Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gender Roles and Movies

Watching a brilliant TED Talk by Colin Stokes, director of communications for the non-profit Citizen Schools, about how movies teach manhood, I was struck by the resonance of this topic to the focus of the Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Stokes argues that our movies have taught girls how to defend against patriarchy, but there are no models for boys to defend against the same patriarchy. Female protagonists in movies exemplify leadership through friendship and teamwork. (There are not enough of these examples, but that’s another story).  Male protagonists in movies exemplify leadership through individual feats of violence that lead to a prize (i.e. a quiet woman who has limited friends and influence).


This singularly modeled path of male leadership has rarely included collaboration, non-violent confrontations, or meaningful relationships with women. And these messages matter. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 found that one in five women surveyed had been raped or experienced an attempted rape at some point in their lives.[1] Research shows that acceptance of violence in general is consistently associated with sexual violence.[2] How do young boys reconcile these two realities: the world of movies where violence is glorified for male characters and their real life relationships?

The state public health department’s SVP Program funds nine community based agencies throughout Colorado to implement a comprehensive prevention strategy focused on increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors related to sexual violence.  A primary focus of the SVP Program is engaging boys and young men to build healthy relationships based on respect. Here is a glimpse at a few of the innovative approaches of funded agencies.

PROGRAM
LOCATION
APPROACH
Avon
EmpowerMENT – empower middle school male students to utilize leadership and bystander skills through mentorship.
Denver
Branching Seedz of Resistance – promoting media literacy, positive youth engagement and leadership for LGBTQ youth
Denver
Social Norms Campaign – identifying gaps between actual and perceived norms of acceptable behavior.
Leadville
Boys Council – high school boys learn to make positive choices; express ideas; work as a team; and strengthen resiliency.
Fort Morgan
Safe Dates – teach middle school youth healthy relationship skills.
Walsenburg
Promotor@ Training – Latino high school youth trained on strict gender roles and link to healthy sexuality.
Boulder
Peers Building Justice – empower high school youth to identify healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors.
Frisco
Boys Council – middle school boys learn to make positive choices; express ideas; work as a team; and strengthen resiliency.
Alamosa
Safe Dates – teach high school youth healthy relationship skills.


In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” These SVP-funded agencies are working hard to create a different narrative; one that includes healthy relationships, mutual respect and the opportunity for collaboration.

-By Tomei Kuehl, Sexual Violence Prevention Program Coordinator




[1] Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National
Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[2] Sears, H., Byers, S. & Price, L. (2007). The co-occurrence of adolescent boys’ and girls’ use of psychologically, physically, and sexually abusive behaviors in their dating relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 30, 487-504.

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