces to have open and honest conversations about these issues, including how men grapple with emotions and deal with conflict.

How men are socialized plays into the violence that exists in college communities, and we have a responsibility to aspire to a safe and just campus climate for all students. In order to do so, we have to address elements of toxic masculinity. We need to model another way to live.

Men’s Health Coordinator Marc Peters and Men’s Story Project student organizer Andrew Vann ’17 believe in the power of stories and can be reached at and

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  1. Cultures whose scholarship relies on data and reason put men on the moon.

    Cultures whose scholarship relies on stories live in mud huts and believe the sun is a deity.

    Also, you state “Most men have never thoughtfully examined what healthy masculinity can and should look like.” I’m sure the opposite is true as well. Most women have never thoughtfully examined what healthy feminity can and should look like. Why? Because feminists control ALL discussions of gender on campus so feminity is considered normative, which is proof there is no patriarchy. But feel free to carry on with your beta-male campaign because real men enjoy a good laugh.

  2. ShadrachSmith says:

    Fight the Feminist Star chamber if you want to represent men. Parading your moral orchiectomy and shaming other men who mean you no harm is being a Hillary flack – not spokesmen for masculinity – if you don’t mind my saying so.

  3. Teddy Edwards says:

    Men are facing a full frontal assault on their rights, health and culture like never before.

    The war on masculinity has never been so brutal – but it’s not a war being waged by women. The attack is coming directly from self-anointed elites of the college Left. These feminist males desperately attempt to emasculate and disempower men because disempowered men force women to be more dependent on the state, thereby enabling more power to be centralized and aiding the growth of big government.

    Here are ten ways in which the state has declared war on men and masculinity:

    1) Degradation of Positive Masculine Role Models

    Whereas 50 years ago, advertising was filled with examples of positive masculine role models that young men could look up to, today’s entertainment industry routinely portrays men as clueless and bumbling oafs at best (think Homer Simpson, Everybody Loves Raymond, Married With Children) or at worst as aggressive sexual predators.

    Since advertising is primarily aimed at women, men in commercials are also now routinely depicted as either being emasculated losers or stupefied morons. Young men consuming this content grow up thinking that it is acceptable and even encouraged to aspire to these character traits. In doing so, they are robbed of their natural masculinity and find it extremely difficult to attract well-rounded women, who are rightly disgusted by such behavior. The entertainment industry is largely controlled by men, again underscoring the fact that this assault is a top down trend that has little or nothing to do with the gender war.

    2) Metrosexual Malaise

    Second wave feminism, at it’s core, has little whatsoever to do with genuine concern about women’s rights. Radical feminism deliberately confuses gender roles and makes young men apprehensive about exercising their masculinity for fear of being seen as overbearing or aggressive towards women. This has contributed to an entire generation of “metrosexual” men who are promiscuous, unwilling to commit to a relationship and unable to fulfil a women’s basic needs for healthy companionship, destabilizing society and making it more difficult for women to find suitable long term partners with whom to have children.

    3) Cultural Marxism

    Establishment-controlled second wave feminism also advances the doctrine of cultural marxism, which claims that oppression emerges from patriarchal society and culture, and not the state. Governments love cultural marxism because it absolves them of blame. The true source of all oppression has always been the state, but by blaming it on men or western culture in general (which is primarily shaped by men), the state hides its own responsibility.

    4) The ‘Men are Paid More’ Myth

    The establishment promulgates the myth that men are paid more than women because of discrimination, feeding into feminist doctrines about patriarchal systems oppressing women in the workplace. In reality, the “wage gap” of around 19 per cent between the two sexes in the United States is explained by a number of reasons that have nothing to do with discrimination, including the fact that men work more hours and men seek less desirable jobs that pay higher. As a result, men account for 93% of workplace deaths despite being only 54% of the workforce. 94% of workplace suicides every year are also men. The establishment buries these shockingly high male workplace fatality figures because they completely contradict the myth that the jobs market discriminates against women.

    5) The “Privilege” Trap

    Statists, collectivists and their mouthpieces in the media and the establishment claim that western men (in particular white men) cannot express a valid opinion on any issue related in any way to a “minority” (such as feminism or immigration) because they have “privilege”. The “privilege” talking point is a stunt through which liberals and feminists attempt to shut down free speech. In essence they are asserting the ludicrous notion that a man’s viewpoint has no value because of the color of his skin, his gender or his country of origin. This is an inherently racist position, yet it is routinely used by leftists to shout down their ideological adversaries and silence male voices.

    6) The Legal System Discriminates Against Men

    In both divorce and child custody proceedings, it is widely acknowledged that courts heavily favor women and discriminate against men. Men are routinely hit with onerous alimony payments even if women are capable of working and earning a good paycheck. Men only receive custody of their children in around 10 per cent of divorce cases in the United States. The ironic thing about this system is that it has primarily been instituted by other men, emphasizing again how the war on men is being waged not by women, but by the primarily male-dominated establishment itself.

    7) Masculinity as a Dirty Word

    Dissident feminist Camille Paglia recently wrote a Wall Street Journal piece in which she warned, “What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide.” Paglia was referring to how the emancipation of masculine virtues by the establishment threatens to create massive destabilization in society due to less and less men being able to fill traditionally “masculine” roles in the jobs market. Paglia points to schools cutting recess, the effort to deny the biological distinctions between men and women, and the left’s characterization of controversial opinions as “hate speech” as examples of how masculinity is being deliberately eroded. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now,” warns Paglia, adding that young men have, “no models of manhood.”

    8) Domestic Abuse Against Men

    Whereas women have numerous safety nets to turn to if they become victims of domestic abuse, men have virtually none, despite the fact that domestic abuse against men is a huge and growing problem. In the UK for example, 44 per cent of domestic abuse victims are male, while more married men suffer abuse at the hands of their spouse than married women. While domestic abuse against women is constantly highlighted by the mass media, domestic abuse against men is a complete non-issue.


    A totalitarian society can only come into being and survive if the male population has been gelded, emasculated and disenfranchised. With this natural bulwark against tyranny removed, the elite can centralize power and pursue collectivist tyranny unopposed. This is why men and masculinity are under assault on every level – and why both men and women should join forces to fight back against this common enemy.

    The Left preys on naive college-age students who passionately “carry the water” for the debunked myths that are part of the “diversity scam”.

    We can do better than this.

    Paul Joseph Watson

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