We, men, must accept the fact that we are failing. We have been persistently failing in the fight to destroy patriarchy. We are failing because we continue hearing too many tragic stories, already coupled with the history of state violence against women – specifically Black women – for far too long. Despite this fact, we continue to feed into this culture of toxic masculinity with our silence and inactions. We are failing because we erroneously assume that it is enough to just support women’s platforms in our community. We are invariably failing because we are working under the wrong assumption that it was enough to love, educate and teach independence to our daughters. Or that to simply model valuing women to our sons would solve the problem. We must all step up. We men must start properly recognizing the active role we play in perpetuating the problem and how we can begin to proactively solve it. We must resolutely face the mirror, and then organize ourselves into direct action to stop failing.
The first major step for us to do better is to recognize our role in this patriarchal system and how we perpetuate it and then to offer our apologies for our failing. I personally apologize for my failures. I accept the fact that I must do better to dismantle patriarchy in my community. In order to dismantle toxic masculinity, we need to individually call ourselves out for how mistaken we’ve been in our personal course to a more just and equitable society.
We must also understand, however, this first step is just an individual act. This is also a systematic issue. A systemic problem normalized and ingrained in our cultural fabric to dehumanize women and categorize them as second class citizens. This is so because the social and economic determinants of (hetero) sexual violence are based on gender inequality between men and women, subscription to gender norms and stereotypes, hostile attitudes towards women, and social and institutional cultures which accept gender inequality and gender stereotypes as “normal” or “natural”. By failing to condemn them, we, men, perpetuate them. In our community men are failing to grasp that this is an issue of systematic oppression, and that we were all trained to maintain this oppressive system alive as oppressors. Yes, we are failing.
It is long overdue, but we must begin to have the uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations around awareness and the need for concrete actions. We need to begin a serious process of not just healing, but also a genuine movement towards action to dismantle the many layers of toxic masculinity culture in our community. We must act to create a culture of accountability.
Words are tools. Our lack of words through history has created a culture of silence that is complicit and complacent. Nonetheless, to only support with words at a distance and not be part of direct efforts is also part of the problem. To remove yourself, at any moment, from conversations about direct actions is, in fact, an unequivocal attitude that maintains the culture of toxic masculinity alive. Therefore, we must come forward and have that dialogue and invite others to the difficult conversations of creating that platform for action. After all, men must recognize women’s rights are a matter of human rights that require our participation as well.
For example, prevention of sexual assault has traditionally been a space occupied by women—both as educators and as the audience for messages on how to keep safe from the threat of violence. Nevertheless, we men need to realize that, contrary to traditional belief, men are also imparting sexual assault prevention programs that target men. There is a great need in our community to acknowledge the importance of men as facilitators/educators and as participants in sexual assault prevention programs, too. Men must begin a culture that focuses on creating gender equality, questioning gender stereotypes, using information to correct hostile and violent attitudes towards women. We have to get on board and support the shift in cultural and institutional attitudes around gender and sexuality as a course of action in our community to confront toxic masculinity. These conversations need to be approached with a clear mindset and great honesty. That will take time, but we must do it.
We must engage and work with professionals that would not only guide us, but would also help the younger generations (because we, too, are failing them) in destroying the cycle of violence produced by men. We must changed the conversation from risk-avoidant messages aimed at women in our communities to a more inclusive standard message of men doing the work of educating men to create a culture of accountability. There is plenty of evidence that indicates that gender equality and respectful relationships are key to reducing violence against women, and we men must learn to speak about this.
There will be resistance that stems from discomfort, rejection of ideas, or from other sources. Opposition to prevention messages is salient for men who will be defensive or will question the legitimacy of a field that has traditionally been seen only as a feminist space. We should welcome that. Real change only comes out of uncomfortable discussions.
To challenge gender-based stereotypes, it will also become necessary to employ tactics that clean a language that is full of categorizations that present men as violent (e.g., competitive, aggressive, dominant). A strong belief in gender stereotypes and a weak belief in gender equality are key determinants in the perpetration and perpetuation of violence against women in our community. All of this will take time, but it must be done.
Finally, but equally as important: it is time to do away with the need to always want to create heroes and male idols based on the tendency and hunger to validate ourselves as a community. It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that when serious allegations are made, we must confront them immediately as a community. We, men, must do better communally to confront this culture of toxic masculinity and to eradicate the patriarchal standards that contaminate our society. It is time for us men to step up. We have failed women in our community far too many times.
Edwin Rosario Mazara is the founder of Spanglish Voces, a non-profit promoting community building through the arts. He also founded La Sala Talks, an outlet that communicates diverse perspectives within our cultures. Currently serves as a Communications Director at the NY State Senate—an activist who loves reading, la música & conversations & las miles de historias de los desconocidos.