What is a “macho” man?

ImageMachismo—the mere utterance of this word stirs up an array of emotions. For some, it evokes great male pride, and for others, it reeks of negativity and abuse. Growing up, I associated the word with one thing, wrestling. My favorite wrestler was Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and after watching Macho Man’s signature moves on TV, I would emulate them during matches with my younger brother and step-dad, proving that I too could be “macho.” At the time, this word “macho,” seemed to epitomize what I wanted to be—a fighter that was cool, powerful, strong, and in control. After all, these characteristics were not only being portrayed by my favorite wrestler, but they were also being acted out right in front of me by some of the males in my own family and community. I was being conditioned to be a macho man, but what does that mean? What is a “macho” man?

Many studies have been conducted to answer this very question, but a wide range of conflicting responses still exist. For every connotation of the word “macho,” there seems to be a philosophical debate. The literal definition, however, is difficult to refute. In simple terms, the word “macho” means one thing — “male.” The phrase “macho man,” therefore, is actually somewhat redundant because to be macho merely means to be a male.

The clash over machismo occurs when people begin to equate being male with being a man. Boys learn how to be a man from television, music, movies, literature, and most importantly from the other men in their lives. As they get older, however, each man must decide for himself what kind of man he is going to be. Will he place drugs and alcohol before his family, or will he come home eager to spend time with his wife and children? Will he be the husband who beats his wife just like his father beat his mother, or will he treat his partner as an equal and share household responsibilities? Will he gather with friends to make racist, anti-feminist, or homophobic jokes, or will he seek to be understanding of those who are different from him? Will he coax other young men to participate in chauvinistic practices, or will he serve as a positive role model, challenging traditional stereotypes? In the end, only he can decide.

For me, the wrestling fan, the decision came after much self-discovery. I came to the conclusion that I would embrace the idea of being macho—of being a male—without all the preconceived notions about what a man should or should not be. There’s only one problem, though, with not following preconceived ideas. There’s a lot of room for error when you have to figure out things on your own. So, although I have a clear picture of what kind of son, brother, friend, husband, and father I want to be, I still need occasional help and support from the men in my life to make sure that my picture remains in focus.

Every man should paint their own picture of what kind of man he wants to be, and if enough men paint with respect, then perhaps, a grand masterpiece of tolerance and nonviolence will be created in our communities.

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Engaging Men Beyond SAAM

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Spring is a time for new beginnings, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with its diverse set of events can offer your center an avenue through which to forge new alliances with men in your community. Take the time to plant the seeds at your events and then nurture these new relationships through the following four steps.

Invite – Contact men who participated in your events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month as this is an opportunity to establish a long-term relationship with these men. Extending personal invitations is ideal, but since it is not always possible to meet or involve folks in person utilize a dedicated page on your website, a Facebook page, newsletters, e-mail updates, a blog, informational meetings at various times and locations, other forms of social media, or phone calls to provide men with a sense of investment and ongoing involvement. Regardless of the method you decide on for communication, use every opportunity to learn about other male leaders you should talk to and continue asking these men for more names in order to build a stronger network of male allies. Along the way, collect contact information for each man that you speak with, such as name, address, phone-numbers, e-mail address, and more importantly skill-set and experience.

Raise Consciousness – Help men explore their personal and collective role in ending all forms of sexual violence. Share information by creating a lending library of books, articles, zines, films, and magazines (recommended resources on pages 40-45 of TAASA 2014 SAAPM Toolkit), or if this is not possible, share on-line articles, blogs, websites, newsletters, and videos through social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Encourage men to organize and establish book/article discussion groups with male co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family members, and friends or post reviews of books related to themes of healthy masculinity and sexual violence prevention on their personal social media accounts. Join the Texas Men’s Nonviolence Project and the National Men Against Violence list-serves or organize a Google+ Hangout or Twitter chat for men to further their discussions. Finally, organize, promote, and offer your own trainings/workshops on a variety of topics facilitated by local community members for no cost or for a minimal fee. Refer to your established network of male allies to find men that can lead these workshops or consult with the TAASA prevention team to provide you, your staff, volunteers, and men in your community with free training and technical assistance in order to support and enhance your efforts to prevent sexual violence with men.

