Unmasking Sexual Harassment and Lessons for Violence Prevention

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By Jane Kato-Wallace, Brian Heilman, and Ché Nembhard of Equimundo
Originally posted on the National Latin@ Network, available in English and Spanish

There’s been a lot of media attention lately on the behavior of adult men in power, from Harvey Weinstein to government legislators. But research shows that men are socialized early on to buy into toxic ideas of manhood. Recently, Equimundo released a report called “The Man Box,” exploring how young men’s attitudes about “being a real man” link with their reported rates of perpetrating sexual harassment, among many other harmful outcomes. In this study, we used representative samples of more than 1,000 young men in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Mexico, including rural/urban areas, and young men in all educational and income levels.

Our findings have major implications for understanding the root causes of sexual harassment and how to prevent it. We found that:

  • Though the majority of men do not harass, bully, or approve of violence, one in five young men in Mexico and one in three young men in the U.S. and the U.K. had made sexually harassing comments to a woman or girl they didn’t know in a public or online space in the prior month.
  • Young men who hold the strongest belief in harmful masculine norms related to hypersexuality, homophobia, and aggression, are up to 10 times as likely to have perpetrated this sexual harassment as men who least believe in these norms.
  • Nearly 2/3 of respondents to the Man-Box tool had been told, at some point in their lives, that a “real man” behaves a certain way.

Peers, parents, teachers, the media and others play a role in reinforcing harmful ideas about how men should act to be considered “real men.” If an individual knows no other narrative or definition of manhood, our data show, their actions often follow that narrative. So then, what are some ways we can challenge these beliefs and provide a new narrative? We can:

  • Start young, engaging youth in reflection and discussion about respect, equality, gender norms and the rejection of violence;
  • Implement bystander approaches, teaching young men to speak out in nonviolent ways when they see the abusive behavior;
  • Listen to women and include their voices at all levels of programming and outreach.

For more good ideas on how to work with young men to deconstruct harmful masculine norms and prevent all forms of men’s violence against women, please tune into the webinar that we are presenting, “What Does the Evidence Say? Innovative Approaches to Engaging Men and Boys,” on March 29, hosted by the National Latin@ Network. To register or for more information, click here.

You can find the full Man Box report here and the Unmasking Sexual Harassment research brief here.

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