Is ‘positive masculinity’ key to promoting equality?

Feminism has been gaining more and more prominence in mainstream media due to the success of projects such as Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism and the popularisation of feminist writers like Caitlin Moran. Despite this, the movement towards equality seems to be constantly hindered by incidents of lad culture, most recently the WeekOne teaching of necrophiliac chants to freshers, as reported by Impact. Lad culture pledges, No More Page 3 bans, Reclaim the Night marches and plenty of other strategies have been employed at The University of Nottingham, but it is clear that there is still a long way to go. In light of this, is it time to explore an alternate solution to resolve the issues caused by Lad Culture? Positive masculinity could be the way forward.

Positive masculinity. Its aim? “To empower men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities”, according to its proponents at Oxford University’s Good Lad Workshop. It seems like a reasonable goal. It’s often easy to forget, in a world where women are so underrepresented, oppressed and discriminated against in almost everything they do, that men need support as well.

Arguably, men are equally objectified by the media; as they are faced with the use of ‘macho-male’ stereotyping in many adverts and articles. It often seems that there is a sense of shame when men show emotion in our society. Further to this, men (and women) are presented with hyper-violence and misogyny in video games such as Grand Theft Auto, in which it is possible to hire a prostitute and kill the virtual woman instead of paying her. Messages such as these, which are ingrained in the minds of men from a young age, are certain contributors toward the lad culture so prevalent at British universities and so detrimental towards the equality movement.

Suicide is three to four times higher in men than women, and [the BMJ] relates this to the pressure on men to ‘maintain a gold standard of masculinity’

There are also more serious consequences of relentlessly trying to maintain a typical ‘lad’ façade. A British Medical Journal article (2008) highlights the fact that suicide is three to four times higher in men than women, and relates this to the pressure on men to ‘maintain a gold standard of masculinity’. By aiming to eliminate these stereotypes, we not only help women but men too.

Refreshingly, the Good Lad Workshop focuses on teaching men about issues surrounding consent, sexual harassment, banter and peer pressure. It is a crucial that young males are being taught how to manage their behaviour, as so often we see workshops targeted at women and how they should deal with men and sexual harassment. Too frequently the emphasis is on women and how they can reduce their vulnerability in certain situations. An example of this is the invention of a nail polish that can detect a date rape drug. This idea may have had good intentions, but actually passes the responsibility of women’s safety back to them, instead of aiming to rid our society of rape.

It is key to empower women, as well as taking steps to educate men

It is key to empower women, as well as taking steps to educate men. It seems that the people behind the Good Lad Workshop, founded by former members of sports teams themselves, have the better idea of helping to prevent this kind of behaviour from occurring in the first place. The workshops educate university and college sports teams, no doubt one of the main environments for pack mentality and sexist attitudes to manifest.

Sadly, sexual harassment on campuses is in no way a shrinking problem. It is vital that we recognise the need for change instigated at multiple levels; by organisations like FemSoc, empowered women and men who are in a position to change ‘Lad Culture’ from the inside out.

Katie Randall

Image courtesy of Kyle Mooney, Jess Debski via Flickr

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