We’ve had some good times, the “My Strength Is Not for Hurting” social marketing campaign and Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR). The campaign has been around for a little more than a decade, its posters, billboards, banners, postcards, and bus ads gracing hundreds of walls, highways, and buses throughout the U.S. And sometimes it has traveled to foreign countries, like South Africa, Japan, and Scotland. At this point, millions of men have seen its striking visuals.
But any campaign that has been around as long as this one
begins to lose its steam. And for good reason. While it was a groundbreaking at
the time – someone just placed a 2002 issue of O The Oprah Magazine on my desk in which the campaign is called
“stunning” – it has failed to keep up with the times in two important ways. First
of all, how we understand and shape consent is beginning to change. Almost all
the “My Strength” messaging springs from the phrase, “No means no,” a popular
anti-date rape slogan. A few examples are: “My strength is not for hurting, so
when she said no, I said okay,” “So when I wanted her, I asked her, and I took
no for an answer,” “So when I wanted to and she didn’t, we didn’t.” The more
positive phrase, “Yes means yes,” popularized by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn
Friedman’s anthology of the same name, is gaining credence. Yes Means Yes! is based on the idea that the prevalence of rape will substantially
drop when both women and men value female sexuality and pleasure. While it’s a
little ways off, Men Can Stop Rape wants to create a campaign in the near
future targeting young men that incorporates this idea.
Secondly, when it comes to primary prevention bystander
intervention (BI) is where it’s at right now, and the BI component of “My
Strength Is Not for Hurting” has always been miniscule compared to the focus on
consent. (See two past MCSR blogs for more on this issue, one about David
Lisak’s work on predatory rape and college campuses, the other on men and bystander intervention.) The one BI poster* with four men that says, “My
strength is not for hurting, so when men disrespect women, we say that’s not
right,” has always been by far the most popular of all 19 posters, so there has
always been a strong interest in promoting bystander intervention to men. From
our perspective now, one BI poster doesn’t do the job. We know from research that a successful BI campaign has multiple examples of intervention that are specific to the particular situation presented. That’s why we
created the [YMOST] Young Men of Strength for middle school boys and WHERE DOYOU STAND? for college men specifically as bystander intervention campaigns.
They offer media materials with more specific situations and interventions that
are addressed in even more detail during train-the-trainer trainings.
So we say a fond farewell to “My Strength Is Not for
Hurting,” with the recognition that “being strong sometimes means being able to
* You could also include the “My Strength” poster with nine
men that says, “Show your strength, stand up, speak up,” in the BI category but
the intervention is so non-descriptive that it’s ineffectual.
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