When Jocelyn Lehrer founded The Men’s Story Project, she wanted to create spaces where male-identifying people can explore their identities without the social standards of masculinity. On May 26 and 27, students at the University of Oregon and members of the Eugene community will take part in actualizing Lehrer’s vision.
“There’s a lot of preventable pain and suffering in the world that’s connected with social issues about masculinity,” Lehrer said. “The big secret is that most men are not comfortable with the social expectations about masculinity that are placed upon them, and yet, we continue as if there’s nothing to talk about.”
The purpose of The Men’s Story Project is to provide a platform where men can speak about their experiences concerning societal expectations of them, and challenge social norms.
Lehrer added that these social norms often contribute to transphobia, homophobia, violence toward women and violence between men, fraternity hazing, and anything concerning a man’s desire to prove himself as manly. She also said that some men don’t want to ask for support for fear of being labeled as weak.
“Every problem that I just mentioned to you has underlying roots in social ideas about masculinity and gender relations,” Lehrer said. “And so the more that we can challenge those underlying ideas about masculinity that contribute to those kind of problems, the better.”
Eleven people who identify as male from all ages and backgrounds will be speaking about their personal experiences during The Men’s Story Project. Some of these experiences will concern the challenges associated with being a man of color or identifying as transgender, among others.
These stories will be presented through song, prose, monologue, dance, poetry and so on.
In 2009, Clover Mathis participated in The Men’s Story Project event at UC Berkley. He performed a dance with a younger dancer that represented an older man serving as a guide to a younger man.
He said he wanted to get involved with The Men’s Story Project when he was studying the way society defines masculinity.
After participating, he found that the project encourages people to discover themselves in separation from societal expectations of men.
“We must ask ourselves: ‘who are we?’” Mathis said. “And maybe get a different definition of manhood.”
Aaron Porter, president of the Men’s Center, said that part of accomplishing this is by listening to less-heard stories of others and their experiences, while also educating oneself on how to build healthy relationships and live healthy lives.
He said that currently, society places men in a box that limits their character to the social definitions of manhood.
“Let’s throw away the box all together, and let’s be healthy human beings. Let’s talk openly about the crap that’s going on around us that men are perpetuating that’s really unhealthy. And let’s celebrate the beautiful things that men around us are doing,” Porter said. “The men that are not just a part of the problem. But let’s talk about the ways that men we know are part of the solution.”