Defying gender roles as a female is difficult, as is evidenced in the Vagina Monologues, a feminist play that was performed at Emory in February 2015. However, to defy gender roles as a male is a different sort of challenge.
The Men’s Story Project, an international project that aims to defy masculine gender norms, will lead a discussion and dialogue in the Rollins Auditorium on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Five Emory students will share their stories of embracing masculinity while attempting to defy gender norms.
Jocelyn Lehrer, a senior research associate at the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and the Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, founded The Men’s Story Project in 2008 to challenge the mainstream expectations and violence associated with masculinity, according to the project’s website.
Alex Plum, a graduate student at Rollins School of Public Health, brought the project to Emory’s campus this semester after working abroad in New Delhi.
“The Men’s Story Project exists so that we can provide a venue, a platform, an opportunity for men to come together and tell their own personal story in a way that has them reflect upon while also sort of challenging harmful social norms about masculinity, about what it means to be a man,” Plum said.
As a Public Health student, he works to explore the “intersections between masculinity and health” to learn about “the health of boys, the health of young men and the health of the communities they live.”
Plum met Lehrer at a conference on gender relations and equality, where they both discussed their common hope to find “a way to bring men together in an organic setting where they can explore by telling those stories, those social norms that they learned about being men and how those social norms have played out in their lives and how they challenged those social norms in order to create peace,” Plum said.
Putting together these stories, Plum said, has been extremely relevant to not only his work, but also to recent events on Emory’s campus.
He cited a bias incident and associated act of vandalism at the Jewish fraternity Alpha Pi Epsilon (AEPi) fraternity house last semester as examples of issues meriting a discussion of men’s issues.
“So it seemed like we were already in an environment where some negative things were happening that maybe could be related to harmful masculinity and men showing off and creating acts of violence for reasons we condone socially, even if we don’t condone them personally,” Plum explained. “I thought it might be good to be getting men to start telling their stories.”
College senior Marcus Jenkins said he was motivated to perform because of his past.
“I decided to get involved because I thought my personal story of growing up without a father needed to be fully vocalized,” Jenkins said, adding that his upbringing in a single-parent household was “a part of my masculine identity.”
A first-year graduate student at School of Public Health, Matthew McCurdy wanted the opportunity to discuss “the nature of hyper-masculinity” and how it affects adolescent health.
After getting involved, McCurdy said his perspective changed as he adapted his story to a more personal narrative.
“I think this should be my story personally, so I guess my motivation has kind of grown into a self-exploration of how norms and masculinity have shaped by life, and I think it’s a process we need to explore,” he said.
McCurdy also said that while the Men’s Story Project and the Vagina Monologues are both similar productions, he believes the Men’s Story Project is more personal in nature.
The Vagina Monologues, a series of solo performances that explore female sexuality organized on campus by Feminists-in-Action, features stories based on interviews, while the Men’s Story Project has performers draw on their own experiences.
McCurdy said he feels anxious to share his story.
“I think the fact that something makes me uncomfortable gives me more reason to do it,” he said. “I think talking about masculinity so much is uncomfortable for me, even as a man.”
Both McCurdy and Jenkins said they are interested to see the audience’s response to the production. McCurdy expects the opinions to range from encouragement to inspiration.
“I think a lot of people are very unsure what this is, so I think people will appreciate just hearing men express themselves,” McCurdy said. “I think that [it] is abnormal to hear [men] talk about emotions [and] talk about the result of masculinity.”
Overall, Jenkins said he wanted one underlying message to come across: “I wanted to show that I’m still here, and I don’t feel restricted, but as a society, we are restricted in relation to our masculinity.”
College freshman Julie Chen said she looks forward to seeing the Men’s Story Project, especially since she was not able to attend the Vagina Monologues in February. She added that the former production differs from the latter in that it shatters traditional gender roles rather than embracing men’s empowerment.
“There are a lot of stereotypes that I think that paint men to be in a certain way, and I kind of hope Men’s Story Project undoes that,” Chen said. “The fact that gender roles exist and the fact that men and women have to be either this way or that way is wrong.”
Correction (4/22 at 5:58 p.m.): The fourth paragraph included quotation marks around a description of the Men’s Story Project attributed to the project’s website. The description had been paraphrased, not directly quoted.