Analysis Human Rights

Does Manhood Need to Change to Create Healthier Societies?


For something we see and experience day in and day out, masculinity sure is a tricky business. In a collection of essays that span various countries and cultures, Global Masculinities and Manhood considers how communities around the world have been shaped by what it means to "be a man" -- and rebel against unhealthy gender expectations in order to make change.

For something we see and experience day in and day out, masculinity sure is a tricky business. In a collection of essays that span various countries and cultures, Global Masculinities and Manhood considers how communities around the world have been shaped by what it means to “be a man” — and rebel against unhealthy gender expectations in order to make change.

For many, rightly or wrongly, being a man in Jamaica means acting in ways that dominate women and being prone to violence. Boys learn that in order to be powerful, they must act tough and cocky. But many contemporary public figures are shifting the representations of Jamaican masculinity.

Former Prime Minister Michael Manley and reggae musician Bob Marley contributed to changing those expectations by refusing to put on a tough guise. Although Manley and Marley came from strikingly different backgrounds — Marley was the son of an impoverished black mother and an absent white father while Manley was raised in an elite Jamaican family — both recognized the ways masculinity was destroying poor and working class families and used their political and cultural influence to speak out against gender inequity.

Peru is also struggling with gender-related challenges that adversely affect the country’s economy. Women’s economic ontributions have long been ignored and undervalued. Recently, as Peruvian women leave the domestic sphere to join the workforce in growing numbers, they are demanding a voice in civic and political participation. Still, struggles remain to be overcome.

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Traditional gender roles in intimate relationships and families have allowed men’s behavior to go unquestioned and unchecked. While society looks away when men have extramarital affairs, women are expected to maintain honor and chastity by remaining loyal to their partners. This can put their sexual health in jeopardy, particularly given the effect it’s had on the growing HIV prevalence among women in the country.

Global Masculinities and Manhood provides a critical perspective for questioning gender and pushes for new ways of expressing masculinity that create healthier societies.

Q & A Abortion

Inside the Bro-Choice Campaign: Giving Men the Green Light to Step Up for Reproductive Justice

Erin Matson

"Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue."

It’s no secret that reproductive rights are often coded as “women’s issues,” and the face of advocacy tends to be feminine. However, since reproductive oppression affects both women and men, and is experienced by women and men, it has been routinely argued that advocates need to do a better job integrating men into the movement. Recently, youth-centered reproductive rights organization Choice USA launched a campaign called Bro-Choice to do just that.

Rewire spoke with Choice USA Executive Director Kierra Johnson to learn more about the campaign.

Rewire: When I hear Bro-Choice, I think: The more men working for abortion rights and healthy sexuality, the better. But not everyone might get that. Why is it important to draw in and lift up young men in the reproductive justice movement?

Kierra Johnson: No one can win alone. We strongly believe that the more people (including men) working for reproductive justice, the better. Without substantively and authentically incorporating men of color, low-income men, young men, gay men, transgender men, and, yes, white straight men, how can we expect to shift a paradigm toward true gender justice? When we don’t engage men in strategic ways, we miss out on opportunities for new ideas and perhaps new solutions to old problems.

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Reproductive oppression affects everyone. Men can serve our movement in better ways than as pantomime allies. Men are directly impacted by sexual and reproductive health policies set at the local, state, and national level. Men and boys are survivors of sexual assault. There should be a bigger spotlight on men who are already doing cutting-edge work to interrupt the cycle of violence and misogyny in their communities so that we can learn from and replicate what is working.

We all stand to gain a lot by together redefining and embracing healthy visions of masculinity. But that can only begin to happen when men have the space to discuss, unpack, and grapple with how they benefit and are hurt by traditional stereotypes, expectations, and cultural norms associated with modern-day concepts of masculinity.

We all deserve a new frame where we get to see men as a part of the solution and not just the problem. And so many of them want to be a part of the solution; young men are pro-choice and they care about ending violence. There are so many young men who right now who are passive supporters of reproductive justice simply because they aren’t sure how they can be active.

Rewire: So what is the long-term vision for the Bro-Choice campaign?

