Our Be A Man project is really coming together and we are excited to move forward with it in the coming months. In particular, we have some great ideas for Father's Day to generate discussion and, hopefully, some letter writing. However, today I wanted to talk about how we settled on this project and name.
When Steve and I decided to construct a nonprofit that encourages connection and care using technology, it did not take long to develop a vision for our first project. We choose to start with what we know and where we knew there was a need.
I have been a long time advocate of youth mentoring. My first experience as a mentor was while attending Central College. After graduating and moving to Colorado to pursue an advanced degree, I became a mentor with Partners Mentoring Youth. Although not formally a mentor, Steve regularly provided encouragement and advice for me as well as becoming another ally and friend to my mentee along the way. This experience provided awareness of the mentoring gap and we quickly agreed that this would be a great place for Inspired2C to start.
Although not the only contributor to the mentoring gap, we felt that the time commitment for a full mentoring relationship really holds some people back from volunteering as a mentor. This is supported be the American Time Use Survey that shows men spend more hours at work and less time volunteering than women--not surprising given gendered expectations of men as breadwinners. Thus, we identified letter writing as a simple way to show care that offers another option between a mentoring commitment and doing nothing.
This is where our debate became more heated--who should we target as letter writers and letter recipients. Should we focus on young men who generally face longer wait times for mentors? What about young women who are struggling with the challenges of sexism? Could we effectively serve both? Would a gender neutral approach be best? We struggled with all these questions and more. Going back and forth on what the best strategy would be.
In the end, we obviously chose to target young men for support. We chose them because of their longer wait for mentors, the lack of organizations focused on their needs, and the belief that men must be an active part of the solution to addressing sexism. Additionally, we wanted to easily partner with mentoring organizations for whom it is common practice to define relationships by gendered norms. We also thought that our message would be clearer if presented within the context of a particular gender. Finally, we were excited for how letter writing could be a path for exploring masculinity, caring, communication, and reading--all spaces that have the potential to push men out of their comfort zone to a place of learning and reflection.
So, what about the name? I know some of you are cringing when you hear "Be A Man" as it generally conjurers up a hyper-masculine image. Are we simply reinforcing the rigid box of masculinity? In the short run, maybe. Some will likely associate the name with traditional gender expectations. However, isn't this exactly the type of individuals that we want to engage in conversations about masculinity? Additionally, we feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with being a man. What we take issue with is the narrow social norms limiting who men are. Overtime, we hope that the conversations, stories, and reflections that this project facilitates will promote a redefining and reclaiming of this phrase. We would like everyone to have the vision of men that we do and hope that those who identify as such can proudly Be A Man.
Join us in exploring masculinity and what it means to Be A Man by writing a letter.