Unpacking “the Man Box”

Dynamic duo Ted Bunch and Anna Marie Johnson Teague dare boys to be different.

Unpacking “the Man Box”

“I dare you.”

These familiar and effective words are used to taunt kids around the globe. I know my own kids and grandkids rarely back down from a dare.

There is usually a certain amount of danger or riskiness in those words, but authors and anti-violence educators Ted Bunch and Anna Marie Johnson Teague use the goading for good in their new book, The Book of Dares: 100 Ways for Boys to Be Kind, Bold, and Brave.

In a world where women are ostracized, condescended to, treated unfairly, and abused by men, Bunch and Johnson Teague founded the organization A Call to Men. The group’s goal is to transform society by promoting healthy, respectful manhood.

What does healthy manhood look like? It means “valuing and respecting women, girls, and LGBQ, Trans, and nonbinary people — and respecting and valuing oneself by striving to live authentically.”

Practicing healthy manhood requires leaving behind the stereotypes of a “real man,” as illustrated by A Call to Men’s term “the Man Box.” Nestled within this cube are the stereotypical characteristics of a real man: “strong, successful, powerful, dominating, fearless, in control, and emotionless.” In the Man Box, women are viewed as less than, as objects or property, thereby perpetuating disrespect and violence against women and nonbinary individuals.

A Call to Men doesn’t condemn boys and men, but “offers an invitation to them.” The group teaches men and boys how their views about manhood, and about women and girls, have been defined by collective socialization — our culture and the media perpetuate the notion that society values women less than men. A Call to Men challenges men and boys to think outside the Man Box.

The Book of Dares is their most recent effort to teach boys compassion and sensitivity. They stress that “being a boy is a wonderful thing,” but Bunch and Johnson Teague also know there is a need for boys to actively reject “male privilege” by learning empathy, what a healthy relationship looks like, and what it means to show emotion, and by developing respect for living authentic lives. It is also a commitment to respecting racial and gender justice and equality for marginalized communities.

The authors have turned the tenets of healthy manhood into 100 dares that support being your best self while simultaneously promoting gender equity. Some of these include:

  • Dare to include girls in sports.
  • Dare to share your true feelings.
  • Dare to do something you love even if it’s not “what boys are supposed to do.”
  • Dare to make a new friend who doesn’t look like you.
  • Dare to ask for help.
  • Dare to be an aspiring ally.

If you have boys, encourage them to break free of the Man Box and complete as many of these challenges as possible. And because most of them lead to kids developing their authentic selves, you should invite girls to tackle them, too.

I dare you!

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: Teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues and loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets but HATES the word normal. Find her on Twitter at @klromo and on Instagram at @k.l.romo.

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