Males Advocating Change (MAC) Program
(For more information, or to bring the MAC Program to your school or youth organization, please contact Justin Smith at 508-852-7600 x126)
Currently, it is estimated that adolescents (ages 13 to 17) account for up to 1/5 of all rapes and 1/2 of all cases of child molestation committed each year. The majority of these incidents of sexual abuse involve adolescent male perpetrators. Cross-cultural studies of rape identify the following factors as contributors to sexual violence: sex-role socialization, rape myths, lack of sanctions for abuse, male peer group support, pornography, adversarial sexual beliefs, lack of empathy, and all-male membership groups such as fraternities and sports teams. When males are taught to be dominant and aggressive, this often leads to hyper-masculinity, male peer support for sexual aggression and adversarial sexual beliefs.
Feminists over the past several decades have argued that ours is a “rape culture” and a “battering culture.” In other words, the widespread incidence of men’s violence against women — rape, battering, sexual harassment, etc. — needs to be understood not in terms of a series of unrelated individual pathologies, but as a social problem with deeply rooted causes. Specifically, individual acts of gender violence emanate from an unequal and sexist cultural context, within which heterosexual men are conditioned to objectify and dominate women in the sexual sphere, and exert power and control over them in intimate relationships.
If this is true, then primary prevention efforts need to move beyond short-term safety precautions for women (e.g. women being advised not to put their drinks down at parties; to park in well-lit areas; to recognize the warning signs of abusive relational behaviors, etc.). Instead, educators need to address the attitudes in male culture that encourage or legitimize abusive behavior by some men. The goal is to help create a peer culture climate among men whereby the abuse of women by some men would be seen as socially unacceptable and stigmatizing. That is, a man who engages in such behavior would lose status among his male peers, and lose the approval of older males. One of the most effective – and quickest — ways to achieve this peer culture climate would be to enlist as change agents young males who already have credibility with and the respect of their peers.
The dominant story of masculinity is the story that we all learn about what it means to be a “real man” in this society. We learn this story from a very young age from our families, friends, our teachers/coaches, and various forms of media. According to the dominant story of masculinity, men are expected to be tough, unemotional, strong, and to take charge. A counter story is a narrative that resists the values and expectations of masculinity’s dominant stories. It allows more space for a man to make individual choices about the kind of person he wants to be without being constrained by expectations in our society of how a man is “supposed” to act.
The MAC Program challenges young males who have credibility with other males to use their status and power to repudiate any definition of masculinity that equates being a man with being sexist, disrespectful or violent toward women, or bullying toward other males. One in five men (21%) reported that they did not actively support community efforts to stop violence against women because no one had asked them to get involved and another 13% reported that they did not know how to help (Garin,2000).
The role of MAC is to change that by asking. MAC raises awareness of the myths about masculinity and to have a role in building and expanding young males’ understanding of healthy, non-violent masculinity, and in so doing, the resiliency factors and strengths of communities. MAC’s goal is to eradicate the harmful expectations and stereotypes our society teaches boys about what it means to be a man. We aim to build a new generation of male leaders who will model strength without violence and serve as positive change makers in society – taking their communities from awareness to action. By working in positive ways toward shared goals with the community, we can have an impact on one of the root causes of sexual assault. We recognize that every community has resiliency factors that can be identified and enhanced. By enhancing these factors, we play a role in proactive prevention, by changing the community conditions that affect the incidence and impact of sexual assault.
Prevention requires understanding the circumstances and factors that influence violence. Like our Sexual Assault Youth Education Program (SAYE), the Males Advocating Change Program has been designed using a four-level, social ecological model developed by the Center for Disease Control to better explain sexual violence and potential strategies for prevention. This model considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors, and allows us to address risk and protective factors from multiple domains. MAC has incorporated the development of comprehensive prevention strategies through a continuum of activities that address all levels of the social ecological model. This approach is more likely to prevent sexual violence across a lifetime, than any single intervention or policy change. The overall goal of MAC’s prevention efforts is to change social norms within the male peer culture in order to reduce the perpetration of sexual assault across the lifespan.
Ever since battered women’s programs and rape crisis centers established their first educational or “youth outreach” initiatives in the schools in the 1970’s, one of the key challenges they have faced is the apathy, defensiveness – and sometimes outright hostility – of male faculty, athletic directors, coaches, and student-athletes. In particular, while men and young men in the school-based athletic subculture have hardly been unique in their reluctance to embrace gender violence prevention education, they typically occupy a privileged position in school culture, and particularly in male peer culture. As such, male student-athletes – especially in popular team sports such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball, wrestling, and soccer – tend to have enormous clout when it comes to establishing or maintaining traditional masculine norms. Their support or lack of support for prevention efforts can make or break them.
MAC specifically works to develop the peer leadership potential of young males in addressing the male culture of violence, and particularly sexual violence towards women and children. Often programs focus on how women and girls can avoid abuse by boyfriends or husbands or sexual assault by strangers or acquaintances. While this work is valuable, these are risk-reduction, not prevention strategies: they teach women and girls how to avoid victimization, but they don’t work to reduce the number of males who use violence. Capitalizing on young males often identified through exposure to the SAYE program, Using the Mentors in Violence Prevention and the Men of Strength Club curriculums, MAC works to engage middle school, high school, and college aged males throughout the Central Massachusetts Region in the primary prevention of sexual & dating violence, harassment, and bullying.
The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Model is a gender violence, bullying, and school violence prevention approach that encourages young men from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds to take on leadership roles in their schools and communities. Men Can Stop Rape’s youth development program, the Men of Strength Club (Most Club) is the country’s premier primary violence prevention program for mobilizing young men to prevent sexual and dating violence. The MOST Club provides young men with a structured and supportive space to build individualized definitions of masculinity that promote healthy relationships.
Healthy masculinity must be modeled. Men & boys are socialized into whatever those around them define as “male” in words, images & actions. Healthy masculinity is healthy humanity. We can help boys and young men find the healthiest way to express masculinity. We must change the culture to end the violence. Principles integral to healthy masculinity are:
- Recognizing unhealthy aspects of masculinity
- Empathizing with others
- Supporting gender equity and other forms of equity
- Replacing risky and violent masculine attitudes and behaviors with behaviors and attitudes that respect the self and others
- Learning skills to constructively challenge unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors
MAC will provide leadership to confront issues of sexism, particularly men’s sexual violence against women. In our advocacy efforts and educational programs, we educate, inspire and empower males to prevent, interrupt and respond to sexual abuse.