Breaking Free of Masculine Norms for an Empathetic, Supportive, and Thriving Community

Unpacking the “man box” to enable male-identified individuals to promote a more inclusive and equitable society.

Columbia Health
October 31, 2023

Sexual Violence Response (SVR) hosted a conversation with experts in the field of men’s engagement around thriving masculinities, the anti-violence movement, and male-identified survivorship in the webinar, Unpacking the Man Box: Re-imagining Masculine Norms.

Jose Carval (former Assistant Director, Direct Services at SVR) kicked off a conversation with guests Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa (former Psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services) and Quentin Walcott (Executive Director, CONNECT NYC) to discuss the concept of the “Man Box” as a metaphor for societal expectations around masculinity.

The speakers underscored the importance of creating spaces where male survivors can feel comfortable being vulnerable and sharing their experiences. They emphasized the need to challenge societal norms that discourage vulnerability in men and contribute to the silencing of survivors. The speakers hoped that, by raising awareness of the intersection of masculinity, vulnerability, and survivorship, we could promote a more empathetic and supportive understanding of these complex issues.

Redefine Masculinity through Vulnerability and Survivorship

Vulnerability is often perceived as a sign of weakness, especially for male-identifying individuals. For male survivors of sexual abuse and assault, there’s a lot of silence, guilt, shame, and stigma associated with these experiences.

Dr. Lira de la Rosa mentioned the broad perception that men are not supposed to be victims of abuse, making it harder for them to come forward and discuss their traumatic experiences. The conversation then delved into harmful stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder survivors from seeking help and sharing their stories.

Embrace Fluidity, Challenge Norms, and Redefine Well-being

Walcott introduced the concept of “middle masculinity” and emphasized the fluidity of masculinity, encouraging individuals to instead recognize their place on a range of masculinities. He also discussed the idea of healthy masculinity, for male-identified individuals to break away from traditional ideas and embrace a more nuanced understanding of what masculinity is. He highlighted that conforming to traditional male roles has real costs on someone’s mental and physical well-being, while recognizing the power and privilege inherent in this traditional understanding.

Break free from the “Man Box” to Make Strides Toward Equity

The speakers discussed the limited concept of the “man box” and acknowledged the burden of conforming to traditional gender roles. When reflecting on personal experiences, they shared the guilt associated with participating in oppressive structures, and the importance of breaking cycles through awareness and open conversations. The conversation concludes with a focus on dismantling oppressive structures and promoting a more inclusive and equitable society. But how?

Dr. Lira de la Rosa shared the way he thinks about making a change at the individual level:

  1. Understand more of our own experiences, how they were formed, how we’ve been socialized, what beliefs we have, biases, stereotypes, looking at our worldview and our context.
  2. Increase our knowledge about other people’s experiences – understand how our experiences are different from everyone else’s and how they came to be.
  3. Do something – have dialogues, create spaces, become an ally and use what you have, whether power or privilege to help equalize.

Walcott connected what Dr. Lira de la Rosa shared with social upheaval in 2020, specifically the loss of control experienced by men in various aspects of life. He urged a shift away from rigid ideas of manhood and to use this moment as an opportunity for men to redefine their roles and involve partners in decision-making.

Carval added the importance of giving oneself grace for being born into certain systems, advocating for internal reflection and exploration of one’s identity.

Redefine Masculinity in Safe Spaces

The conversation closed with speakers sharing ways to both access and create safe spaces for male-identified individuals to do this work. Walcott emphasized that checking in on others for emotional well-being and getting involved in initiatives like men’s roundtables and support groups are a great way to start to redefine the norms and build a safe space to discuss diverse topics.


Get Support

Men can be survivors or co-survivors of violence, as adults or as children. If you’ve had such an experience, or think you might have, Sexual Violence Response is here to help and is available 24/7/365 to provide confidential support to male-identified survivors of violence. To make an appointment during business hours, call (212) 854-3500For urgent or after-hours support, please call the 24/7 helpline at (212) 854-4357 to speak with an advocate.


About this webinar

The “Unpacking the Man Box: Re-imagining Masculine Norms” webinar was a part of Columbia Health’s Sexual Violence Response (SVR) Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming in 2021. It was developed with support from SVR's Men's Engagement Task Force, comprising staff, administrators, and faculty across Columbia University and affiliate schools.

This event was co-sponsored by CONNECT NYC.


About Jose Carval

Jose Carval was an Assistant Director for Direct Services at SVR at the time of this webinar.

About Quentin Walcott, CONNECT NYC

Quentin Walcott, known as “Q,” is an anti-violence activist and Executive Director of CONNECT NYC, a community-based organization that develops unique programs and innovative ways to prevent interpersonal and domestic violence, as well as promote gender justice.

About Ernesto Lira de la Rosa

Ernesto Lira de La Rosa was a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services at Columbia Health at the time of this webinar.