Q&A with Tony Porter, Co-Founder of A CALL TO MEN

STAND! is proud to announce that this year’s Rebuilding Lives Luncheon keynote address will be given by Tony Porter. Tony is an author, educator and activist working to advance social justice issues. As the co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, Tony is internationally recognized for his efforts to prevent violence against women while promoting a healthy, respectful manhood. He is a leading voice on male socialization, the intersection of masculinity and violence against women and healthy, respectful manhood. Tony’s 2010 TED Talk has been named by GQ Magazine as one of the “Top 10 TED Talks Every Man Should See.”

Tony is an advisor to the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, where he provides policy consultation, works extensively with player engagement and facilitates violence prevention and healthy manhood training. He is an international lecturer for the U.S. State Department and has been a guest presenter to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Tony has also worked with the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

As a preview of his keynote address, Tony spoke to STAND! about what he calls the Man Box, a social construct, and healthy masculinity and its role in ending gender-based violence.

You’ve traveled all over the world to talk about healthy masculinity and preventing violence against women. What has the reaction been like across different communities?

In all my travels, I’m usually brought in by leaders in the community so the message and work of A CALL TO MEN is typically valued.  But no matter where I am in the world or who is in the room – I find that if men are given the space to have conversations about healthy, respectful manhood, they start to think more deeply and critically about what manhood means to them.  A CALL TO MEN makes a point not to indict but invite men to be part of a conversation that allows them to think – often for the very first time – about what they’ve been taught about being a man, how that has affected their views of women and girls – and how that differs from the healthy, respectful manhood that we promote. 

For those of us who have young men and boys at home, what can we do to 1) empower them to step outside the Man Box and 2) prepare them for the push back they may get from their male peers?

We talk to young men and boys about the principles of healthy, respectful manhood, offering some concrete ways to think about their actions. 

The Principles of Healthy, Respectful Manhood

1.      Embrace and express a full range of emotion.

2.      Do not conform to the pressure to always be fearless and in control.  

3.      Value a woman’s life, treat all people equally and promote the betterment of humanity.

4.      Do not use language that denigrates women and girls.

5.      Develop an interest in the experience of women and girls, outside of sexual conquest.

6.      Model a healthy, respectful manhood to other men and boys. 

We also want young men and boys to understand that men who reject rigid notions of masculinity and embrace a healthy, respectful manhood will prevent violence against women, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying and many other social ills.  These men make a positive contribution to their families, their communities and humanity at large.  But even more than the benefit it brings to others, there is a direct health benefit to them.  Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who suppress their emotions are one-third more likely to die prematurely than people who regularly express what they are feeling.  Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms can manifest.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is four times higher in men than in women. 

An unfortunate consequence of the Man Box is that, even when talking about issues that primarily affect women, men’s voices tend to carry more authority. What are your thoughts on this? What can men do to help women be heard?

Violence against women has primarily been a women’s issue because women have been at the forefront, leading the way.  But because the majority of violence against women is men’s violence, men have the potential to speak to other men in a way that holds them accountable, while offering hope and healing. 

A CALL TO MEN recognizes that the underlying causes of violence and discrimination against women are rooted in the ways women and girls have been traditionally viewed and treated in our society.  In the Man Box, men are taught to be dominating, so women must be submissive.  Men are strong, so therefore women are vulnerable and weak.  Men are superior, so women are inferior.   Men are in charge, which means women are not. 

Changing what we men teach other men and boys about women and girls is the key to ending the violence and discrimination that not only hurts women, but prevents men from being their authentic selves. 

Internalized misogyny: Is it possible that women are in the Man Box as well?

We at A CALL TO MEN don’t see women in the Man Box.  With any form of group oppression, members of that group may support maintaining the status quo in their quest for safety and value.  This may look like women are in the Man Box, but most often, it’s simply a woman’s attempt to survive in a male dominating society.  At the end of the day, the benefactors of that construct are still men.

What do you mean when you say “my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman?”

Sexism and inequality not only hurt women, but imprison men.  We are held hostage to the norms of the Man Box and it has a profound impact on men’s health and emotional wellbeing. When boys are told not to cry or feel [emotion], there are long-term lasting negative effects on their health and relationships. 

In defining manhood, men are taught to distance themselves from the experiences of women and girls – to develop a lack of interest.  This starts in the toddler years when boys are told things like, “you don’t want to play with dolls, those are for girls.”  Around age 16, the culture of manhood gives boys permission to be interested in the experience of girls in one primary area – sexual conquest. This is continually reinforced by society. Everywhere boys look they see women and girls objectified and portrayed in ways they can be “consumed” by men.   Boys who have interest in the experience of girls outside of sexual conquest are far too often punished for operating outside of the Man Box.  They are called derogatory and homophobic names which further devalues women and girls.  Men who are abusive exploit this reality.  While well-meaning men may not hurt or degrade women, they have been conditioned to not intervene, to not interfere in the business of another man on behalf of a woman. 

If men are freed from the norms of the Man Box, women are freed from a male dominating society.


To hear Tony Porter present his keynote address at the 24th Annual Rebuilding Lives Luncheon on October 6, 2016, please register here