(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
In a recent column decrying the murder of longtime City Hall staffer Linda Rios-Neuby by her husband, Philly.com’s Will Bunch defined toxic masculinity as “a poisonous mix of a craving for male supremacy, an inability to properly channel emotions and an inevitable turn toward violence when things are not working out.”
Social services nonprofit Lutheran Settlement House (LSH) is launching a nine-month gender justice training program for men in association with its anti-domestic violence campaign Men Can. The Masculinity Action Project (MAP) will convene 10 to 15 male-identified Philadelphians to learn about the root causes of toxic masculinity and what they can do about it, then make plans to implement those lessons via community projects.
Starting with a weekend-long retreat this October and meeting monthly through June 2019, participants will learn feminist movement history, discuss their own experiences with toxic masculinity and support each other in developing best practices for overcoming its effects.
Richie Schulz, a community educator and lead trainer at LSH, said the program continues the work of Men Can — which involves an annual rally, community conversations and other awareness projects — in furthering the idea that it’s men’s collective responsibility to eliminate domestic abuse.
“We realized we wanted to have a much more focused, long-term strategic effort in terms of transforming some of the roots causes we’ve identified” as causing toxic masculinity, Schulz said. The reach of MAP will be smaller, but deeper, building the capacity of just a few dedicated participants to make bigger change on their own.
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The end result for each MAP member will be an individualized plan they can bring back to their communities (their neighborhoods, church groups, workplaces, etc.) and implement for the sake of furthering gender justice.
But that end result is intentionally vague at the start: “We don’t know” what participants will come up with, said Vashti Bledsoe, director of LSH’s bilingual domestic violence program offering services in Spanish and English, “and that’s exciting.”
Participants could, for instance, suggest new gender justice-focused policies or programming within their organizations; start a book club that exclusively reads books about breaking down toxic masculinity; join a women of color-led social justice movement; or anything else, said Toby Fraser, LSH’s manager for community education.
The program is meant for men who aren’t sure how to act but want to, and are “trying to rethink what action looks like for men in social change work,” Schulz said.
LSH is hoping for a diverse group of men when considering factors such as age, class, experience, race, education, etc. Those with a history of abuse or violence are even encouraged to apply. The only common trait: “There’s a similar [negative] thread of how masculinity affects people,” Fraser said.
MAP programming was developed with similar programs such as the now-defunct Challenging Male Supremacy Project in New York City and Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Ten Men in mind, Fraser said, plus consulting help from Oakland Men’s Project founder Paul Kivel and Philadelphia-based Training for Change’s Celia Kutz.
(While it bears resemblance to Bread & Roses Community Fund’s social justice education and fundraising program, Giving Projects, Schulz said the fund’s leadership wasn’t directly consulted.)
The program is free to participants and supported by existing Men Can funding, including a grant from the Valentine Foundation, a grant maker benefitting women and girls, Bledsoe said. She hopes MAP will become an annual program and grow beyond LSH, and that past participants will become its future mentors: “Each one teach one.”-30-
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