Male physical training as a social context: How changing the construction of male physical training could help women

Hello, Sustainable Institutions Readers:

     A recent mass shooting around the University of California – Santa Barbara and recent press about sexual assault response on college campuses have once again sparked the public consciousness. Along with mental health and gun rights, typical after such events within the United States of America in the last few years, the shooting has provoked some talk of misogyny since the young male shooter apparently felt entitled to sexual access to women and expressed frustration when women would turn down his advances.

      Many women have taken to social media and elsewhere to talk about wider issues of misogyny especially under the hashtag #yesallwomen. This hashtag should be important to men, The hashtag should make them reflect and take note of male privilege whether that comes in the form of micro-aggressions or whether the actions are more obvert in nature.

            This conversation ought to carry special weight in the fitness community. Activities intertwined with physical fitness have long carried significant social weight in the training of young people, especially adolescent males. Of particular influence in Western society has been the work of the late educator G. Stanley Hall, Lord Robert Baden Powell, a British military officer and founder of the Boy Scouts, and the late president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt (Lesko , 2001).

            These men contributed to a system that linked certain attributes of masculinity to certain methods of training. Physical fitness was one of these elements. This physical training was based on military training, so it linked masculinity toward national endeavors (Lesko,2001).

            In these modern times, when military service is more likely to be a voluntary endeavor in some countries, such as the United States, there might be less of a practical reason to link physical training to the development of adolescent males. However, that does not mean that the culture surrounding masculinity and physical fitness has disappeared. Rather the culture perseveres (Lesko , 2001), especially in certain sports such as American football.

            Now, however, the idea of physical training has less to do with building up the body to serve a higher purpose so much as it has to do with utilizing the body to compete with others. Training the body is not necessarily limited to only that activity. Instead, it can, if done in a certain way, build physical, emotional, and spiritual strength. Yoga, a practice traditionally done by men in India, is one such example of an activity that calls upon the need for strength in various facets of one’s being without resorting to the sorts of violence and domination marked by other sorts of sports.

            Unfortunately, the way masculinity has been constructed in many parts of the world, including the post-industrialized world, has increasingly defined masculinity in a perverse way. Instead of encouraging men to show leadership and compassion, society tends to focus on the dominative image of a man, casting him as a leader. However, this is often constructed in a way that makes things more about domination than leadership. Instead of guiding, protecting, and respecting individuals, men have taken such social construction and made it about sexual domination while marginalizing females.

      In addition, this image of domination means that men are not speaking out against the wrongs of society as they should. In other words, by not speaking out or acting against violence against women, men are not just marginalizing women, but shrinking from their own responsibilities, not merely confined to men, but much more importantly as human beings.

            Physical training, being in touch with the body, is one way that men can perhaps become better moral actors. However, this physical training needs to be rooted in things like leadership, morality, being connected to the body, and spirituality among other things. By encouraging this narrative of physical training, as opposed to the narrative today, the fitness community, especially in respect to men can do its part to encourage an equilibrium in the male body, helping men to be more comfortable in their own bodies and contributing toward a disruption of the domination, irresponsibility, and entitlement so pervasive in today’s masculinity. This is hardly the only step toward equity, but encouraging male leadership toward stopping rape culture behavior is an essential component. Physical training, constructed correctly, could be used as a positive force in this endeavor. Let us never forget, whoever we are, to utilize decency and fairness and seek to move toward justice.

Andrew Bennett

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