KJ: We hope that this program can catalyze the men who aren’t yet, but want to be, speaking out on sexism and rape culture. We want to inspire them to become active stakeholders in the fight against sexual assault. We also want to work with them to figure out the appropriate roles to play in fighting for abortion rights, contraceptive access, and the right to strong families. It is true that more men are interviewed about abortion than women. As long as that’s the case, the short-term goal is to get more pro-choice men in front of the camera and legislators. The long-term vision is cultural revolution! We want to do our part to support women and men working to prepare young people of all genders to be ambassadors for sexual health, reproductive rights, and communities free of sexual violence.

Rewire: Let’s back up to the beginning of this campaign. Last year you hosted a Bro-Choice panel discussion that led to the creation of a more formal campaign. Tell me about the themes that came up in that first discussion, and how you knew there was more to explore.

KJ: This idea came out of two separate conversations students were having with us simultaneously. Women in our chapters were looking for ways to authentically engage men on campus, and men were looking for opportunities to work on issues that impact their friends, partners, classmates, and selves. So the original panel, named by students, was held more than a year ago to talk about engaging men in reproductive rights and the challenges of that. After that conversation we knew that there were a lot of people thirsty to talk about these subjects, so the one discussion turned into a series of panels. Then, after so many horrendous episodes of sexual assault drew national attention, it’s evolved into a broader conversation about masculinity and sexual assault.

The national conversations that have happened in the wake of Steubenville are so important, but we’re not sure they are reaching the people that need to hear it most.

Men and gender non-conforming people are affected by these issues and care about these issues. We want to see changes on campuses and in the culture that embrace many ways to “be a man.” We want to see colleges and universities taking sexual assault seriously and eradicating rape culture and victim blaming. We want to see all types of gender identities and expressions respected. Obviously these are very big goals, but we hope that by starting these conversations with Bro-Choice we can be one small part of making them a reality.

Rewire: Choice USA works with a lot of students. What kind of issues do you see resonating with young men on campus, and why?

KJ: Students everywhere are taking action against epidemic levels of sexual assault on campuses and the perceived indifference of administrations and law enforcement. Young people are fired up about this. And we talk to many young men who recognize the sexism and rape culture operating on their campus and in their social circles—even if they wouldn’t use those terms.

Environmental rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, voter disenfranchisement, racial profiling, LGBTQ rights, and education access are also all issues that young progressive men are talking about on college campuses. While Bro-Choice is a relatively new campaign, we are excited at the possibility of working with men and women who are passionate about all of these issues to find some new, creative work at the intersections.brochoiceevent2

Rewire: So is this any different from young women’s activism against sexual oppression? Are there differences in approaches or issues that we should be aware of as we work to build a more inclusive movement for reproductive justice?

KJ: Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue. And organizing and advocacy is about meeting people where they are. To do that, you cannot make any part of a person’s identity invisible. You have to be willing to see them, hear them. Even when it is hard and painful, and especially when you disagree or when you are uncomfortable.

Organizing with men is no different.

But that doesn’t mean that male-identified folks joining the Bro-Choice campaign will always find this advocacy easy. Examining gender roles in pursuit of reproductive justice challenges ideas so deeply ingrained in our culture that they are invisible to most. Those who choose to do so may find that they need to step back and listen at times. It won’t always be comfortable, but that’s really true of all social justice work when it’s done right.

Women have been the champions of issues that affect both men and women for decades: sex education, family leave policies, sexual assault, and more. Women are uniquely impacted by these issues, and they should continue to be advocates. It will always be appropriate and necessary for women to be visible and vocal leaders in this work. Women will always need to be true mentors and guides of new activists and leaders entering into this work. But we hope Bro-Choice will offer a new point of entry that gives men the green light to engage more actively with us in the fight for justice for all.

Rewire: It was recently Bro-Choice Week, and eight of your student chapters took action. What are some examples of what they did?

KJ: Our students did organizing at eight schools in four states (the University of Kansas, Ohio State, Georgia Southern University, Sacramento State, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly, Colorado College, and Stanford). Each of them did different things, mostly discussion events, panels, and tabling. Most of them did events where they could talk honestly about issues facing men who want to get involved with reproductive justice and sexual assault prevention. They also collected Bro-Choice pledges, and throughout the week we had almost 500 people sign the Bro-Choice Pledge.

