Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2013 | People

Break the Code

By Kathryn Howe

Despite recent strides in raising children into adults who don't accept sexual violence, Sam Cochran sees the persistence of a phenomenon that William Pollack, in his book Real Boys, calls Boy Code.

"We raise our boys to be tough, to be aggressive, and to get what they want—then we tell them to be sensitive and caring," says Cochran, director of the UI's University Counseling Service. "It's a real puzzling culture for our boys to navigate. Watch an episode of Mad Men and you'll see what kind of [patriarchal, misogynistic] culture we had only 50 years ago."

Constructive conversations about healthy masculinity from parents, peers, or educators are essential, says Jacob Oppenheimer, former coordinator of the Men's Anti-Violence Council for the UI Women's Resource and Action Center. Without them, boys and young men glean messages from the media or from the misdirected cues of friends that usually focus on power and domination instead of the strength found in tenderness, compassion, and vulnerability.

Luckily, early interventions in schools today provide these conversations for young people. Even before that, parents can teach their kids that they have control of their own bodies—and so they can decide to wash their own private parts or choose whether to hug Grandma.

Susan Junis, 03BA, 11MSW, the UI Rape Victim Advocacy Program's prevention education coordinator, not only arranges UI campus programs but also visits local junior high and high schools to engage discussion during the critical years of adolescence. She helps students discuss dating and the characteristics such as trust, honesty, and respect that define a healthy relationship. She asks them to think about negative influences like gender stereotypes, media descriptions of males and females, and the difficulties of peer pressure.

In the end, she hopes to empower them to celebrate their individuality, respect each other's differences, and feel good enough about themselves to make positive choices.