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The Men's Story Project: Promoting "Healthy Masculinity" as a Means to Improve Women's Health » Women's Courage

The Men's Story Project: Promoting "Healthy Masculinity" as a Means to Improve Women's Health

February 23rd, 2012 by tatum Leave a reply »

This week, to continue with my theme of men’s involvement in reproductive health interventions I decided to write about The Men’s Story Project (MSP). It may seem that because the project focuses on men and masculinity that it does not relate to this course on women’s health, but I believe that this project will ultimately have important implications for the treatment of women and thus for women’s health. I have learned in class and through research for my blog the extent to which our patriarchal society and unequal treatment of women is to blame for the health problems facing women. I wrote in previous blog posts about the importance of involving men in women’s reproductive health as a way to educate men on women’s health and rights, but there remains the question of whether education will alter men’s understanding of women’s rights and the value society places on women. I think that MSP has the potential to affect these deeper societal changes regarding the perceived value of women. While The Men’s Story Project does not have the improvement of women’s health and rights as a stated goal, the effect that it has on men’s understanding of themselves and of gender roles will have important implications for women’s rights and health.

The mission statement of The Men’s Story Project is: “To strengthen social norms that support healthy masculinities and gender equality, and to help eliminate gender-based violence, homophobia and other oppressions that are intertwined with masculinities, through ongoing events of men’s public story-sharing and community dialogue.” The project involves a diverse group of men presenting pieces that they have created about their own lives to their community. The ultimate goal of the project, which is replicable in any community, is to help increase the “presence of genuine self-expression, peace, health and justice in communities. According to the MSP website the project is intended for local implementation and evaluation around the world.

It is undeniable that gender norms play a large role in the health of women worldwide. Much discussion has been devoted to negative societal pressures on girls, but less attention is paid to pressures that are detrimental to boys. MSP aims to reverse the social training of men and the implications it has on communities. As Josie Lehrer, the founder of the Men’s Story Project stated “a lot of this social training that men receive can yield harm for their health and well-being and also in turn for the health and well-being of men and women and people of all genders around them.” Discussions about gender roles must extend to both women and men if widespread change is to be made. MSP addresses the side of gender and societal role issues that is often overlooked, avoided or ignored.

Another aspect of MSP that contributes to its effectiveness is that it is community-based. As we have encountered repeatedly in the study of global health, community interventions (community health workers, for example) are an extremely effective way to improve health and affect societal change. The men in this project are communicating and expressing their vulnerability to their own communities. They are educating their neighbors about what it means to be a man in this society and what they wish it meant to be a man in this society.

Overall MSP has been extremely well received and has been successful in changing people’s understandings of gender roles and the value of women. Audience members have described the project with words such as inspiring, transformative, freeing, and affirming. Women audience members have commented that witnessing this on stage has humanized men for them. The project has the potential to transform gender roles and gender relationships at a community level and ultimately affect the underlying issues defining the health status of women worldwide. I would be interested to see what sort of impact The Men Project could have in the developing world. It may be extremely difficult to get men to agree to participate in communities in developing countries, but if this barrier could be overcome I truly believe that this project could have an incredible impact on gender roles and ultimately women’s health worldwide.

 

 

Sources:

1. http://www.mensstoryproject.org/background.html

2. http://ultimatemenssummit.com/node/16021

3. CNN News Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIv_0qaFCTw&feature=player

4. http://www.darkhollowfilms.com/?p=462#more-462

5. http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009summer/cafe2/article/70

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5 comments

  1. mp says:

    I love this and think it is so necessary. I looked at the website and noticed it started in San Francisco, and that makes me so happy — I feel like the U.S. really needs this sort of thing. I’m not sure if I should share this example here, but it’s relevant to why I think this project is so important: There was a quiz created using statements from convicted serial rapists and also from men’s magazines, and the statements were SO similar that it was basically impossible to figure out if the men’s magazine said this or the rapist. They were things like “If a woman is wearing a short skirt, she’s asking for it,” and also some very graphic things. If men’s magazines, that teen boys are possibly growing up reading, portray women in the same was as someone as evil and violent as a serial rapist………..what does this say about our society?

    That is why it’s so powerful when a man stands up for women’s rights and against gender-based violence because it sets a good example for other men who don’t know if they can take a stand, or don’t care, or don’t even realize there are problems.

  2. surabhi says:

    I really appreciate the perspective you have explored, and I completely agree that we often ignore almost half the issue. At the same time, I found myself worrying about the exact communities that this format of a program could target, especially in the developing world. We have talked about a lot of community interventions, and they seem to involve communities by offering them something that they are in need of, while developing a sustainable give-and-take relationship. I think that finding the argument that can lead men (who are traditionally in situations of power) to become invested in a program like MSP is key.

  3. eliana says:

    I thought your post was great and I think you’re right that programs like these, which involve changing men’s views of women, will be extremely instrumental in changing our society’s view on women and on men. I also think this is a very creative solution to this problem as well because it not only changes what them men in the program think, but it raises awareness of these issues of gender in society when they perform publicly. Where is this currently taking place? Do you know how it started or if more branches are currently being created across the country? I would be really curious to know.

  4. nruthya says:

    I agree with you completely. Several times in class we have recognised that sustainable and long-lasting change within society in the matter of women’s issues can only happen if we can get the men in on the conversation. It is there that the key lies to change lives for the women in this world. How then can we translate something like this into areas with low education and deeply rooted tradition and patriarchal systems? I believe just making men more aware of the problems and the extent to which it hurts society and them directly can easily be translated into a universal message applicable in any country.

  5. martha says:

    You’re absolutely right that men’s views and attitudes towards their gender and women affects women’s as well. This reminds me of someone’s post a few weeks ago regarding training males about sexual assault and harassment on campus, which (if I can remember correctly) made the men less likely to act in such negative ways. In how many cities has this story project taking place? And what are those cities like? I would imagine among certain populations the project would not be as well received. Like you, I’m also interested to see if such a project could be implemented in the developing world.

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