10/16/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One College's Quest to Deconstruct the Man Box

The space inside the Man Box burns bright when the light from the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story bounces off the wallpaper of glossy Maxim magazine covers. There's a walk-in closet of locked-up emotions all stored in duct-taped cardboard boxes. You can spit saliva from your mouth any time you please but don't you dare let tears well up in your eyes. There are boxing gloves under the couch in case you need to work out an argument, and in the fridge there's an unlimited supply of the food you love:

Peak outside the box and you'll see the skies swirling like Van Gogh's Starry Night, with messages to get you back in:

  • Drink whiskey? No? Real men drink whiskey. Are you a real man?

  • Aren't as big as your wife secretly wants you to be? Take this pill.

  • Troubled by events in your past? MAN UP and get over it.
Urban Dictionary defines the Man Box as:

"The rules for 'acting like a man'; the mentality, behaviors and restrictions that many men and boys are socialized to conform to. These tenets of the 'cult of masculinity' are both symptoms and enablers of Dominator Culture. They can be so pervasive as to be almost invisible; yet they lead men to disrespect, mistreat, and abuse women and each other."

In the Man Box the OR is infinite and the AND is extinct. It's safer in the world of the Man Box. I mean, violent crime and absent fathers and unhappy workers are all over the place but you don't have to deal with LGBTQ issues or the labor of understanding emotions or the vulnerability of actually following your own dreams. Nah, the Man Box provides your dreams--just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and crush everybody in front of you with ruthless aggression. You'll get there.

AND all of this is why the movement happening at Richmond College at the University of Richmond is increasingly important AND why I'd like to see it (or parts thereof) develop at all institutions of higher education. They're consistently talking about the Man Box, about healthy masculinity, about mindfulness, about radical empathy, about mentorship and about privilege--and it's all in a quest to help men cut through, recognize and unpack the swirl of billion-dollar messaging targeted at them so that their most authentic selves can shine. Those authentic selves may certainly enjoy Maxim and those examples of "man food" and even whiskey and boxing--but out of genuine choice rather than Man Box pressure to become stereotypical, mythical and inauthentic representations of who they are and who they want to be. By supporting each other's ANDness the college men on campus have developed deeply enriching relationships and the willingness to have tough conversations about the issues most impacting their lives. More of this, please!

They host an annual Today's College Man workshop (which, full disclosure, I participated in earlier this week), they're working to be approachable and transparent (their Dean's office even has its own Facebook Page) and they've developed the #IAmRichmondCollege social media campaign which is currently at work on a video series:

Question: Funding notwithstanding, what barriers within higher education are impeding the creation of similar spaces for and conversations about men?

--Feature Photo: tobleronehone/Flickr