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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Join us for Kansas Dad's Summit: Saturday June 4th 10am-2pm

Sponsored by: Healthy Families of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties

Saturday, June 4th 10a.m.- 2p.m. Cabela's 10300 Cabela's Drive, Kansas City, Kansas in Legends Shopping Center

Featured speakers: "Coaching Boys Into Men" Brian Porch & Andre Tyler former Tampa Bay Buccaneer
-AND- "Man Up!" David Belt, with MOCSA

For Dads Attending this Free Event: Free Gift Card, Door Prizes, and BBQ Lunch Provided

Pre-registration required by June 2nd: Call Terri at 913-371-2220ext1254 OR Patty at 913-621-2016ext1205.

Organized by: Kansas Children's Service League and Circle of Parents

“What’s in Your Cup?”: Masculinity in Drink Form

Have you ever lost your “man card”?

Apparently I did and didn’t even realize it….

As many of you probably know, men strive to be “real men” via a variety of behaviors. This results from years of conditioning of them as boys and men by a variety of sources. Of course, this is not true of all circumstances but is an idea that appears to be prevalent among many groups of individuals. Men and boys who deviate from normal masculinity are considered to be societal deviants, to be abnormal or weird, and are still (even in 2011) often considered to be gay or “effeminate”. This relates to the “man card” in a sense that “losing it” is the equivalent to being gay or to being abnormal. This appears to be true of bar culture specifically, with which I have quite a bit of experience given I am employed by a restaurant/bar.

When I order a drink at a bar or restaurant, I generally don’t decide what I want based on what is “manly” but on what sounds good. One time, I ordered a cosmopolitan at a bar. An acquaintance of mine was nearby (though not really hanging out with me), and interjected, “Those pink drinks are for b-----s. Why the hell would you order that s---, man?” I was appalled, as I would not have thought he would talk to me like that, nor did I see a problem with the drink I chose.

Another time, I ordered a dirty martini, for which I was chastised by a coworker. He poked fun at my “marteenee” and continued to drink his beer. In a sense, he implied it was a delicate, light drink for wimps. Unfortunately, this type of commentary is common in the bar context, and continues to be present when men do not interrogate the social norms that dictate what beverages they “should” order. This is true of their behavior as well, as they should be willing to contradict social expectations of normativity but are often unable to do so due to peer pressure.

On, there is currently a list of the “Top 10 manly summer drinks”. The caption reads, “You’re a man, so sipping on a drink that’s garnished with an umbrella or a small tropical forest is not an option.” What does that mean? How does a drink with a miniature paper umbrella connote femininity?!? Furthermore, why does it matter? When we have expectations of men to behave in certain ways, we tell them that other behaviors are wrong or inappropriate. This causes them to view such behaviors as weak and less than equal to their own.

In regards to the list of drinks, what about them is “manly”? Sure, there are “strong drinks” including whiskey sour and Moscow Mule. Among them, though, is the vodka martini. Perhaps the culture allows drinks of this sort to be considered “manly” once an “expert” like claims they are.

At present, who decides that such behaviors (and drinks) are manly? The answer: We do! “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails” and “Boys will be boys” are two common expressions that relate to gender, with the latter being more relevant to this post. Why do we as a society consistently adhere to the ideals that gender is a “natural” concept? Likewise, why do we not allow individuals to deviate from such “natural” behaviors? I'm still not sure. Maybe because it is just easier that way.

So, if I order a martini, does that make me lose my man card? I don’t think so—James Bond drinks martinis, and is in some ways the epitome of masculinity. And yes, I consistently prefer mine shaken, not stirred.

Mark Halastik

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reality Check: The Power of Language

If you were the star of your own reality show, how would your character tell its story? Cinéma vérité is a style of documentary film making that blends reality with staged set-ups for maximum effect. It was the predecessor of today’s reality television genre. Provocative language is common, even encouraged. It escalates conflict, which heightens drama, which trounces Matlock reruns any day. But cinéma vérité does not have a lock on the power of language.

