Man Talks creates safe discussion space

While some male students on campus may not always feel comfortable discussing their masculinity, they now have the opportunity to speak openly about the subject at “Man Talks.” The free events are held the first, third and fifth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and will continue into the spring semester. 

The program has recently gained speed since it was founded in 2013. Josh Stabinsky, sophomore in Business, and Mike Kehoe, senior in AHS, are continuing the program that provides men a safe environment to discuss gender roles, gender norms and masculinity.

Man Talks was originally an idea between the WRC and the Counseling Center. Ryan Nemethy, a graduate student in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, wanted to provide an outlet for men to openly talk about masculinity in a way that was constructive and conversational. The programs on campus that discuss gender norms, such as First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education (FYCARE), tend to be taken as a lecture instead of conversation. 

Although an advocate and administrator for FYCARE, Molly McKay, assistant director of the WRC, wants the conversation of gender roles and norms to continue past freshman year. 

“It’s important for men to have a space to talk about these issues with other men because they have a lot of privilege, and they have the power to enact change in society,” McKay said.

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McKay also said that if men are given a space to let their ideals exist, the violent connotation attributed to men and further gender norms will be squashed. 

Kehoe originally showed interest in the program due to his FYCARE background as well as a desire to become more involved in the community. After seeing the origination of the program, he knew he wanted to do more. 

“There are a lot of issues that men can solve that affect women, but that stem from men’s issues,” he said. “If men sit down and talk about these things, they’ll stop.” 

Stabinsky, unable to accept men’s stereotype of remaining stoic and emotionless, believes these issues need to be talked about more often and openly. 

“It’s healthy to have an outlet to talk about masculinity because there are things that need to be said,” Stabinsky said. 

Man Talks is geared toward conversation as opposed to a lecture to generate more ideas and get men thinking about the ways masculinity can be approached in a positive light. McKay said men may feel guilty when being spoken to about violence against women and in general, because there is always a gender component. 

“A conversation like this gives men a chance to share their own thoughts about it while feeling safe and coming up with solutions,” McKay said.

The program not only encourages conversation, but sparks education and the development of new ideals and ways of thinking. 

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Stabinsky admitted. “But it’s important. It’s very worthwhile, and I’ve learned a lot from listening to other people’s opinions … I’ve found that when there’s disagreements, that’s when you learn the most.”

Besides conversations, there are also activities held during the talks, and one of the favorites in the group is the “box activity.” A cube is drawn on the board and the traits and characteristics of what a man is supposed to be are written inside the box, while the things men aren’t supposed to represent go outside of the box. 

“It illustrates literally how we’re putting men and women into boxes by developing these norms throughout their lives,” Kehoe said. 

They also engage in compare and contrast activities, such as comparing real men to James Bond, watching documentaries and providing open question panels where men may propose any question or idea to be discussed on the floor.

The most recent Man Talk session on Nov. 11 was a dual-program with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and it was the largest turnout yet, with over 30 people in attendance. When the president and vice president of CAIR found out about Man Talks at the beginning of the semester, they requested doing a partner program, because many of the ideas and objectives are the same — getting men to think about their role in today’s society based on who they are and the stereotypes they are given. The session was called “Redefining Masculinity,” and topics of conversation included gender norms and how religion may affect the development of gender roles.

“The predominant idea that men have to be a certain way and act in a certain way, especially toward relationships and sex, is very much connected in the concept of a rape culture,” McKay said. 

Stabinsky and Kehoe hope that men walk away with the ability to think critically about their role in society and how they can portray themselves positively outside the safety of Man Talks.

Rachel can be reached at [email protected].