On the campus where I work, some of the students I advise just finished hosting a Women’s Empowerment Week. We were fortunate to have a grant that allowed us to provide a wide variety of programming – leadership and empowerment workshops geared towards college women, discussion surrounding feminism’s origin and necessity in society today, reflection on how the media portrays women, and exploration of women’s issues in the world. In short, it was amazing and fostered a greater dialogue about how women can support themselves and each other as they go through life.
In the wake of this programming, I had to ask myself – what would a men’s empowerment week look like? What kind of programming is even happening to empower men? I know some of my colleagues in the field might share that men are already privileged by virtue of their gender and they don’t need anything more to help them be powerful. But, as I wrote earlier, that’s not the picture that I see. Men need programming and dialogues about their issues as well, so what could it look like? I’ve thought of four overarching areas that we could serve and educate men to help them be better throughout their lives.
Owning and using male power. Men, please hear this – we have power. We have power by virtue of our gender, our size, and our society. And I’m not saying that we are bad people for having this power. Having power as a male is kind of like owning a car; if you own your behaviors and use it properly, you can help out so many people. If you throw it around or use it without regard others who are less powerful or less protected, you will hurt them. This power is something we need to talk about. What does it mean to be stronger (in general) than the female gender? What responsibilities should that place on us? What does it mean to be in a culture that is dominated by males at the leadership levels and how can we use the power that we have to bring everyone up, rather than just “our own”? The HeForShe movement is calling on us to use our power properly. Will we answer? When we own our power in a right and responsible way, when we tame the hurricane energy, we can change the world.
Embracing our softer side. I say softer side rather than feminine, because it’s time to stop calling certain emotions masculine or feminine. Yes, biologies are different, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all seek to have both strength and tenderness. Get a group of guys in a room and one of the last things they’ll want to talk about is their feelings and the softer side of their being. But this is essential. If we bottle up qualities like caring (sympathy and empathy), love, and kindness, we lose access to an entire half of our being. We must create spaces where these conversations can happen and where men can feel comfortable acting on these “softer” emotions. This is all about “marrying the queen”.
Building up one another. I wrote about relationship being part of the DNA of masculinity, and it is absolutely essential for us to talk about it. Too many men will go through life without a true friend, a true comrade in arms to stay by them and encourage, sympathize, and challenge them. Instead, what happens for many men is they encounter criticism (to their face or behind their backs) about their worth and qualities as a “man”. We will get no where cutting each other down; we will get everywhere when we treat everyone with respect.
Striving and thriving. Men are catching a bad rap for not performing well in school. They also catch flack for performing well in school. When did it become uncool to strive after a goal; when did it become the norm for males to want success to appear easy to come by? We should be celebrating those men who sweat to make themselves better – be it in the classroom, on the athletic field, or on the job. And we should be finding ways to inspire this same striving and thriving in growing young men. In wanting to make everything look easy, we drag each other and ourselves down.
These are some of the conversations we need to have. As men, we should be coming together to discuss our strength and how we can use it and looking deep into our souls for the tender male that lives inside. We should be embracing one another as friends. And we should be encouraging active reaching for excellence in our daily lives. This is men’s empowerment; this is positive masculinity.