Rewind: “Dad, you made that Grace your bitch.” On its own, that quote from Talladega Nights (a Will Ferrell comedy) may seem like a harmless “kids say the darnedest things” candidate. I used to quote it, as an obtuse compliment to friends when they accomplished something particularly challenging: finishing a tough home improvement project, winning a weekend softball game, beating the IRS etc. I considered it a harmless “guy thing” -- only now I know it is not harmless and may – singularly or as part of a cumulative effect – be quite harmful. How?

Fast forward: MOCSA volunteer training 2011. The Man Up facilitators walked us through a “how bad is it?” analysis exercise where we considered various phrases or actions and ranked them low-to-high in context of how damaging we perceived them to be to women. Initially, I would have ranked the movie quote low. It’s a quote! From a comedy! Said by child actor! Our group’s discussion, though, led me down a different path: the casualization of derogatory language is just one way that men ( and society in general) can demean or degrade women, even unintentionally.

Pause: Having grown up with three sisters and plenty of female friends, I do not consider myself abusive or even chauvinistic. So how does a sensitive (I work at Hallmark for crown’s sake!) guy like me get his foundation shaken? Fatherhood. Now when I listen to the radio, watch TV, read books and blogs and interact with others, I do so with a keen ear toward defamatory words: alone or as part of a social cycle of verbal degradation. My slow evolution from “tool” to a more thoughtful dad and citizen has been a timely and necessary change. Fatherhood, and working at a company with a strong female leadership presence will do that to a guy. And I’m grateful. And I’m beginning to realize more and more the true power of language, beyond that which is just sexist. ANYTHING that minimizes another person is not OK. Here are a few observations; I encourage you to reflect on your own, too:

1) Sarcasm has a weak exchange rate in the emotional economy. I used to love the stuff, tossing out barbs here and there to keep the conversation going, interesting, stimulating…at least to me. Now I have my own live-in reality check, my daughter, who is a mirror and a megaphone. When I grimace, she grimaces. If I ask her, “Did you CLEAN your room?” I can pretty much expect a “Yes, I CLEANED it.” Touche!

2) Ke$ha kannot be kontained. I’ve tried changing the radio station, downplaying her relevance to contemporary society, explained the difference between creative and trashy…and yet “…brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack” seems to seep its way into our car radio play. Teaching moment: I asked my daughter if she knew what that lyric meant; she said she did not. I explained that Jack is short for Jack Daniels, and brushing your teeth with it makes no sense, and “I got it, Dad” was served up swiftly.

3) Overhearing doesn’t justify over-reacting. I’m all about diversity, and don’t shy away from a range of cultural events ranging from the downtown symphony to Santa Caligon Days in Independence, from tuxedo dinners to Taco Bell. With my family as company, we hear a lot that is not meant for the common ear, and often its an interchange between males about female passers-by. My shoulders tense when I hear a wolf-whistle being directed toward a woman, or my all-time-most-degrading-least-favorite overheard comment: “I’d like to tap that.” SERIOUSLY?!? Do guys (or any human being) think it’s OK to use that language? Dreadful.

4) Repetition risks affirmation. The Talladega Nights movie quote is an example; I used to repeat it so often that the word “bitch” lost its meaning. But taken to its truest, earliest meaning – am I OK with anything being compared to a female dog? No I am not, and by NOT repeating that language – as well as addressing (in safe environments) those who do, I can help stop the cycle of verbal abuse. Whether it’s said to a woman or not is immaterial; that which is said ABOUT women is just as offensive.

5) It’s OK to substitute, with creativity. Instead of saying “bitch and moan” I can use the word “complain.” Instead of quoting that line from Talladega nights, I can offer up a heartfelt but demonstrative high-five accompanied by a “YESSSSSS!”

For one week, take the language challenge. Be aware of what you say, read, hear or observe; how rampant is sexist/derogatory language in your social/work circle? Are you part of the problem? Have you perpetuated sexist language unintentionally? If you answer “Ye$” to any of these questions, you have room for improvement. And on behalf of MOCSA’s Man Up movement and dads and daughters everywhere, I hope you’ll use the power of language for good. Trust me. It’s a lot better than my mom’s method: dirty mouth = bar of soap.

