Duke University Opens New Program for Male Feminists

The Duke Men's Project aims to "interrogate male privilege" and destruct "toxic masculinity."

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Oct 5 2016, 4:54pm

Photo by Lumina via Stocksy

The Duke Men's Project, a program at Duke University, aims to engage men's communities on campus to "interrogate male privilege," and destruct "toxic masculinity," to create a new, healthier form of male identity. While women and women's rights organizations have and continue to fight against sexism, men are too often unaccountable for the destructive aspects of masculinity in the United States. From the restriction of reproductive rights to the sexual violence on college campuses to the murder of transgender women—even when men aren't active participants in these crimes, they often allow the burden of advocacy and outrage to fall on women and LGBT people.

In recent years, violence against women on college campuses has brought attention to the destructive behavior of young men across the United States. The country continues to witness the ill effects of masculinity on male youth, and some have suggested that in order to stop the problem you need to engage young men themselves. Duke Men's Project is doing that; on Tuesday night of this week they met for a presentation on how pornography normalizes sexual violence against women.

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In a statement issued to Broadly, Keith Lawrence, Duke University's executive director of news and communication, said: "The Duke Men's Project is a voluntary program that was developed by students and the staff of the Duke Women's Center. Men who sign up for this program can explore concepts of masculinity and how those concepts influence the world around them. The program is similar to ones on many college campuses that offer opportunities for students to explore issues related to masculinity."

Tristan Bridges is a masculinity scholar and a professor of sociology at the College at Brockport State University of New York. In an interview with Broadly, Bridges said that groups like the Duke Men's Project are "important," and he drew a parallel to the consciousness raising groups of second wave feminism that attempted to expose how personal experiences of injustice stem from institutional injustice.

The work of trying to dismantle an inherently oppressive system will always encounter resistance.

While Bridges believes that men are responsible for addressing gender inequality, he says that men need to be tread carefully in this area. Specifically, men need to ally with women who are already doing this work. "Part of the problem with claiming that men are or should have more responsibility with promoting gender equality is that it risks re-positioning men as authoritative and dominant," Bridges said. "It also risks situating women as subordinate to the leadership and authority in a movement aimed at challenging women's subordination in society." As stated by Lawrence, the Duke Men's Project is actually a subset of the Duke Women's Center, which suggests that the young men leading it are likely doing so in coalition with female feminists on campus.

While the term "toxic masculinity" is somewhat unfamiliar, according to Bridges, it is real, and "affects virtually everyone in society." Bridges defines toxic masculinity in terms of the negative expectations of American manhood, such as the expectation that men work through pain, neglect their health in order to demonstrate strength, or "express dominance through violence." While women do suffer from the results of so-called toxic masculinity, Bridges says that the victims who often go unnoticed are men themselves. According to Bridges, toxic masculinity makes men "more likely to commit violent crime," but it also makes them more likely to be victims of violent crime.

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These days it seems as if you can't throw a dildo bong without hitting a chauvinist. Such psychologically tormented individuals surround us: They type unhappy YouTube comments on Star Wars trailers complaining about female Jedi, or they write encouragingly about rape on their lame blogs. When news broke about Duke University's endeavor to create less vile forms of manhood, these fragile humans became vocal in comments on media coverage.

"They are weak man-child beta males who are afraid to take on their God given roles of protectors and providers," one sad fool scrawled below the Duke Chronicle's reporting of the Duke Men's Project. Another warned that he had been witnessing the role reversal occurring between men and women for years, citing the rise of man-buns and skinny jeans with the downfall of the masculine male empire.

In an interview with the Duke Chronicle, a member of the Duke Men's Project, student Conor Smith responded to the criticism that their program has experienced the last few days: "The work of trying to dismantle an inherently oppressive system will always encounter resistance, and what we saw in the last three days was perhaps much more accelerated and broad than we thought it was going to be, but you expect to encounter that on this campus and everywhere else."