“Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.”

The following is a first-hand account of one Rethink Masculinity student’s experience recognizing and unlearning toxic masculinity. The author has chosen to remain anonymous. Sign up for the next Rethink Masculinity class here.

I don’t have the highest opinion of myself, which has developed into an almost chronic sense of insecurity.  I find myself constantly wondering what others are thinking about me.

Whether denial or ignorance, for years I wrote off my insecurity as simply overthinking things. Regardless, my inability or unwillingness to address my low self-esteem and corresponding insecurity often had negative effect on many of my relationships, usually with those that I was closest with.

Because I questioned the degree to which people liked me, I would often take unreasonable offense to remarks or actions that were meant in jest or were otherwise harmless. I would go out of my way to take offense with the subconscious intent of saddling someone else with my emotions. I was charging my friends and family with responsibility of my emotions.  

It was toxic. It was manipulative. It often forced people to distance themselves from me, having quite the opposite effect that I obliviously expected.  

My toxicity hit a boiling point at the end of a romantic relationship that lasted far too long.  

We were in a long distance relationship and I began developing trust issues. One time she visited me and I couldn’t shake a baseless suspicion of infidelity and proceeded to go through her phone and discovered that she’d cheated on me. In the past my manipulative behavior usually emerged in response to imagined slights. But infidelity seemed to be an unforgivable transgression for which my ire was justified. Warranted even!

And I now had a tangible weapon with which to manipulate her.

Over the next few months of our relationship, I compulsively used her guilt against her, reminding her of how badly she’d hurt me, refusing to accept her heartfelt apologies and threatening to break up with her.

She was my emotional hostage.  

Eventually the abuse became too much for her to handle and she ended the relationship, which sent me down a yearlong bout with depression. I became a shell of myself, losing all forms of confidence and living in a perpetual state of self-pity.  

I moved back home to Michigan, where I was able to gradually regain confidence in myself. I (not so deliberately) remained single, which, in an environment conducive for recovery, allowed for much needed introspection and personal freedom.

Being responsible for nobody’s emotions but my own was almost a relief. In retrospect, my catharsis was not due to the lack of responsibility for someone else’s emotions. Rather, it was relief from my abuse of others. I was still oblivious about this though.

When I moved to DC in 2017, I became fast friends with someone with whom I developed a strong emotional connection. We became very close, but she was often put off by my toxicity. Luckily for me, she was able to recognize my abusive tendencies were likely borne of my own toxic masculinity.  

She mentioned that a friend of hers had been a part of Rethink Masculinity, a supportive safe space coordinated by men for men to learn about, discuss, and confront toxic masculinity professionally, socially, and personally.  

I was pretty apprehensive about it all when she told me that women weren’t involved in the facilitation. I pictured a group of 20-something white guys man/white/straightsplaining feminism, which was not something I was interested in. The whole thing reeked of out-of-touch pretension, not to mention an added time commitment to an already loaded schedule. I was wrong.  

I attended a stand-alone reading group associated with the group and was blown away. I found the reading compelling and personally illuminating.  

Not only was I excited to discuss the reading with group, I was excited to meet the people who I’d imagined were more than familiar with the intricacies of masculinity – far more so than I, anyway.

And then insecurity started to set in and I started doubting my place in the group.  Surely the men involved were far more enlightened than I, and surely I’d come across as an ignorant, crass jerk who had been put up to this.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The racially diverse and sexually ambiguous group of men were not only inviting toward me as a newcomer, but were inquisitive. They were genuinely interested in my experiences and viewpoints.  

Together, we weren’t learning about masculinity as much as we were learning about ourselves. Masculinity may have been the topic, but our experiences were the driving force behind what was meant to be learned, and, ultimately, from which to grow. 

This was an environment consisting of smart and inclusive individuals with a genuine thirst for knowledge as a means for improvement.

One of the men in the group suggested applying to the full Rethink Masculinity class and I did just that. The class itself was similar to the reading group in terms of subject matter, but far more structured.  

We’d dissect the readings through a variety of exercises, usually discussing the “macro” as a large group, then discussing our more subjective, “micro” thoughts in smaller groups. We’d then regroup and discuss the different “micro” thoughts together.  