Rewire: How were these actions received on campus? What can we all learn from these experiences?

KJ: Our students had great reactions to these events on campus. At Georgia Southern University we have a new chapter that has been having some trouble getting traction on campus. They teamed up with their Gay Straight Alliance and held a discussion event, which had a huge turnout—they got 75 new members in one day! Our chapter at Cal Poly also held a discussion event, and they intentionally reached out to groups that were not the usual targets to attend: the Greek community, sports teams, and the gym. They had about 50 people show up and were able to have a very honest, open conversation with these young men. Our chapter leader there described the way that many of the men seemed to be expressing out loud for the first time the pressures they felt and the discomfort they sometimes have in their social circles.

I think the real lesson here is that there are so many young men who are hungry to have the conversations and have a safe place to talk openly about masculinity, sexuality, and violence; even those who seem like the most unlikely suspects for this campaign are finding value in it.

Rewire: Tell us about the other actions Choice USA led online during Bro-Choice Week. What kind of reactions have you been getting to the campaign online?

KJ: Online we held a blog series and some social media elements, including a Twitterstorm and Facebook images. We saw huge numbers of people engaged with us through these avenues, and tons of great discussions were sparked. We saw some of the same discourse that played out in micro settings also play out as the week of action rolled out last month. Some people are excited to see the campaign and are eager to participate; others are triggered at the suggestion that men take on active visible roles in fighting for contraceptive access, abortion policy, and for better responses to violence on and off campuses. Generally, people seem comfortable coming to the table with their passion and having real conversations.

Rewire: So what’s the next step, if you’re ready to tell us?

This summer we’ll be hosting our national membership conference, and chapter leaders from all over the country will come to D.C. to plan this and other campaigns for the 2013-14 academic year. We plan to roll out a public education campaign in the fall that we hope will be fun and impactful in changing attitudes and campus policies regarding sexual assault.

We will also be reaching out to people who signed the Bro-Choice Pledge as we roll out that phase with ways to get involved.

Rewire: What should readers do if they want to get involved? Anything else we should know?

KJ: The best way to get involved is to sign the Bro-Choice Pledge and declare that you want to be part of the solution to work toward reproductive justice and ending sexual violence.

Commentary Politics

Does Marcus Bachmann’s Clinic Try to Change Its Clients’ Sexual Orientation?; His Wife Won’t Answer

Martha Kempner

A number of recent articles have called into question the practices at Bachmann & Associates, the clinic run by the husband of Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann. Yet the congresswoman refuses to answer as to whether her husband practices conversion therapy. 

Michele Bachmann’s views on homosexuality (or should I say, against homosexuality) are pretty well documented at this point. The Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential hopeful has referred to homosexuality as a “sexual dysfunction,” likened teaching about it in schools to “child abuse,” and said that same-sex marriage is one of the most important and potentially devastating issues of our time. When she was serving as a state senator she explained, “… This is an earthquake issue. This will change our state forever. Because the immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through, is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it.”

In recent weeks, however, she’s been questioned more on her husband’s views on the subject than her own. Marcus Bachmann, her husband of over 30 years, has a PhD in clinical psychology and owns two Christian counseling centers in Minnesota. According to an article in the Nation, Bachmann & Associates practices reparative therapy or, in other words, attempts to change the sexual orientation of gay clients.  Marcus Bachmann has denied that this is the clinic’s focus: “If someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay a homosexual, I don’t have a problem with that.” Nonetheless, the Nation article quotes some of the clinic’s clients who say that their therapists worked hard to try and “cure” them. 

One client said that his therapist “made it clear that renouncing his sexual orientation was the only moral choice. ‘He basically said being gay was not an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes.”’ The client claims that he was urged “to pray and read the Bible, particularly verses that cast homosexuality as an abomination.'”

