Our mission is to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men's violence against women.
by Elizabeth S., The George Washington University
When I co-directed The George Washington University’s production of The Vagina Monologues this past February, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect both performances to sell out. I also didn’t expect to see many men in the audience, but I was wrong on both counts.
Let’s backtrack a little—I’m a women’s studies major who loves The Vagina Monologues and thinks it’s a really powerful and relatable play. However, I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist. My co-directors and the boards of GW’s NOW (National Organization for Women) and FMLA (Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance) wanted to have a large and diverse audience, so we created fliers specifically for men in addition to our regular poster. On them, we suggested 5 reasons for guys to see The Vagina Monologues, which included “your girlfriend,” “your mom,” and other female relatives. In retrospect, such pitches seem pretty narrow-minded. Neither men nor women exist in a social vacuum, but defining people primarily by their relationships to others isn’t a good thing either.
The play highlights different types of relationships that women have with men and with themselves, a topic that came up in our post-show discussions. These discussions marked a turning point in my understanding of masculinity, and my first interaction with GW Men of Strength, a student group dedicated to preventing violence by promoting healthy masculinity. I saw both men and women question the representation of men in the monologues and in society, and ask about things that they disagreed with or didn’t understand. One man expressed that he didn’t really connect with the play and asked why he should care about it, but he was never shamed or put down for voicing his opinion (nor was anyone else in attendance). In that room, the cast, audience, and guest speakers had created a safe and welcoming space, and participated openly in meaningful conversation. Having these kinds of events and spaces on campus provide people, regardless of gender, with opportunities to learn and let their voices be heard, a crucial factor in establishing a better understanding of healthy masculinity.
I am privileged to attend a university where men are encouraged to see shows like The Vagina Monologues instead of being ostracized for it, where fraternity brothers, athletes, and activists alike will don high heels to “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” where men help teach each other about using their strength for good, and where the Men of Strength club not only accommodates women like me, but warmly welcomes anyone who wants to join.
Instead of dominant stories and stereotypical tropes, I have come to see the bigger picture of men’s roles regarding themselves, their peers, and women. Through my experiences this year, and especially through Men of Strength, I’ve learned that there is a place for everyone, especially women in understanding healthy masculinity. Healthy masculinity isn’t just about educating men; it’s about all people modifying their attitudes and actions to reflect a respectful, nonjudgmental cultural outlook. While this is easier said than done, I’m really excited about the work my school and groups like Men of Strength can do, and I’m even more excited to be a part of it.