On Tuesday I posted Jimmy Carter’s brave op-ed distancing himself from the Southern Baptist Convention on the Moral Courage Project blog. The post prompted some interesting dialog on the site. I was particularly struck by the words of Erin:
Although it seems that disassociating with an organization that discriminates against women is the right thing to do intellectually, especially for a man who champions human rights for all, the ability to do so emotionally can be very challenging—impossible for some.
In many cultures boys are brought up to be “tough.” The use of violence and the degradation of women are seen as mere rites of passage, or less. For many cultures and communities teaching boys to disrespect women is simply a part of their upbringing. Few men, even fathers, are willing to go against the grain and teach boys that violence, sexual conquests, and disrespecting women and elders does little to make you a “real man.”
Erin continues, making a link between Carter’s statement and the new film The Stoning of Soraya M:
Soraya’s Aunt Zara. Zara, similar to Carter, was an elder in her village–someone who was respected (by most) for her independent thought and wisdom. Zara didn’t let the shameful stoning of Soraya go unheard or unrecognized.
Zahra was unsuccessful in saving Soraya because there were other elders in the village, male elders, who had more influence because they were male.
How can we prevent boys from growing up to be such harmful influences on their communities? Programs that recognize the power male elders have in preventing violence are few, but make a big impact in preventing violence. Morally courageous men are beginning to take on the responsibility of educating boys about the true meaning of manhood, and using creative ways to spread their message and influence.
One such man is Pedro Elias of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte who I had the privilege of meeting at Planned Parenthood’s annual conference this past March. Pedro runs a Male Involvement Program for male youths that educates them about healthy relationships and expressing feelings in a non-harmful way. The ultimate goals of the program are to prevent teen pregnancy/unintended fatherhood, promote responsibility, and encourage long-term community involvement.
Pedro’s program is teaching young men about non-traditional rites of passage and encouraging them to become influential elders with an investment in their own community. The most effective curriculum is the El Joven Noble (The Noble Young Man) program designed by anti-violence activist Jerry Tello. The program relies heavily on the participation of “Elders” from the community.
The youth involved in the program are encouraged to develop the same type of investment in their communities that Pedro and the other Elders have. Pedro says the boys are encouraged to maintain a long-term relationship with the program and that many of the Elders are former program participants (or men Pedro has met through his work as an activist). Boys that remain engaged with their communities into adulthood receive recognition and support from Pedro and Planned Parenthood.
Teaching men about healthy relationships not only prevents violence and pregnancy, but also instills in youth the sense that there are blessings to being an active member of their community and an active father when the time is right.
Why aren’t there more programs like this? Pedro says that breaking the ice and talking to youth about violence can be hard because boys don’t see violence as a problem. Violence is so mainstream in our society the boys often see violence and rage as acceptable ways to express themselves.
Pedro uses his personal experience with domestic violence to help the boys understand the point of view of the victim. This is an effective way to keep through to the boys as they are hearing the words of a victim, but also someone they trust and respect.
When I met Pedro I was struck by his warm personality, his enthusiasm for his work, and I was thrilled to hear about his innovative program. However, the question remain in the back of my head: “is Pedro the exception to the rule? Is there a way to encourage more men to care about this issue?”
I asked Pedro how he became interested in working with young men. “Every young man represents a unique story; however, all are young men. They are a mirror image of each other and I am a mirror image of them. I was a young man with a story as well. I had the opportunity to grow up with positive role models in my life and yet still was not the perfect young man. Not being perfect is now the medicine that reassures me and drives me to make a difference in the lives of young men. Learning from mistakes is realizing how it originated and not repeating it again.”
Pedro is an example to all those who wish to stop the ever-increasing violence in our society and the influence elders such as those in Soraya have on society. Pedro is an especially relevant example for men who want to be active parts of the solution instead of the problem.
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.