My MVP Experience

Last week, all of us new Sport in Society interns attended the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program that took place at Northeastern University in Boston. This 3 day training took us all outside of our comfort zones to approach the societal issue of men’s violence against women head on. Before we started we heard raving reviews from co-ops and interns who had gone through the MVP training before us. They really set the standards sky high, and I am happy to report that my experience was by no means a disappointment.  People from all over the country came to the training, and all of us had a common goal in mind. Each person had a different reason that brought them to MVP; some worked for domestic violence agencies, others experienced men’s violence against women first-hand, and there were some people who, like me, were required to attend by our employers. For whatever reason we were there, we were all connected to one another and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we left on the third day with a more open mind and 28 new partners in the fight to end men’s violence against women.

One of the first things that the facilitators of the program said was that MVP would be different than other professional trainings out there. Rather than just sitting in a big room and listening to the same person talk for 3 days straight, MVP was extremely interactive and the more conversation the better. It was a safe space for anyone to ask questions about whatever was on their minds. Before starting the training, I expected that I would just be listening to what other people had to say; I didn’t think that a 19-year-old girl with hardly any personal accounts of men’s violence against women would have much to talk about in comparison to the older, wiser experts in the field that attended. Little did I know, I found myself addressing the large group on many different occasions, expressing my own views and opinions on topics such as sexual harassment, gender stereotypes, and the bystander effect. It was enlightening hearing what people of different backgrounds and social classes had to say on this universal injustice. Not only did we get to discuss our thoughts and feelings on a wide variety of topics based around men’s violence against women, but we were given the opportunity to facilitate our own discussions within the group. It was a harder task than I expected, but it was an amazing learning experience. The ability to listen to people’s personal stories and foster conversation amongst a group of strangers is scary, but the ability to facilitate these conversations with others is a lesson that I will take with me forever.

Although a daunting task, MVP is attempting to change the world. Clearly molding society isn’t going to be easy and it’s not going to happen overnight by 29 people; but nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction. I am only a very small piece of the enormous puzzle that society has created in the shape of men’s violence against women, but every person who shares the MVP mission is changing the world in their own way. If each person at this training, or any MVP training, tells their friends, family members, or co-workers what was discussed, and then those people passed on what they were told and so on, the message has the ability to reach all ends of the earth. It would be a beautiful thing to live in a world where bystanders take action in the fight to end men’s violence against women. This social injustice happens every day, in many different forms. If you take the time to identify it, and take a stand against it, then you are making the world a better place. If we all took our part in eliminating men’s violence against women then maybe changing the world won’t be such a difficult task after all.

MVP training (June 18-20)

Breaking the Box.

          Bikinis. Astronauts. Shark attacks. Running in slow motion. What do these things have in common? According to Axe’s newest commercial “Lifeguard”, this combination naturally makes one think of men’s cologne.  The vignette features a blonde young woman being dramatically rescued by an attractive male lifeguard, only to have the girl chase a man in a spacesuit walking on the beach. The phrase “Nothing beats an astronaut…Ever” appears across her bikini-clad body as the camera pans her running after him. Hardly Axe’s most offensive advertisement (my vote is for this “Chocolate Man” ad) I still noted the obvious stereotypes when this commercial aired during the Super Bowl last Sunday.

          This obvious “sex sells” approach is so ubiquitous in advertising today that its almost expected, but after the Mentors in Violence Prevention training we had last week I watched the Super Bowl commercials with a renewed interest in commercially-enforced gender stereotypes. One of the activities we did at the three-day training was The Box exercise, where we split into men’s and women’s groups to discuss gender pressures, and list what attributes were stereotypically male and female. Those qualities were listed inside a large box; in the space outside we listed the names given to individuals who fall outside that socially accepted norm. For the women’s sheet, we wrote things like “thin, domestic, sexy (but not too sexy), feminine, emotional” and outside the box we had words like “slutty” and “butch”. After this activity the male and female groups came back together and watched almost fifteen minutes of commercials that really proved how enforced and pervasive these stereotypes are.

          When selling a product, it’s easy to reach for the stereotypes, either featuring the obviously sexy woman in ads, or exclusively aiming yogurt commercials at women. But are the sellers of appetizing dairy products really concerned with female calcium intake? Or are they pushing the stereotype of women who are constantly concerned with dieting and who eat yogurt instead of dessert, lest they fall outside the “thin, sexy” box? If we aren’t careful, we’ll simply accept these stereotypes and eventually be complicit in constructing these boxes ourselves. And as we discussed in our MVP training, these stereotypes encourage sexist attitudes and language, and propagate the objectification of women. Both of these are methods for demeaning females in society, which only escalates through the Pyramid of Sexism, which is a tool that maps how these lower-level, non-violent ways of degrading women support more violent and abusive acts.

          That’s not to argue that stereotypes can’t be a useful method for advertising at a select demographic; focus groups confirm similar interests for certain age or gender groups. And I think everyone enjoys the Old Spice “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” cheeky, over-the-top commercials that mock Axe advertising. But we need to be careful what interests we support when we talk about the Super Bowl commercials this week. Jarrod, one of our MVP facilitators, actually mentioned an old Super Bowl commercial during our unit on media stereotypes.

          In 2007 Snickers aired a spot called “Kiss” which featured two mechanics accidentally kissing while eating a Snickers bar. The men panicked and immediately needed to do something “manly” to offset their lip lock; they began pulling out their chest hair to prove their stereotypical manhood. After an immediate and overwhelmingly negative response, Snickers pulled the advertisement and its related web content. This is a great example of the impact we can have when facing sexism in media stereotypes. And it’s even easier today, with outlets like Twitter and FaceBook, to condemn sexist or homophobic media. Everyone has the opportunity to be an active bystander, and to rebuild our own boxes to include us all.