Posted by: joshjasper | September 7, 2015

You Want Answers??

I don’t think I know “George,” but his comment on my last blog post inspired me to get writing again.

“So Josh Jasper…that is your solution?  To ask males to be introspective?  How do we go about doing this and changing the culture of hate and killing?  Please advise.”

Thanks for asking, George.  Let’s get right into it.

There’s an exercise that’s been around for years that takes a close look at gender stereotypes and masculinity and in my humble opinion, does a really nice job peeling back the layers of why boys and men behave the way they do.

To begin, I share with attendees that we are going to play a bit of a word association game called the “Man Box.”  I explain that I’m going to share a statement and I want to know the very first words that come to your mind.

The statement:

What are the very first words that come to mind when you think about what it means to be a stereotypical man in today’s society?…What’s it mean to be a REAL man??

Before taking any answers, I remind them about our previous conversation about how men are portrayed in the media, in music, video games, television, movies and everywhere else.

I have done this exercise in Dubuque, Iowa and Brisbane, Australia and nearly everywhere in between and the answers are ALWAYS the same and it looks like this:

man box

These are the words that are shared every single time when asked to describe a stereotypical man.  I pause for a few moments for everyone to soak this in and then ask another question and remind everyone to blurt out the very first word that comes to mind, no matter how offensive they think it may be.

The statement:

If you’re not being a real man in today’s society, you’re a what?

Here are the responses that are shared EVERY SINGLE TIME outside of the box:

outside the box

“These are your words,” I remind everyone.  Take a hard look at what’s going on here and consider for a moment how young boys and men’s behaviors are shaped by this type of messaging.

It’s time to dissect the box and so I ask where people want to start.  Outside or inside?

Outside, it is!  Each time I do this exercise, one theme always emerges.  If you’re not being a real man in today’s society, you’re either one of these two groups of people.  Do you see it?  That’s right.  You’re either gay or you’re a woman.  And let’s be clear here, we’re not celebrating homosexuality or being a woman on the outside of this box.  We are using some of the most derogatory terms imaginable to describe these people. Additionally, let’s ask ourselves WHY you think those two groups of people are singled out every single time.  Of course this is because women and homosexuals are seen as less than in our society; inferior, weaker.

Let’s move inside of the box for a moment.  It’s here that always gives me the most pause.  I ask the men in the room to raise their hand if they are everything that is inside of this box.  “Raise your hand if you are nothing more than what is described here.”  No one ever raises their hand.  But every man in the room will share the pressure they feel to stay securely inside those four walls.

Most of the words inside of the box by themselves are not a problem.  It’s okay to be strong, tough and aggressive.  But why is it that when I ask people what they mean by “strong,” the answer is ALWAYS about physical strength.  NEVER does strength have to do with character of character.  We must broaden the definitions of these words for the young men in our community and introduce new words like courage, integrity, respect and empathy.

Boys and men are not seeing enough men in their lives with those characteristics.  They certainly are not seeing that from the way the media portrays men.

At this point I share what I have found talking to high school men throughout the country.  I ask young men what they do when they get angry and it’s always one of two things.

  1. I hit something.
  2. I hit someone.

When we teach young men that they must repress their emotions, that they must not cry at all costs and that the only emotion they can feel and act out upon is anger and rage, well, are we really surprised when they do?  We must teach our boys how to effectively express their feelings in healthy ways that meet their ongoing needs.  And if someone in the home can’t do that for them, we need to find a mentor, a friend or a family member to step up.  This is a community effort.  We all have something at stake here.

Back to the whiteboard and to George’s question.  Here it is George:

We need to redefine what it means to be a man that doesn’t include abusing power and control.  We must better equip ourselves with the tools to help young boys and men with their fears and insecurities so that they are not trying to fill that empty void with drugs and violence.  This is about empathy.  Equality.  Respect.  And maybe most importantly, this is about love; the unconditional love of oneself and for one another.

I was angry in my last blog post because I know in all my heart that this is all doable.  We can make a difference.  But we have to be willing to put in the work.  Right now.  We can’t wait anymore.  Please.

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Responses

  1. This is obvious that it is painful. we are so domesticated to be something negative and unnatural. I am a feeling man, and I am told that I am in touch with my woman’s side more than most. How crazy that a man cannot be a man if he is feeling but only a woman. It is all part of how we raise our children and a major paradigm shift is necessary, but first we need to become more aware.


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