Tony Porter is on a mission.
As the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization A CALL TO MEN, Porter is on a mission to eliminate violence against women and promote a view of manhood that allows men to live authentically.
Porter founded A CALL TO MEN over fifteen years ago with a stated vision to “create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.” At their recent anniversary gala in New York, Gloria Steinem called the work of A CALL TO MEN “the basis for world peace.”
In a widely viewed and acclaimed TED talk, Porter talked about the “Man Box” and described some of his early experiences in trying to break free of a mentality that can lead men to disrespect and abuse women.
We recently spoke with Porter about how he came to start the organization, how men have responded to the message over the years, and discussed A CALL TO MEN’s upcoming conference in Minnesota. What follows are some excerpts from that conversation.
In your TED talk you describe the “man box” and relate a formative experience from when you were twelve-years-old. How did the boy you describe end up starting A CALL TO MEN?
Well, I became a social worker and during that time I was a director of an alcohol and drug treatment program in a small town called Nyack, New York, about thirty minutes north of the Bronx, which is where I grew up (in the Bronx) and.… various service providers would come in and meet with the men and the women and share with them about the services and talk with them about the impact of domestic and sexual violence. I had, over the years leading up to that point in time, been doing a lot of work around undoing racism in New York state and having a lot of challenges around the prison-industrial complex … inappropriate sentencing for small quantities of drugs, the destruction this was causing in the community and the family, and I was very much at the forefront of a lot of those efforts…. I worked as a volunteer at a batterer’s prevention program for about five years working with men who are abusive and it was during that time that I realized that what we were sharing with men who are abusive we really needed to be sharing with all men …we believe that violence against women and girls is rooted in a male-dominating society, then why aren’t we talking to all men?
We know that the majority of men don’t perpetrate violence against women and girls but it’s the culture of manhood that creates the fertile ground for that violence to exist for those men who are violent to do what they do…. So, all men really need to look at this and figure out how we can be part of the solution because men who perpetrate violence against women and girls, at the end of the day, they can’t do it without permission from good men. That permission doesn’t mean we were there when it happened. Permission means either we’re aware of it and don’t do or say anything about it or we’re not aware of it and that level of ignorance is just as much of a problem as being aware of it and not doing anything about it. So, while working with men who are abusive I just started to have these thoughts and visions around how we really need to share and spend time with the majority of men who are not abusive, because what we’re doing right now is just responding to the violence. But if we start working with men in general we can begin the process of getting out in front of the violence and having an opportunity to prevent the violence. It was that thinking and that vision that led to starting A CALL TO MEN.
You’ve been doing this work for a long time now. Are men more aware of these issues or more receptive to the message?
Men are definitely more aware and they’re more receptive to the message…. Men are seeing now more than ever before the impact of male socialization… men are holding each other accountable and we’re beginning to challenge many of the norms associated with being a man that have a direct correlation with violence against women and girls but we’re not doing enough yet. There’s not a strong enough critical mass … we haven’t normalized the changes we want to see yet. We haven’t developed a critical mass of men with influence and a platform that can really get out in front of this. We’ve seen the effects of challenging this socialization … we have a LIVERESPECT curriculum that we implemented in high schools and middle schools around the country … so we’ve seen when we’re engaging boys the impact we can have but we do need … more men to be part of that engagement. There is stuff there to be pleased about but the truth of the matter is male violence against women and girls continues to be one of the leading causes of injuries to women in our country and as long as that remains the case … as my mother would say, “there’s nothing to do cartwheels about here.” We have a lot of work in front of us though we’re excited about the progress we’re seeing, nevertheless.
How does this thinking become more normalized?
