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Robert McCartney: Ogling, violence don't define manhood

Contemporary American society tolerates and often promotes an aggressive, leering form of masculinity that's unhealthy for men and women alike.

That's an important lesson to draw from the recent scandals over the Ray Rice video and the release of hacked photos of naked female celebrities.

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Men don't talk about this much, which is a central part of the problem. We've been taught to keep our thoughts and emotions to ourselves, lest our manhood be questioned.

But all would benefit from a more open, honest discussion about how to build a healthy masculinity. It would encourage men to be strong and courageous, but not violent. Virile and erotic, but not exploitative.

Judging by the National Football League's slow reaction to Rice's horrific knockout punch of his then-fiancee, and by some local radio commentators' lewd enthusiasm for the photo hack, we have a long way to go.

It took a surge of public outrage over Rice's ugly act to force the NFL to rewrite its rules so that a player who struck a woman unconscious was punished as severely as one who smoked marijuana.

Then it took a public leak of the video to force the league to go further and impose an indefinite suspension against Rice.

The hesitance shows how readily we dismiss brutality against women, especially when conducted by men whose ferocity on the football field draws million-dollar paychecks and acclaim on Sunday afternoons.

"It's hard to separate what we cheer on the field, and what we see on the field, from what we see with Ray Rice and that video," said Malik Washington, executive director of the William Kellibrew Foundation in Washington.

His group helps operate a two-year-old program that teaches District of Columbia high school football players not to define their masculinity by how many girls they date or what kind of car they drive.

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Some grasp the concept immediately, while others resist it. "They're fearful about going against the grain of what they've been told, or how they may be judged if they don't adhere to these unrealistic standards of men," he said.

On cable television, some Neanderthals were still joshing about Ray's decking of Janay Rice, now his wife, even after the video was leaked of the incident in a casino elevator.

"I think the message is, take the stairs," Brian Kilmeade, co-host of "Fox & Friends," said on-air.

Hyuk-hyuk. Domestic violence is so amusing.

The release of hundreds of hacked photos of actresses and models also triggered some backward male reaction.

The morning after the release, I happened to be listening to "The Sports Junkies" radio show on Washington-area radio station WJFK. The radio hosts were giddy to see what one called a "treasure trove" of celebrity porn. They speculated enthusiastically about when the next batch would surface.

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I usually like the Junkies, four friends from the Maryland suburbs whose good humor and sports expertise have made their show a long-term success. I understand that crude, frat-boy jokes are part of their shtick.

But they went too far to publicly celebrate a mass pilfering of personal photos purely to satisfy lascivious interest.

In addition, it was clear that the images' illicit nature contributed much to their arousal.

It's not as if photos and videos of attractive, naked women are hard to find on the Internet. The Junkies were thrilled to see the hacked photos specifically because the women were famous — even though the Junkies didn't know who many of them were.

At one point, the Junkies wished that someone would post information to help them identify the movies or TV shows in which the women appeared. (Two station officials said neither they nor the Junkies would comment.)

This was a small but telling example of how male sexuality has come to overlap with crude ogling. This results partly from the degrading way that sex is often portrayed in movies and on television, where instances of mutually satisfying, consensual sex are in the minority.

"When popular culture is their guide, we have corrupted boys' and girls' understanding of what healthy sexuality is, of what consent is," said Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

The answer is not a politically correct or prudish effort to push physicality or sexuality out of the public sphere. Instead, we men should encourage one another to be strong and sexual without hurting or misusing women.

The outrage over Rice and the photo hack should be a starting point.

Robert McCartney writes for the Washington Post

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