The article also quotes a Minneapolis-based marketer who claims he was in attendance at the 2005 Minnesota Pastors’ Summit and heard Marcus Bachmann give a presentation called “The Truth About the Homosexual Agenda.” According to this attendee, Bachmann said that in his professional opinion same-sex attraction was “an affliction that could be rooted out.” Bachmann then introduced Janet Boynes, a long-time friend of his (and his wife’s) who claims “she broke free of the ‘lesbian lifestyle’ after an encounter with a Christian woman in a grocery store parking lot set her on the path to salvation.” Boynes told her story while Bachmann showed before and after photos of her —“a dour masculine-looking woman with cropped hair, followed by a smiling paragon of femininity.”  The attendee recalls that, upon seeing these photos, the crowd went wild.  

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Such views of the problem and the cure are common in reparative therapy also known as conversion therapy. In a story that ran on National Public Radio, Peterson Toscano recounted his experiences in a Christian-focused, in-patient program. In addition to activities designed to make patients more masculine (such as playing football and learning to change the oil in a car), the therapists had them write detailed descriptions of every sexual encounter they had ever had. They were then told to choose the most humiliating one and share it during a friends and family event. According to Toscano, the stated purpose of this was to help patients get beyond their shame. Instead, he says it just made it worse and made his parents feel shame as well.  (The NPR story also featured an interview with Rich Wyler who attended a similar program and believes that it successfully changed his sexual orientation.) 

In 2005, a Tennessee teenager made national headlines when he posted some of his experiences in a reparative therapy camp to his My Space page.  Then 16-years-old, Zach Stark reported that his parents made him apply to Refuge, a fundamentalist Christian program which “exists to be a Christ-centered ministry for the prevention or remediation of unhealthy and destructive behaviors facing families, adults, and adolescents.” Stark also posted a confidential email from Refuge to his parents, which explained the program’s strict rules including “lengthy sessions of solitary confinement, isolation, and extreme restrictions of attire, correspondence, and privacy sanctioned by biblical quotations.”

Refuge is a subsidiary of Love in Action International which is itself an affiliate of Exodus International, the most prominent organization in the “ex-gay” movement. After recent criticism regarding its i-Phone App, Exodus claims it does not try to “cure” anyone of homosexuality: “that is not within our ability and certainly beyond the ability of our iPhone application.”  Still, the organization explains:

“Choosing to resolve these tendencies through homosexual behavior, taking on a homosexual identity, and involvement in a homosexual lifestyle is considered destructive, as it distorts God’s intent for the individual and is therefore sinful. Instead, Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies.”   

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) pulled together a panel to review the available research on this topic which it refers to as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). The panel concluded:

“There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older work in this area found that sexual orientation (i.e., erotic attractions and sexual arousal oriented to one sex or the other, or both) was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose.”

It went on to say:

“Although sound data on the safety of SOCE are extremely limited, some individuals reported being harmed by SOCE. Distress and depression were exacerbated.”

For these and other reasons, the APA adopted a resolution explicitly opposing conversion therapy.

Despite this, organizations like Exodus International continue to advocate for reparative therapy and many still practice it.  At press events this weekend, Michelle Bachmann refused to whether her husband’s clinic was among those.  When questioned about the clinic, the Congresswoman said only:

“I’m extremely proud of my husband. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. I am running for the presidency of the United States. My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children. And I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for presidency of the United States.”

I have mixed feeling about this statement. Mostly, I have a visceral reaction whenever politicians flat out refuse to answer questions. That said, I agree that candidates should not be held responsible for the behavior of their friends and relatives. Of course, I also believe it’s important to know the views of those who will be in an elected official’s inner circle.  Marcus Bachmann has been described as his wife’s “main political advisor” and as such his beliefs and practices are relevant in deciding whether to vote for her.

In this case, however, there is a much more pressing issue which instantly makes Marcus’s beliefs important; Bachmann & Associates has received $137,000 in Medicaid payments for its counseling services. The hypocrisy of Ms. Small-Government-We-Must-Cut-Entitlement-Programs directly profiting from Medicaid aside, as a tax-payer I want to know if my money is going to fund a form of therapy that is based entirely on religious beliefs, has no grounding in science, and has been deemed harmful.

What are the chances that Congresswoman Bachmann or her husband will ever actually answer that question?