It was a veritable think-tank of progressive thought, anchored by specific topics, but approached from wildly different perspectives. It was not uncommon to see people frantically take notes during someone’s reflection, eager to record someone else’s profoundly unique analysis.  

And though it was safe to say we were like-minded individuals, people regularly voiced dissent, challenging concepts in the readings that they did not feel were consistent with their own line of thinking.  

Regardless of how I felt going into a class – whether I was exhausted from work, upset about something in my family, or excited for a football game – I always left feeling better. And that’s not to say that I was happier or filled with some sense of relief from existential dread; it was more a feeling of revitalization. It was like my brain went to the gym and exercised for three hours.  

I can safely say that I learned something from each person in my cohort.  

I didn’t tell you about my struggle with insecurity or my proclivity toward toxic behavior as a frame of reference for a journey from the darkness to the light.  

I’m still insecure. I still fall into my toxic tendencies. I’m still me.  

Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.  

I’m flawed. We all are.  

Rethink Masculinity provided me with a safe space to recognize, conceptualize, and address the inherent toxicity of masculinity that pervades our culture — and cultures around the world. And, in doing so, I am better equipped to recognize, conceptualize, and address accordingly toxic masculinity within myself and within others.  

And along with those provisions, it has created a rapidly expanding community of respect, trust and, above all else, love. I hope you’ll join me.

YOU have the power to stop harassment.

posted in: CASS Updates, Policy | 0

We’re about to step up our game to create policy solutions to prevent street harassment, and we need YOU!

The Street Harassment Prevention Act, which we affectionately call SHPA, will broaden the definition of street harassment to include our most marginalized communities. And the SHPA will create mechanisms of data collection and training requirements to make sure that everyone’s experience of street harassment is recognized and addressed.

CASS and our partner organizations who are working to pass SHPA know that we need holistic solutions to the problem of street harassment that rely on community-based initiatives rather than law enforcement.

We’ve already brought together a coalition and a hearing for the legislation. Now, we’re bringing together stakeholders and volunteers in mid-October to chart out strategy to pass and fund SHPA — centering the most impacted people in the process. We need YOU to join in that roundtable and coordinate the effort, or to add to our people power by stepping as a SHPA volunteer to make phone calls, lobby, flier, and get the word out!

Please contact CASS policy volunteer Leah at leah@collectiveactiondc.org if you’re interested in either joining in the roundtable or signing up to volunteer to help us #PassSHPA!

Together, we have the power to make our streets safer for everyone.

In other things you can do right now:

1) Tweet your general support.

2) Call or Tweet at your councilmember and tell them why you support the bill. Check your Ward. If you or your friends live in Wards 3 or 7, call or Tweet at your councilmembers and tell them to #PassSHPA. At-large members represent all of DC, so everyone should call and Tweet at Councilmember Bonds.

Here’s a sample phone script: Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a DC resident. I’m calling to ask Councilmember [Your Councilmember or At-Large Councilmember] to pass the Street Harassment Prevention Act. In a time of rising hate and harassment that disproportionately affects women and LGBTQ people of color, we need community-based, non-criminal solutions like education, awareness, and training to make DC safer for everyone. Thank you.

Here’s a sample Tweet: Harassment is on the rise in the District. As a concerned resident, I’m asking you to take action – #PassSHPA! [Twitter handle of your Councilmember or At-Large Councilmember]

And here is the contact information you can plug in:

Ward 3: Contact Councilmember Mary Cheh at (202) 724-8062 or on Twitter at @MaryCheh
Ward 7: Councilmember Vincent Gray at (202) 724-8068 or on Twitter at @VinceGrayWard7
At-Large: Councilmember Anita Bonds at (202) 724-8064 or on Twitter at @AnitaBondsDC

Black women and girls speak out against street harassment following attack in Southwest DC

Tonight women from Ward 8 will organize Reclaiming Our Bodies, a food table and speakout to tell their community that women and girls deserve to feel safe from harassment in public spaces. Organized in response to an incident where a 16-year-old girl was harassed, followed, and threatened at a monthly food table in Ward 8, the speakout will give community members an opportunity to share their personal experiences with harassment and demonstrate support for non-criminal, community-based solutions to street harassment on a citywide level.

