Dominant Stories and Counter Stories of Masculinity

Men Can Stop Rape’s (MCSR) groundbreaking use of dominant stories and counter stories has been central to its prevention efforts. Adapted from Hilde Nelson’s Damaged Identities: Narrative Repair, the dominant and counter story concept helps to raise critical awareness of unhealthy masculinity and build in its place a positive, healthier masculinity.

A dominant story as it relates to manhood is a master narrative representing the values and messages associated with a shared social understanding of what it means to be a man. The current understanding has been shaped by characteristics identified with traditional masculinity—for example, displays of physical and emotional toughness, the drive to win at all costs, and expressions of aggressive behaviors and attitudes. The stories are dominant because they are pervasive and powerful, obscuring and diminishing the possibility of alternative stories and identities.

A counter story is a narrative that resists the values and expectations of masculinity’s dominant stories and therefore represents a moral shift. Because a dominant story cannot define and encapsulate the entirety of male experience, there are always opportunities to develop and communicate stories that exist in tension with traditional masculinity. Counter stories serve as MCSR’s foundation for developing a healthier masculinity open to more diverse expressions and actions. MCSR encourages men to share their conflicts with the expectations of traditional manhood, to speak out about times they have chosen to challenge those expectations, and to help make the counter story the common story.