It becomes more normalized in respect to how do we as a society engage men.… Troy Vincent works for the National Football League … we’ve spent a lot of time together, we do a lot of different events collaboratively and we were talking about an end goal, he was saying to me “Tony, what would you see as an end goal?” I don’t really see an end goal … this is an ongoing effort that we’re talking about. So, I don’t really see an end goal but what I would like to see … is that right now most of the places we go to speak, essentially, we’re an add-on … character development would be an add-on…. This work around healthy manhood is an add-on…. if normalized it would be valued at a much higher level than it is today … I want to hear them talk to boys about being good and healthy men.
We’ve made some changes but that process is just way too slow because too many women are dying; we’ve got to expedite the process.
You mentioned the LIVERESPECT curriculum. Can you talk more about what the program looks like?
It’s a curriculum that we put together with Scholastic and with the support of the Verizon Foundation. It’s being implemented in schools, community centers … anywhere you have a group of boys you can implement this curriculum. The lessons plans engage boys in becoming healthy and respectful young men, developing young men of character… we ourselves piloted the 9-week program in around a dozen schools around the country. It’s free to download. What we’ve see is if we as men create this space and be intentional, it’s one of my favorite words right now, we’ve got so much stuff going on right now in our society … if we as men are intentional we’ll see the positive results and positive impact it has on the socialization of our boys.
What the boys soak up, along with information, is they’re with men who are talking about something other than football, they’re with men talking with them about being good men
One of our pilot programs was a fatherhood program in South Bend, Indiana and the boys are using words such as the importance of men not objectifying women … six weeks ago those boys did not even know what the word objectification means and now its part of their language. What the boys soak up, along with information, is they’re with men who are talking about something other than football, they’re with men talking with them about being good men, they’re soaking it up, they’re soaking up the experience.
Your national conference is coming up next month in Minnesota. The theme of the conference is the Many Faces of Manhood; can you describe what attendees can expect and tell us about the theme?
We’re talking about men being their authentic selves. What we believe and what we teach at A CALL TO MEN is that far too often the collective socialization of manhood is designed to distance men from the experience of women and girls … men, in an attempt to define what it means to be a man, distance ourselves from the experiences of women and girls. We are distancing ourselves from our humanity. Far too often our experience is robotic, it’s not who we are, or want to be in many cases, or should be. The more we can shrink up that distance we’ve put in place where we’re close enough to lock horns with our sisters, the closer we are to humanity … to be our authentic selves.
The Many Faces of Manhood are the many places where manhood can be evident … so the Many Faces of Manhood has a lot to do with the many places of manhood. We’ll be talking at the conference about fatherhood and fatherlessness, we’ll be talking about whiteness and white supremacy, we’ll be talking about co-parenting as it relates to healthy manhood, we’ll talk about fraternities and athletes, sexual exploitation, we’re going to talk about trauma and healing for men, we’re going to look at gang violence and what that means for men, we’re going to look at experiences of men of color … all of these things play into the many faces of manhood.
The conference features over thirty-five speakers and keynotes look more like TED-talks. We’re modeling authenticity so men will be talking about their experiences as a gay man coming out, men will be talking about being biracial in America and growing up in communities where that was not accepted. We have roundtable discussions. To be a part of this conference you have to be very much okay with being transparent and vulnerable for the benefit of those who are participating … reaching in and grabbing the hearts of men. That can only happen if those who are facilitating the process are willing to be transparent and vulnerable themselves so if you’re going to be on the stage with A CALL TO MEN you have be okay operating from that space.
Everyone and anyone is welcome and everyone can benefit from the experience. While there you’ll be thinking about who you are.
A CALL TO MEN’s 2017 National Conference will explore the Many Faces of Manhood through keynote presentations, roundtable discussions, and interactive breakout sessions. Some of the speakers confirmed so far include Wade Davis, Rus Funk, Byron Hurt, Dr. Beth Richie, Neil Irvin, and Tony Porter & Ted Bunch from A CALL TO MEN.
The lead sponsor for A CALL TO MEN’s 2017 National Conference is the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, an organization that “invests in innovation to drive gender equity in Minnesota.”
Learn more about the work of A CALL TO MEN.