“Society will try to make women and girls believe that it is normal to be harassed in the street by men. We are told to cover up, watch where we go, watch what we do, and not be comfortable in our own skin. On the 23rd, we say NO to this culture,” said Schyla Pondexter-Moore, organizer of the speakout and mother of the attacked teen. “We have a right to wear what we want! We shouldn’t be telling women and girls to not get raped and harassed. We need to tell men not to rape and harass.”

According to a 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, 65% of women will experience street harassment, a problem that disproportionately impacts women of color and LGBTQGNC people. Another study by the Black Women’s Blueprint shows that 60% of Black girls will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, and a 2017 CDC report showed that Black women are twice as likely to be murdered than women of any other racial identity.

In D.C., pending legislation entitled the Street Harassment Prevention Act seeks to address gendered violence using a three-pronged approach, including citywide data collection, an awareness campaign offering support and resources to those targeted, and training for government employees on how to prevent and interrupt incidents of harassment. The bill will help to prevent incidents of violence against women with a non-punitive, non-criminal approach.

Press is invited to attend the speakout, which will take place at 3900 South Capitol Street Southwest on Wednesday, August 23rd from 5 to 9 PM.

Men: You can do better. We want to help.

Last Monday, a 16-year-old Black girl from Ward 8 confronted her harassers — men who serve food in her community — and told them clearly, calmly, and repeatedly: “No matter what I’m wearing, I deserve to walk down the street without being harassed.” Their response? They contorted their faces in disbelief of the radical idea that women and girls deserve to feel safe in public spaces.

Blaming women for the harassment they experience while navigating public spaces is unacceptable. Yet, men continue to blame women — or their attitudes or their profession or their clothes — for their actions. We need to rethink this common refrain. We need to rethink masculinity.

Are you or someone you know ready to commit to working to construct a new understanding of masculinity? If so, apply by August 23rd to join the second cohort of Rethink Masculinity, which runs from mid-September to early November!

ReThink Masculinity, a partnership between Collective Action for SafeSpaces, ReThink, and DC Rape Crisis Center, is a consciousness building group, for and by men, to construct healthier masculinities.

The program is a two-month long consciousness building group focused on equipping men with the skills and community to rethink how they express their identity. Rethink Masculinity is committed to being intersectional, to centering queer and trans people, and to building a culture of accountability and trust. Applications are open to all men, regardless of assigned gender. People of color, queer and/or trans men, and DC natives are encouraged to apply.

Questions? Want to learn more? Join us for an informational happy hour next Monday at Nellies or email daniel@collectiveactiondc.org or stephen@collectiveactiondc.org.

Want to take action in solidarity with the girls harassed in Ward 8? Come out on August 23rd from 5-9pm for “Reclaiming My Body,” a speakout and food table where people can still get the food they need and feel safe.

Join Us to #PassSHPA!

For far too many of us, street harassment is a fact of daily life. Street harassment, however, is more than just catcalling on the street. Someone might be targeted by a harasser for any number of reasons, including actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, and housing status. With a significant increase in hate violence in the District since Trump’s election — including white supremacist posters in Bloomingdale just last week — CASS is more committed than ever to addressing all types of street harassment in our city. That’s why we partnered with D.C. City Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau to introduce the Street Harassment Prevention Act of 2017

The Street Harassment Prevention Act, which we affectionately call SHPA, will broaden the definition of street harassment to include our most marginalized communities. And the SHPA will create mechanisms of data collection and training requirements to make sure that everyone’s experience of street harassment is recognized and addressed.

CASS and our partner organizations know that we need holistic solutions to the problem of street harassment that rely on community-based initiatives rather than law enforcement.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Tweet. Join CASS for a Twitter Town Hall on June 29th at 8 p.m. to discuss street harassment in DC and #PassSHPA.
  2. Organize. Before the Twitter Town Hall tonight, join CASS and CM Nadeau at Sudhouse at 6 p.m. to learn how you can plug in to advocacy work.
  3. Testify. Share your story of harassment with the DC Council on Wednesday, July 12th.
  4. Amplify. Join our Thunderclap to share your support of the SHPA. 
  5. Share all of the above with your friends!

This is the perfect opportunity to engage in local activism and protect your friends and neighbors. Let’s #PassSHPA!

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