Derek McCracken

Monday, May 9, 2011

Should Colleges Ban Fraternities?

The New York Times website hosts a rather interesting op-ed page titled “Room for Debate.” Every so often they pose a timely, thought provoking, controversial question to a host of panelists that have some sort of firsthand knowledge directly pertaining to the issue at hand. The most recent such question was whether or not colleges should ban fraternities. The issue is then supplemented by an acknowledgement of recent studies that have shown that fraternity members tend to both abuse alcohol and behave inappropriately towards women more so than their non-Greek peers.

While the question of whether or not banning fraternities from American campuses would have any real effect in cutting down on alcohol abuse and incidents of sexual violence elicited a whole host of insightful responses, the two most interesting were those of Nicholas Syrett and Charles Eberly, both professors at major public universities. Syrett of the Univeristy of Northern Colorado, puts forth an argument of which the crux is that universities are ultimately responsible for the negative actions of the fraternities they host and that when it comes to the chicken or egg-reminiscent question of whether misogyny among college men is brought on by fraternities or if fraternities simply attract already misogynistic men, he believes that both are true. However, Syrett also believes that while people will naturally join groups whose ideals and agendas equate to their own, that the situation is compounded and exaggerated as “fraternities pressure men to change in order to earn membership and status with them.” Needless to say, Nicholas Syrett is clearly a proponent of eliminating fraternities from college campuses.

On the other side of the fence rests Charles Eberly, a professor and faculty advisor to a fraternity at Eastern Illinois Univeristy. Eberly writes that fraternities are “unfairly singled out” when it comes to sexual aggression and other lewd behaviors. Eberly goes on to mention the incredibly positive efforts of some of the fraternity members he advises in terms of community service and civic engagement. He mentions three brothers he personally knows and the admirable accomplishments they have all made: one spearheaded the development of a healthy men’s program that is presented to every incoming pledge class, one created a charity for children’s advocacy programs, and yet another brother is in the process of running 50 marathons in 50 states to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Eberly goes on to write that fraternities only attract media attention when something goes wrong, yet hardly ever when things go right, an occurrence which he believes to be more common than the opposite.

As a college student myself, I feel that I too have at least a bit of expertise on the subject debated so fiercely. While Syrett and Eberly make some excellent points, they are both too absolute in their arguments. I am not here to come to the defense of fraternities nor am I here to call for their complete elimination. I have never been a part of a fraternity myself but have known countless students who are. My firsthand experience with fraternity brothers has led me to a notion that I am totally confident in: it is impossible to generalize an entire extracurricular activity that hosts literally thousands of men at my university alone.

That being said, it is also important to note that fraternities and their members have been responsible for some extremely disturbing, disgusting, and entirely misogynistic behaviors that in no way should ever be condoned by a public university. Extreme alcohol abuse happens. The objectification of women happens. Moreover, I am absolutely certain that sexual violence brought on by men and perpetrated against women happens as well, all within the boundaries of college fraternities. While chapters are often responsible for some rather amazing programs and initiatives, they are also culpable for some rather unsettling happenings.

All this is too say that the expulsion of fraternities from campuses will do little if anything at all to combat the bigger problem: sexual violence against women. While I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that the hyper-masculine environment of American fraternities does nothing to challenge negative behavior towards women, I also believe that their elimination will only force the worst members of Greek life to seek outlets in other forums. As an RA at one of the largest residence halls on campus, I work directly and daily with college men; I can assure you that it’s not just the frat boys who are guilty of taking advantage of women.

While there is simply no easy answer to the problem of sexual violence that most of our universities are facing, I believe that a good starting point would be young men stepping up and facilitating some conversations confronting our age group’s ideas of masculinity. To be frank, these sorts of conversations just haven’t been happening. While there are certainly some violent fringe members of society that happen to be in fraternities, there are also a great deal of more or less rational fraternity members that would not have made some of the mistakes they have in terms of sexual aggression if they were not pressured into doing so by their “brothers.” When it comes down to it, the voices of responsible college men have simply not been as prominent as the voices of the aggressors. If we want to start making some progress, we need to start making some noise.

