The Bro Whisperer

This article was originally published in The Atlantic.

One unseasonably warm Wednesday a few weeks into the school year, the sociology professor Michael Kimmel is sitting with several students and antirape activists in a classroom at Long Island’s Stony Brook University, spitballing ideas for how to change the sexual climate on college campuses. He turns to Jonathan Kalin, a recent college grad, and asks him what it would imply if, at his funeral, mourners said he had been “a good man.”

Before Kalin can answer, Kimmel continues: “What I find, when I ask this of men, is words like honorintegritydoing the right thingstanding up for the little guy.” All of which are crucially different, in Kimmel’s mind, from the words they use to describe “being a man”—words like to winget laidget rich.

Not that Kalin, a soft-spoken jock in thick-framed, faux-vintage glasses, is the kind of guy who needs enlightening. During his sophomore year at Colby College, well before campus rape was the focus of national attention that it is today, he sparked an assault-prevention movement called “Party With Consent.” He printed the slogan on red-plastic cups and doled them out at keggers, hoping to encourage students to think twice about their end-of-the-night actions. Since graduating last year, he has continued working on the initiative, which now has a presence on 30 campuses.

For his part, Kimmel, who is the founder of Stony Brook’s new Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, says he hopes to “increase the Jonathans” in the world. More specifically, he is preparing to survey college campuses across the country in order to discover the best male-oriented efforts to prevent sexual assault, and then replicate them nationwide. As the group discusses ways of discouraging sexual misconduct, he suggests that young men are reluctant to give up the traditional notion of being a man. “I can’t sell this idea to men—the end of manhood. They’re sitting there going, ‘It’s the only thing I got!’ ” He is practically shouting in his Brooklyn accent, grabbing at his water bottle as if it were a symbol of embattled manliness. “ ‘You’re going to tell me to throw this away? I’ll have nothing!’ ”

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