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By on November 17, 2009

The Men's Story Project

At the beginning of November, CALCASA’s Dan Esparza and I attended the 1st National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-Violence Groups held at St. John’s University in Minnesota. This ground-breaking event joins a string of 2009 conferences that explored issues of men’s  engagement and accountability in anti-sexist and anti-violence work, including the Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality held in Rio de Janeiro this March, Men Can Stop Rape‘s Men and Women as Allies National Conference on the Primary Prevention of Men’s Violence Against Women held in Washington DC this April, and A CALL TO MEN‘s 4th National Conference held in New York this May.

Among the many exciting efforts presented at the Campus-Based Men’s Gender-Equality conference was The Men’s Story Project. As described on the Project’s website:

The Men’s Story Project (MSP) is a new public performance and community dialogue project that explores social ideas about masculinity, using the arts as a medium for community-building and social change. It aims to highlight men’s stories that are less often heard; to break silences on issues including sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism and violence – and ways in which these are often intertwined with masculinities; to celebrate men’s beauty and humanness; and to stimulate active discussion on what being a man can be all about. The ultimate goal of this replicable project is to help increase the presence of genuine self-expression, peace, health and justice in communities.  The project was started in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In each MSP performance, a diverse group of approximately 15 local men share pieces they have created about their own lives, on subjects including sexuality, gender identity, romantic relationships, friendship, family, mentors, rites of passage, HIV/AIDS, perpetration of and healing from violence, immigration, personal transformations, and the men they wish to be – all with a framing focus on examination of masculinities and men’s roles.  Performances are multi-medium, including slam poetry, monologues, prose, music and dance.  Each performance is followed by facilitated audience-presenter discussion. MSP presenters are local artists, activists, and men who have never been on a public stage.

Dr. Josie Lehrer, the Project’s creator, has developed training materials and resources that can help the Men’s Story Project be replicated in any community. In my opinion, it absolutely should be. The power of a project like this to expose the interior lives of men is essential component to advancing gender-transformative anti-violence work. I was pleased to learn from the Project’s website that I am not alone in this opinion. These comments refer to a film that documented the stories told at the first MSP event in April 2009:

“The Men’s Story Project film is a powerful and moving tool for sparking conversations about male socialization, the variety of masculinities men act out, and the roles that all men can play in building healthy and just communities.”
   –   Paul Kivel, co-founder of the Oakland Men’s Project, author of Men’s Work and other books

“It is still relatively rare — and often startling — to hear men talk openly and honestly about experiences in our families, struggles (and joys) in relationships, violent victimization or perpetration, or anything else that leaves us feeling vulnerable — especially in front of other men. That is why the Men’s Story Project film is such an important contribution to the expanding work of engaging men at all levels of gender justice work: it speaks to our hearts as well as our minds, and beautifully brings together the personal and political aspects of these critical issues.”
   –   Jackson Katz, anti-sexist educator, filmmaker & author

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