Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Theory to Practice: Her & His Reflections of Our 3-Day Strength Training

A couple of weeks ago, Men Can Stop Rape, Inc. (MCSR) held its biannual three-day Strength Training, "From Theory to Practice." For three days, 21 strangers - varying from college students to direct service providers - bonded through group exercises, role playing and discussion that connected the dots between the "dominant story" of masculinity and men's violence against women.

Below are two participants take on the training...

American University

We put on skits, brainstormed, interrogated media, and shared personal moments. We even played with toys.

All in all, Men Can Stop Rape’s “From Theory to Practice” Training this past July 16-18 was considerably more fun than any sort of training I’d ever attended, and yet never before could I say that a training had so inspired me on both a personal and professional level.

This is no small statement to make; as a current staff member of MCSR, my position as an “intern” was, in my head, synonymous with “insider.” I have skimmed a dozen of our publications and spent an extensive amount of intimate time with our training manual: I thought I had considerable expertise on how you address male audiences about violence against women. But as the training’s title implies, it is one thing to learn something in theory, and another to learn through application.

So what was so special about this application if I had already learned and understood much of the content? The difference, I believe was in the approach.

Trainers and speakers didn’t just lecture or present material: I think we would agree that such a style isn’t very effective, and we generally don’t appreciate preaching. However, we will almost always embrace opportunities for reflection, guidance, critical thinking, personal growth and a space in which to share these things with others. Indeed, such opportunities are the
most powerful ways to learn, and it is these opportunities that unfold in the very exercises that MCSR uses. In other words, the methods of MCSR allows one to truly internalize and see the impact behind men’s violence against women.

Activities such as describing the strongest men in our lives, listing the qualities of “real men”, linking these qualities to sexual assault and sharing our perspectives, helped us to make the bigger connections between masculinity and violence against women and to see how these issues were present in our own lives. And given that many of these exercises are done with MCSR’s young male audiences, we were enlightened as to how they too could make those same connections, making sure to keep in mind factors of sensitivity, support and neutrality.

But what was better than this process was the overwhelming sense of camaraderie that arose from other participants. Even as an employee of MCSR, I find that I still lose sight of the all dedicated people, women and men, doing this work. The training was a wonderful opportunity to meet individuals who shared the same concerns and struggles, where the act of voicing these struggles opened up doors for bonding and collective problem solving.

And even while men’s contributions to this field are still being tested, the number of eager and open-minded men sitting beside and communicating with receptive and dedicated women became, for me, a confirmation of how gender as well as age and location could be overcome for the sake of progress.

It was there in those moments that I was proud to be involved in this field, a member of this cause and a supporter of all the individuals who do this work.

University of Michigan

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2006 with a degree in sociology, I became passionate about ending men’s violence against women. I have worked at both a rape crisis center and an organization dedicated to raising awareness of domestic violence. As an advocate for social justice, I am constantly looking for the root causes of societal problems, and their solutions. When it comes to the abhorrent level of sexual assault in this country, my eyes focus not on practical steps that women can take to avoid becoming victimized, but rather the forces that cause men to become violent in the first place.

For these reasons, I am attracted to the nonprofit Men Can Stop Rape and the philosophy it espouses. I recently attended the From Theory to Practice training conducted by MCSR. Although I am familiar with the sociological forces contributing to men’s violence, Men Can Stop Rape conducted a series of exercises that furthered my understanding.

More importantly, the organization provided me with a variety of activities and tools to engage men in rape prevention education. I am now equipped with an expanded repertoire of strategies that I can use for approaching a variety of different groups.

The MCSR training reaffirmed by belief that the true answer to preventing rape and sexual assault is working with groups of men and helping them to challenge traditional definitions of masculinity.

Only through this approach, can we truly expect to live in a world without violence.


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