Communications and Marketing Fellow Josh Axelrod traveled to A Call to Men Conference in September 2017 to deconstruct toxic masculinity and study the parallels between changemaking and social justice. Josh is majoring in English and Political Economy.
Toxic masculinity is a poison that infects our entire society, a virus that starts with young boys and eventually touches all genders and races. This limiting perception of masculinity reinforces a patriarchal society where men are forced to exhibit aggression, power, strength, and lack of emotion which in turn perpetuates sexual violence and dominance against women.
As the fight against sexual violence on college campuses rages on, male students are often seen as the enemy on the other side of the battlefield instead of potential allies who might join the ranks of female soldiers in solidarity. A Call to Men challenges this notion, empowering men to cast away toxic masculinity in a new approach to sexual violence prevention.
This past week, I enjoyed the immense privilege of attending the A Call To Men conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a two-day function filled with speakers, roundtables, discussions and creative performance. The conference was focused on empowering young men to escape “The Man Box” and embrace their authentic selves.
“The Man Box” encompasses dominance, fearlessness, strength, and success, while labeling all who do not conform to these standards not a true man. To dissolve this problematic schema, we must allow boys to demonstrate their true emotions, display their authentic personalities, and most importantly teach the value of respect towards women.
The conference featured a number of roundtables where men spoke on these issues. Each conversation was moderated by a woman, and the event was opened and closed by a woman, a symbolic way to demonstrate how the conversation must always return to the fair treatment of women and hold men accountable while still engaging them in action.
For me, the most resonant part of the discussion was seeing men take the stage and present an unflinching version of themselves. Ex-NFL and NBA players spoke on fear and wanting to belong, a transgender man recounted feeling uncomfortable with his body, and a father cried, speaking about his son and the immense love he holds for him.
These unapologetic displays of emotion and vulnerability are uncommon in our society, as they are more often replaced with images of men acting tough and belittling women. The speakers urged the men in the audience to follow their lead, break out of the man box, and show others a society in which men can be their authentic selves.
The conference also focused on a number of other crucial themes: examining the intersections of oppression, building relationships, meeting people where they are, and using art as an entry point for conversation.
The largest takeaway was a challenging one that I am still grappling with – being an ally to women, people of color, and marginalized communities requires lifelong work. It involves critical thinking and growth and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Understanding my white male privilege will be a process that I can never finish.
As a changemaker on Tulane’s campus it is essential that I play my part in opening these conversations. I must look closely to identify problematic behavior and implement the tools I learned to affect Tulane’s social male culture.
A Call to Men inspired me to continue my path towards social justice by building relationships with others, withholding judgement, and, most importantly, maintaining humility, intentionality, and creativity. I’m eager to combat toxic masculinity in our society while acknowledging that the war does not begin or end with me; I’m merely one soldier wielding a sword, in a massive army of others looking to fight injustice and secure a better world for all humans.
By Josh Axelrod