Why a Focus on Men & Masculinity?

Robert Haaland

Men and boys are beautiful, full-spectrum human beings. But in many societies, men and boys are often taught that to “be a man,” they must act in ways that limit their true self-expression, and that cause harm to themselves and others. Social norms often say that men should be emotionally and physically tough, straight, not show vulnerability, have lots of women, have power over one’s partner, be financially successful, and so on. 

Research around the world has found that rigid or dominant views about masculinity are linked in men with problems such as homophobia, transphobia, violence against people of all genders, bullying, substance abuse, risky driving, risky sexual behavior, less participation in child care and housework, and less support for gender equality. Men who believe they should be stoic and tough are also less likely to seek care for their physical and mental health needs. In the U.S. and around the world, men die years earlier than women of similar backgrounds, largely due to their higher rates of risky behaviors and lower rates of health-protective behaviors – which are often linked with how they show their masculinity. Men’s experience of masculinity is also shaped by other identities they hold, like their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

Also, when “masculinity” is defined by its contrast to a less-valued, stereotypical “femininity,” and when being gay is seen as being “like a girl” – which is supposedly one of the worst things a guy can be – it fuels homophobia and transphobia, which in turn foster problems for LGBTQQIA folks such as substance abuse, depression, school dropout, bullying and hate crimes.

Overall, boys and men often feel pressured to take risks or set aside parts of themselves to try to fit into unrealistic boxes of social expectation which almost no one actually fits into! And when people (of all genders) who buy into harmful gender norms hold powerful positions in institutions, patriarchy, gender inequality and the marginalization of LGBTQQIA and other groups become entrenched in social structures. The personal and the political are deeply linked.

Given this background, it’s essential that we create a critical mass of ongoing, mainstream forums, far and wide, where we can collectively discuss the costs of dominant masculinity norms, celebrate men’s fundamental beauty and humanity, and uplift healthy masculinities – in locally-led ways. We need thousands of local revolutions in gender norms and relations – for everyone’s benefit.

The Men’s Story Project (MSP) was founded in 2008 to help spark these revolutions. Over the years, we have created a replicable, research-based approach to helping groups create bold storytelling productions where men and folks who identify with masculinity publicly share personal stories – with live audiences – that challenge male norms and take a stand for gender justice. The events are filmed to create locally-relevant media and educational tools, and often lead to the formation of ongoing gender justice collectives.

Through this work, MSP teams are “crowdsourcing culture change.” The MSP is a humble and ambitious project, always reflecting and learning – with an eye on a world where all people live with love, health, and equity. 

We invite groups far and wide to get involved in creating MSP initiatives and join our community of thoughtful actors for gender justice. We look forward to connecting with you!