Tony Porter, the co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit A Call to Men, has become internationally recognized for his work with men and boys that seeks to end violence and discrimination against all women and girls. Twenty-four years ago, Porter started working with domestic-violence offenders at VCS, a volunteer counseling service in New City, New York. Under the mentorship of female activists, Porter began to see more clearly how men can become a part of the solution. He wanted to raise awareness about what well-meaning men have in common with men who batter or sexually assault women. Porter recognized that in our society, all men are socialized to devalue women. While offenders must be held accountable for their abusive and violent behavior, well-meaning men can help to address this larger social ill.
As A Call to Men’s work expanded and its reputation grew, Porter was asked to present in front of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. He eventually gave a TED Talk, now with more than 4 million views, and authored the book Breaking Out of the “Manbox”: The Next Generation of Manhood, which opened up a wider conversation on how to engage men in the efforts to end violence against women. Now considered an authority on the topic, Porter has lectured for the State Department and serves as an adviser to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, providing policy consultation, player engagement, and violence-prevention training. A Call to Men has worked with groups of men, including ones in the military and at universities, to redefine what it means to “be a man.”
The nonprofit’s LiveRespect curriculum teaches middle- and high-school boys to identify not only how society pressures them to follow strict gender rules but also the consequences, ranging from teasing to violence, if they don’t conform. A Call to Men’s programs help men and boys to identify everything from the media’s influence, to what demonstrates consent, coercion, and nonconsent, to the myths and facts of sexual harassment and assault. Most important, they teach them how to interrupt the cycle by speaking up and making respectful choices. These practices allow men to embrace a healthy manhood and to create healthy relationships with women and girls. I spoke with Porter about how he reframes masculinity for the men he teaches.
Chelsey Goodan: Why do you think a lot of men don’t feel responsible for preventing violence and discrimination against women?
Tony Porter: I’ll start out by saying most men are not physically abusive. Most men, though, are silent to the abuse. That silence is rooted in how men are socialized to have a lack of interest in the experience of women and girls. When you look at the collective socialization of manhood, so much of what men are taught about what defines being a man is the opposite of what they perceive to be the definition of what it means to be a woman.
If women have permission to share their emotions, then men don’t. If women have permission to express their fears, then men don’t. If women have permission to ask for help, then men don’t. To most effectively distance yourself, men are taught to have a lack of interest, until boys come of a certain age and then sexual conquest is the priority. When men demonstrate interest outside of sexual conquest, far too often their “manhood” is in question. It’s so easy to motivate a boy in athletics by telling him he’s “playing like a girl.” We have to ask ourselves, “Why does that work so effectively?” For the most part, it’s taught so early on, we’re just on remote control.