Each month, we take a look into one speaker’s journey and how they are creating impact in their community. Ted Bunch shares with us about gender equality specifically masculinity, and manhood.
Ted Bunch, is a author, educator, activist, and lecturer working to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. Bunch is Chief Development Officer of A Call to Men and is internationally recognized for his efforts to prevent violence against women while promoting healthy, respectful manhood. He is a leading voice on male socialization, the intersection of masculinity and violence against women, and healthy, respectful manhood.
1. Ted Bunch, could you give us a brief introduction about the work you do as a gender advocate and the motivation/inspiration behind it?
A Call to Men educates men and boys all over the world on healthy, respectful manhood. Embracing and promoting a healthy, respectful manhood prevents all forms of gender-based violence. We are a violence prevention organization and respected leader on issues of manhood, male socialization and its intersection with violence, and preventing violence against all women, girls, and those at the margins of the margins. Tony Porter and I co-founded the organization nearly 20 years ago because we wanted to raise awareness of what men who do not battery or sexually assault women have in common with those who do. We recognized that in our society, men are socialized to devalue women, treat women as objects, and as the property of men. While offending individuals must be held accountable for their abusive and violent behavior, the majority of men have the power to address the larger social ill.
2. When do you decide you want to become a gender equality activist?
In 2002, Tony and I were both working as service providers with groups of men. I was the co-creator of America’s largest program for domestic violence offenders, and Tony was a leading clinician, and anti-racism activist focused on men's trauma. That’s when we found that men were the most frequent perpetrators of violence and discrimination, but women were overwhelmingly leading the work to address these issues. It was the inspiration for A Call to Men.
3. Why is important for men to be advocates and feminist allies? And how can they commit to being one?
My colleague Tony Porter just wrote a really great blog post about this topic that I would love to point your readers to. It’s called Five Questions for Men Who Want to Be Better Allies. He sums it up perfectly.
4. How can men end the “bro-code” concerning gender violence?
A Call to Men coined the term the Man Box to illustrate the collective socialization of men. The Man Box – or what you are calling the Bro Code – identifies the limitations on what a man is supposed to be and what he believes. These expectations are taught to men – sometimes unconsciously – and reinforced by society. In the Man Box, men are supposed to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless, and successful. In the Man Box, women are objects, the property of men, and have less value than men. The teachings of the Man Box allow gender-based violence to persist. The Man Box also perpetuates a heterosexist norm that devalúes all those who don’t conform to a gender binary.
But the teachings of the Man Box don’t just hurt women, girls, LGBQ, Trans, and nonbinary folks, they are also damaging to men and boys. In 2019, the American Psychological Association released its first-ever guidelines for addressing toxic masculinity. The guidelines were based on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.
5. Why can’t men feel free and comfortable with vulnerability? And how can they embrace being emotional?
Because they’ve been taught to “man up,” that “boys don’t cry,” and to “suck it up,” since they were in grade school. When we tell our boys not to cry, we are really telling them not to feel. Men are working against a lifetime of conditioning. The first thing we can do is show them that their ideas about manhood, women, and girls have been shaped by their collective socialization. The messages that the media and culture bombard us with tell us that women are objects, property, and have less value than men. Our job is to raise men’s and boys’ consciousness about their collective socialization so that they can think critically about how they might be reinforcing or passing on these harmful beliefs and so they can challenge those beliefs in other men.
A Call to Men offers an invitation to men, not an indictment of manhood. The second thing we can do is promote the practice of healthy manhood. Things like: Embracing and expressing a full range of emotion, not conforming to the pressure to always be fearless and in control, valuing a woman’s life, treating all people equally, and promoting the betterment of humanity, not using language that denigrates women and girls, developing an interest in the experience of women and girls, outside of sexual conquest, and committing to modeling a healthy, respectful manhood to other men and boys.
6. How can we end toxic masculinity and teach men and boys new ways of masculinity?
That's an important question because if we are going to make progress with this issue, we have to call men into the conversation in addition to calling them out. That's one of the reasons we don't use the term toxic masculinity. We have an appreciation for the ways that it's kept the discussion alive in the news media and on podcasts like this one. Here's my issue: If we allow men to separate themselves by saying, “I’m not that bad – look at them – those guys are the ones with that ‘toxic’ behavior,” we are missing the greatest potential for change. We men have work to do.
All men are socialized to view women as objects, the property of men, and of less value than men. These ideas are taught to men – sometimes unconsciously – and reinforced by society. From “you throw like a girl,” to the discrepancy in wages, to media and advertising, our culture reinforces a norm of male dominance all day, every day, and everywhere you look. That collective socialization lays the foundation for all forms of violence and discrimination against women to persist because ALL men are socialized to share those values – not just the ones we deem to exhibit a toxic form of masculinity. The vast majority of men are not abusive. The vast majority of men do not sexually harass. The vast majority of men do not sexually assault. But the vast majority of men are silent about the violence, harassment and abuse that women and girls, and other oppressed groups experience. That’s why I’m not willing to separate men into those categories. These men are bad. These men are just ignorant to the issues. These men are good. This creates an environment where men can say – that’s not me – I get a pass. It reinforces privilege. It allows men the option to stay quiet, to opt out of the conversation, to distance themselves from the issue.
7. How media and culture have shaped manhood and the pressure for men to reach those stereotypes?
Boys are discouraged from showing emotion by the time they are of school age. We push our boys beyond their feelings to aggression and they see it reflected back to them in video games, music, movies, and pornography. The teachings of the Man Box create a damaging cycle of harm — from insecurity and pain and shame to detachment and — too often — violence. But we know that understanding, practicing, and promoting healthy manhood is the solution to prevent violence in our communities — from bullying and male suicide to mass shootings. Healthy manhood relieves men and boys of a lifetime of trying to measure up, of trying to be man enough, of endless performance and constant suppression of emotion — all at the expense of the women, girls, LGBQ, trans, and gender-nonconforming people, as well as other men and boys.
8. Can you give any advice to the young men who have ever felt pressure on gender stereotypes?
We have to get to a place where we understand that equity means everyone wins. The liberation of men is directly tied to the liberation of women. The rigid notions of the Man Box not only lay a foundation for violence and discrimination against women and girls to persist, but they are literally killing men too. There’s a crisis of loneliness among men and male-identified folks. We’re socialized to perform a kind of solitary masculinity, and the lack of connection is killing us. Men die from suicide at a rate four times higher than women. The Man Box teaches us that we’re only “strong” if we can handle everything on our own. That asking for help and sharing emotions are signs of weakness. That keeps us from going to the doctor for nagging physical issues, keeps us from getting help for mental health issues, keeps us from asking for help in school and work which can limit our performance - look man, it keeps us from asking for directions! Healthy manhood is the solution. Healthy manhood allows us to show a wide range of emotion. Healthy manhood allows us to ask for help and not always feel like we have to be in control. Healthy manhood allows us to value women and girls and care about them outside of sexual conquest. Healthy manhood paves the way for equity.