Ryan Derry

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Introducing Our New Volunteer Writers

Dear Readers,

You may have noticed that we are posting more frequently and have some new names tagged on our by lines. We wanted to let you know that we have invited six male volunteers to help bolster our efforts in developing thought- provoking and action- producing blog entries. We would like to take a moment to properly introduce them to you and thank them for their time. We are very excited about their participation in this project and hopeful that they can help generate further discussions as well as deepen awareness to the issues of sexual violence and men's role as part of the solution. If you have interest in volunteering in this way please contact us at our parent site

* Ryan Derry is a junior at the University of Kansas pursuing a degree in English with a minor in Political Science. Ryan has been volunteering with MOCSA over the past two years helping with Strength Clubs at Cristo Rey High School. Ryan became involved with MOCSA out of respect for the organizations mission, desire to work with young men, and interest in public service.

*Jim Doyle is currently Director of Business Operations at Marillac Children’s Psychiatric Hospital. He founded in 2009 to help empower individuals to protect themselves from threats, connect these individuals to others, and to help create safer communities. The mission and vision of dramatically state that everyone has the right NOT to be a victim, and that everyone can take simple actions to keep themselves safer. Jim is proud to volunteer with the Man Up! program at MOCSA to bring needed attention to what men and boys can and should do to stop sexual violence.

* Mike Eggleston and his wife have lived in the Kansas City area for almost 30 years, and have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, Mike has worked for Yellow Freight (now YRC), Ferrellgas, and currently Burr & Temkin, a commercial real estate firm, as their Vice President - Business Manager. Mike became involved with MOCSA in the Spring of 2010, following attendance at a Community Luncheon. He has gone through the Volunteer Training course and has taken part in several Man-up! workshops and various other events and activities. As a husband, a father, and a son, he recognizes now more than ever the critical importance of MOCSA’s mission!

* Mark Halastik is currently a graduate student in the Social Work (MSW) program at University of Missouri, Kansas City. His interest in volunteering with MOCSA coincides with 1) research interests in gender, sexuality, women's and men's studies; 2) advocating for violence prevention; and 3) commitment to education and outreach regarding violence and sexual assault. In May 2011, Mark will begin an internship with Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. In August, he will work as an intern at the Women's Center at UMKC. He hopes to continue to foster strong relationships between MOCSA and the various programs at the Women's Center and potentially with Planned Parenthood. Upon completion of the MSW program in the spring of 2012, he plans to pursue a career in macro-level social work.

* Derek McCracken has been volunteering with MOCSA since 1996, the same year he started working at Hallmark Cards as a greeting card editor. Some of his volunteer roles have included co-facilitating a co-ed survivors' discussion group, serving on the speakers' bureau, helping out with various SURE special events, and facilitating the male survivors' discussion group. He's still at Hallmark, working as a Creative Director and diversity advocate. He is glad to be part of the MOCSA volunteer team.

* John Tramel has worked for several years with organizations dedicated to addressing social justice issues related to race, gender, socio-economics, and sexuality. Before moving to Kansas City two years ago, John worked with Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta, GA as a trainer and program coordinator engaging and educating men to join the work of ending violence against women.

Thanks and please feel free to comment on any of their great posts!


Why should all men be involved?

I remember the scene like it happened yesterday. A group of approximately fifteen middle-school boys were bantering each other in the front yard of a classmate’s house as the party began. Out of nowhere came two well-respected high school males confidently strolling towards the group of younger boys. As they approached, the young guys in the yard, of which I was a part, froze and gazed towards them with a sense of pride and delight in the fact that these older males would join the party.

The two teenage guys wasted no time in getting to the point, “Where’s all the girls?” With nervous smiles and laughter, each of us said in a jumbled chorus, “In the house…waiting for us!” Then they raised the question and moment of reckoning, “Who’s gonna get some?!” We all paused, not real sure what “getting some” meant, but sure that if these older guys thought we should, we better all resound an assured, “Yea… I am!” They laughed and followed with, “Ya’ll better!” and headed on their way. Here we were a group of middle school boys fifteen or so strong, on a mission to “get some” as we ventured in the house to join the girls.