Take Risks – Try something new, forge unexpected relationships, step out of your comfort zone, and resist the temptation to become complacent. This requires open-mindedness, courage, and a willingness to allow men from the community to lead particular endeavors. Experiment with different strategies, activities, and environments, utilizing the ideas presented in the TAASA 2014 SAAPM Toolkit throughout the year rather than solely in the month of April. Think evaluatively about your efforts. Ask the men who participate why they can and/or continue to stay engaged. Notice the effect of both long and short-term work with a specific group of men and the different ways that different groups of men are impacted. Make mistakes, ask for feedback, adjust, try again, and always striving to improve your men’s engagement efforts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and not know the answer – to fail, and to succeed.

Evaluate – Even if your organization has involved men in various roles for some time, it is important to constantly reevaluate. Get these men together to continue talking about the issues and create opportunities to listen to various groups of men in your community. These discussions can happen on the street, at churches, college dorms, recreation centers, or anywhere where men gather. More importantly, recruit and train men to organize and facilitate these discussions. Document these conversations, collect the information, review it, and share it with key stakeholders in your community. This information will continue to inform your process and provide insight into the interests, availability and expertise of men in your community. Use this as an opportunity to continue to conduct focus groups, especially with groups of men that have not had contact with your organization, whether it is a group of immigrants or members of a particular faith community. It’s critical to value and appreciate the experiences that each man shares with you and your team along the way. Invite men to share what they have learned and accomplished through poetry, photographs, stories, art, and writing. Celebrate and acknowledge each “historic moment” and embrace the failures as an opportunity to try again, consistently revisiting the four steps in cyclical fashion.

As you follow these steps, TAASA is ready to spring into action and assist you in any way we can so that you may continue to cultivate and grow your primary prevention efforts with men beyond SAAM. Contact us for support at prevention@taasa.org.

Cesar Chavez: A Model of Men’s Nonviolence

If you walk into my home office you will see two posters one of Emiliano Zapata and the other of Cesar Chavez.  Both of these men struggled for the rights of the poor and oppressed and organized movements that changed society; however, the tactics they used to achieve this social change differed greatly.  As we approach his birthday on March 31, I would like to reflect on the example of change set forth by Cesar Chavez.

Chavez once said:

Nonviolence is not inaction.  It is not discussion.  It is not for the timid or weak… nonviolence is hard work.  It is the willingness to sacrifice.  It is the patience to win.

No one lived these words better than the man himself.  Cesar Chavez modeled a deeper meaning of nonviolence, not just as a way of acting but as a basic principle of life.  He realized that in order to change the world, he had to be willing to start with himself; therefore, in 1962, he resigned from his post of national director of the Community Service Organization and founded the United Farm Workers of America.  Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the Southern Civil Rights movement, Chavez humbly led the union for more than three decades with nonviolence as the guiding tenet for all of his actions.  Even in the face of violent attacks from landowners and growers, Chavez maintained his commitment to nonviolence, organizing and participating in successful strikes and boycotts, as well as fasting for nearly a month on several occasions to send a message to farm workers, who began to speak of responding in kind to the violent assaults against them.  Chavez sacrificed personally, going days without eating, earning less than $6,000 a year, never owning a house, and leaving his family with no savings upon his death in April of 1993, but his sacrifice and dedication won fair wages, medical coverage, humane living conditions, and above all dignity and respect for farm workers.  Cesar Chavez was an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary feats, always believing que “sí se puede.”

Join me in signing the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the United Farm Workers petition asking President Obama to create a National Day of Service on Cesar Chavez’s Birthday.  I praise both organizations for their work and encourage others to join their efforts, bringing to life the words of Cesar Chavez:

When you have people together who believe in something very strongly – whether it’s religion or politics or unions, things happen…. We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.

In this time, when so much emphasis is placed on self-preservation and retaliation, may the words and legacy of Cesar Chavez inspire and challenge us all to become the peace we seek in our community and in the world.