The Re-emergence of Healthy Masculinity: A Necessity in these Times

In this unusual historic moment, when public figures can ascend to powerful political positions, despite evidence of heinous impropriety in their private lives, it is important to discuss the antecedents to these troubling cultural trends, and to outline our school’s commitment to healthy emergence within ourselves and our students. 

During my trip to Bioneers Conference with the high schoolers on their last expedition, I attended a number of powerful workshops. I heard one particular presentation by author Kevin Powell, which was transformative for me personally. Powell is a graceful and beautiful man who has a commitment to challenging the toxic masculinity of North American culture. Upon my return to Manzanita, I felt a renewed commitment to examining my own life, and to considering the ways in which I listen (or fail to listen) to the women and girls around me. 

Since its inception, Manzanita School has been committed to disrupting the cultural outgrowths of empire, including anthropocentrism, which views the human to be above all other life forms. It is this false perception of the supremacy of the human that has caused the ongoing devastation of the natural world. Other behaviors related to empire, domination, and unhealthy expressions of power are patriarchy, colonialism, and misogyny. One of the more general definitions of misogyny is, “ingrained prejudice against women.” During MNZ’s first courses in Human Growth & Development this year, students in grades 8 thru 12 were taught about misogyny, and it’s impacts on North American culture. My lessons to the 8th through 12th graders reviewed the statistics on violence against women, including the fact that 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime. This is compared to 1 in 71 men who will experience sexual violence. We also learned that over 90% of sexual assault and rape victims are women, and that every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is beaten. This means nearly 10,000 women are assaulted every day. While at Bioneers, I heard the term ‘rape culture’ used again, an expression that had previously felt too strong to my ears. It doesn’t feel that way anymore. 

Wikipedia tells us that, “Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.” The Office of Sexual Assault Prevention at Harvard University concludes that, “rape culture… manifests in the print, music, and film media we consume, the language we use to talk about sex and relationships, and the laws that govern our public and private spaces. Rape culture promotes sexual objectification and coercion, lack of agency over one’s body, and dismissal of feminine-presenting or gender nonconforming individuals.” 

Wikipedia also states that, “Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.” 

The Manzanita Parent-Student Handbook includes this language: “The students of Manzanita are taught…to have mutual respect and tolerance, and to understand the value of cooperation….Bullying behavior is unacceptable at Manzanita, including verbal or physical abuse, teasing, ridicule, and any other mean-spirited behavior targeting a student.” (page 14). 

At Manzanita, we believe that many of our north-American cultural attitudes towards women and the female-bodied, and the behaviors which emerge from those attitudes, are central to the perpetuation of ‘rape culture’ and support the ongoing violence against women and girls. We also believe that young boys in America, very early on in their lives, are exposed to attitudes which, though seemingly inconspicuous at times, are in fact toxic and lead to behaviors that seed the conditions for the prevalence of violence against women in our culture. Furthermore, at Manzanita, we believe that the teachings of contemporary nature-based peoples, in particular the Odawa of Michigan and Ohio, offer healthy and ancestrally-validated alternative to cultural beliefs that feed rape-culture. For example, the Odawa prioritize male-bodied social responsibilities as being those related to protecting and providing. Domination of others, especially through greater size or strength, is antithetical to their world-view. 

At Manzanita, we will continue to pay special attention to any kind of aggression or bullying among students. We will be uniquely sensitive to bullying by male-bodied students against female-bodied students, as it recapitulates inequitable power dynamics faced by women in social, political, and cultural spheres of our country. Such bullying is often facilitated through perceived power differentials between men and women related to gendered physical size as well as cultural preferencing of males. 

Bullying and aggression by male-bodied against female-bodied, in schools and in society, is an especially pernicious form of domination, as it is taking place within a historically patriarchal society infected with the dynamics of rape culture. Each such act of bullying can be seen as representing another stone in the foundation of rape culture. Stated differently, each time a male-bodied person resists the temptation to aggress against or bully someone who is female-bodied, he is disrupting patriarchy, and every time he protects or defends someone who is female-bodied, he is dismantling rape culture. This is a collective necessity of our times; the interrupting of empire, colonialism, and the misogyny born of these historical traumas. The cultural expressions of empire are neither healthy nor organic to human beings, and their unraveling is as inevitable as it is imperative. We are all implicated in this vital work.