As you can imagine, the goal for us was clear, emulating and impressing our older and wiser “heroes” by compelling the girls to engage in sexual activities. The environment was established. Our encounters, however they would end up, were not about a mutually desired intimate connection, but about girls being a means to the end goal of older male approval. This extremely dangerous atmosphere that encompassed the young girls that evening is dreadfully common at social gatherings all across America.

This common danger is one reason all men should be involved. All men are implicitly and/or explicitly educated and given tools to be sexually aggressive.

What do I mean by that? (I can imagine that this idea could be a little alarming). Do I believe that all men act in sexually aggressive ways? No. Do I believe all men have the education, tools, and ability to make sexually aggressive choices? Yes.

I will make sense of this by explaining the way Men Stopping Violence, an Atlanta-based social change organization dedicating to ending men’s violence against women, defines male sexual violence. Male sexual violence is male expectation of sexual acts combined with tactics to compel submission.

Here are some of the expectations that countless men have described from their own experiences:

Men should have lots of sex
Men should have access to sex on demand
Sex should be a trade-off for dinner, nice evening, etc.
Women’s bodies are available for men’s gratification
There is a point-of-no-return during sexual encounters

All men get these messages and ascribe to them in various degrees. Many men are very uncomfortable with these messages, but don’t know what to do with these feelings. Some men loyally follow these expectations and use tactics to fulfill them in relationships with women.

Some of the tactics are:

Name calling and whistling
Looks and gestures
Emotional and psychological manipulation
Sulking and guilt
Drugs and/or alcohol
Physical manipulation and/or aggression

When we combine the expectation with the tactics, sexual violence occurs. As I mentioned many men are very uncomfortable with the expectations and the tactics and never choose to internalize or act on them, but they also don’t challenge them in other men. Society normalizes this equation and in many ways makes a case for its acceptability.

Because of this reality, men need to hear from each other that this is not acceptable, it’s not part of the game, and it is not normal or natural. Men need not only to find this uncomfortable but despicable and intolerable. This is a lie that destroys the lives of women and children in our lives and communities and dehumanizes men.

For this reason, all men should be involved because there is no possibility for neutrality. If we as men are not challenging this belief system, we allow it to be perpetuated through the many messengers delivering it.

Working to change the messages men are getting will take the majority of men speaking a new narrative. If more voices are not raised in contradiction to the sexually aggressive narrative explained above, then more and more young men will adopt and adhere to it.

I talk to men all the time that say, “I would never sexually assault, rape, or violate a woman and your request doesn’t apply to me.” I then respond with something a college professor once said, “Once you are aware of the problem, you cannot be neutral, you are either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.”

Men shouldn’t join the efforts to end men’s violence against women for charitable reasons, because of special talents, or to become heroes. We should join because it is our, all of our, responsibility.

In Letters from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King is responding to white clergy’s critique of his direct action against racism. In their critique, they said that, if Dr. King and the SCLC would have given the new Mayor of Birmingham time, changes would have been made. Dr. King responded, “Time itself is neutral, it can be used constructively or destructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill-will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Men’s silence will only allow more perpetrations against women and children by men who continue to operate from the sexually aggressive narrative that powerfully instructs beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. We know that most men would not want that to happen to someone they love. Therefore, it is in men’s self-interest to be part of the solution because we all have women and children in our lives for whom we deeply love and care.

Most men can identify women in their lives that they would never want to see suffer the unimaginable horror of sexual violence. If men can begin to empathize by considering how they themselves would be affected by knowing a women they care for has been violated, maybe they could get to a place where they would not want to imagine any women going through this nightmare.

Not all men will be directly impacted by sexual violence, but as long as any woman is in danger, all women are in danger, including the women men know and love. Our mothers, sister, daughters, cousins, friends, co-workers, and lovers will never be truly safe until all women are safe.

John Tramel, friend of MOCSA and formally of Men Stopping Violence