A Thousand Points of Light?

A year ago when I typed into a Google search bar “defining healthy masculinity,” one of the first links to appear was “Choosing Healthy Masculinity and What That Means” on the website of the organization where I work, Men Can Stop Rape, I thought, “Oh, good. Maybe we’ve already defined it.” Joe Samalin, my former colleague who wrote the piece in 2009, characterizes healthy masculinity as “a group of high school boys volunteering at a local domestic violence shelter… or, straight and cis-gendered college men partnering as allies with LGBTQ student organizations… and, the enlisted men and officers in the Air Force who come to [our organization] for training on how to create safer workplaces.” But when it comes to defining it, he claims “there is no single definition or ideal of healthy masculinity—there are as many definitions as there are men.” Here’s a definition with the caveat that it’s very much a work in progress.

Healthy masculinity:

• involves the ability to recognize unhealthy aspects of masculinity—those features that are harmful to the self and others

• leads to the replacement of harmful, risky and violent masculine attitudes and behaviors with empathetic behaviors and attitudes that benefit men’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being and increase their ability to role-model nonviolence

• is based on supporting gender equity and other forms of equality

• includes social and emotional skills used to positively challenge in yourself—and in others—unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors that harm the self and others.

I’ve tried to combine two related sides of the healthy masculinity coin: those of us who use healthy masculinity as a means of engaging men in preventing gender-based violence, and those who use it to advance men’s emotional and physical health. A definition like this could be culturally manifested in multiple ways (healthy masculinity in India might look different in Australia, but the general principles would be the same), so, in this sense, a definition of healthy masculinity might result in healthy masculinities. I am beginning to think that maybe a single definition and a thousand points of light can coexist peacefully.

Patrick McGann is director of strategy and planning at Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR). Coauthor of a comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy for the Department of Defense, he has overseen the creation MCSR’s Where Do You Stand? and the highly regarded Young Men of Strength social marketing campaign.