Friday, July 13, 2018

Toxic Masculinity and How It Can Inform Treatment with Black Boys

By Tyffani Dent, Psy.D.

I work with adolescents who have engaged in problematic sexual behavior. Many of the clients with whom I work are males. Being that within our juvenile justice system there is an over-representation of those who come from marginalized communities, specifically Black and Brown ones---with many explanations for this given from over-policing, racial profiling, poverty not permitting access to services expect through “systems”, etc.---it is not surprising that a significant portion of those I serve are Black. Taking into consideration that the large majority of sexual offenses committed by juveniles are committed by males (Finkelhor, Ormrod, & Chaffin, 2009) it does not surprise me when clients I serve are overwhelmingly black boys, due to a skewed engagement with the juvenile justice system.

When addressing problematic sexual decisions with the boys I counsel, oftentimes the topic of their own early sexual experiences emerges. In these conversations, there are times when they report initiation to sexual behavior occurring at the hands of much older adolescent or adult females and in some cases, male caregivers. Yet, in these discussions, many of them do not view such interactions as sexual abuse or sexually inappropriate, in part, because my community does not often “permit” our boys access to the concept of it being acceptable to not want sexual contact.

Recently, Terry Crews, a famous Black actor, came out and discussed his own #MeToo moment. He disclosed his own experiences with sexual victimization. While some praised him, others including the Rapper 50 Cent, in a tweet, and Senator Feinstein, in a congressional hearing, gave a response with which I am more familiar with--- 50 Cent viewing Mr. Crews’s victimization as discounting his manhood and Senator Feinstein questioning why a big male such as Mr. Crews did not fight back.   This toxic masculinity, which is the push towards hypermasculinity and belief in traditional male stereotypes, is prevalent within our Black and Brown communities in part because of the historical emasculation of Black males since slavery into Jim Crow. The current climate which we live in continues to downplay options for healthy development of a male identity within the Black and Brown communities due to mass incarceration. Such ingrained hypermasculinity impacts not only the starting point in which one engages with Black boys related to what healthy sexual decisions look like, but also in reframing  discriminatory selection of sexual partners as being empowering instead of a sign of “weakness”.

How should the knowledge of toxic masculinity impact our work with especially Black boys who have engaged in problematic sexual behavior?

  1. Explore early sexual experiences-address and normalize feelings of discomfort around sexual contacts with those who were much older and provide them the language to describe it as unwanted and problematic. Allow them the safe space to process this.

  1. Assist in examining how they define manhood. Where did the definitions come from? How do they inform their views of sex and sexuality? The Young Men’s Work curriculum and the book Dare to Be King offer great resources on beginning this discussion from a gender and a racial context.

  1. Reframe masculinity as being an advocate for healthy relationships and being a catalyst for assisting other males in doing the same.

  1. Examine how (if applicable) these boys own problematic sexual decisions were informed by toxic masculinity/hypermasculinity.

  1. When possible, engage other Black men in their lives who can serve as a model for healthy masculinity. When not readily available, identify movies, books, and other mediums in which there are positive portrayals of black manhood. Interwoven in this should also be those stories of black men and boys who have experienced victimization, struggles with their own identifies, and other traumas---which can provide a framework for further exploration of the impact of trauma and how it may play out uniquely for black boys.



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