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A new event aims to fight gender-based violence through storytelling

 Ray, a speaker at the Men Speak event in Cheyenne, wears a black t-shirt, jeans, and holds a microphone while speaking on an outdoor patio.
Bob Vines
The Men Speak event in Cheyenne on June 20th, 2023.

A typical Men Speak event goes something like this — the audience settles in, an emcee introduces the first storyteller, and then someone from the local community gets onstage and tells a story from their life. It’s a simple premise, but Bob Vines has been using this premise to spark discussions about issues like hyper-masculinity, gender norms and much more.

Vines organized the first Men Speak event in 2021 in Laramie, after being inspired by Tales at the Taphouse, another live storytelling created by Laramie resident Rose Curtis. Vines was also motivated by his own work with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (WCADSV). There, he works to prevent and decrease gender-based violence. With that mission in mind, he organized the first Men Speak event, titled “Man Up.”

Since then, Men Speak has held four events in Laramie, one in Sheridan, and one in Cheyenne. At each event, men and non-binary people from the local community tell the audience a story from their own life. These stories range in topic and tone, but many touch on the issues facing men today, such as hyper-masculinity, loneliness, and gender norms. According to Vines, many of these issues spring up from the harmful narratives taught to men from a young age.

“How we got to this point was through storytelling about what it takes to be a real man or what masculinity is,” he said. “So the only way to negate that is to change the narrative. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.”

Vines is hopeful about the potential of Men Speak to bring about change, due to how varied the speakers at the event are.

“What these Men Speak events really center on is providing a spectrum of male experiences for all of us to listen to, to learn from, to learn empathy, to start seeing the world in a different way,” he said.

That empathy, he hopes, will in turn lead to a decrease in gender-based violence. However, Vines also said that cultural change is slow, and even if Men Speak is effective, it may take a generation to see any impact.

In the present, though, Men Speak is thriving. Vines organized the most recent Men Speak with support from the WCADSV, the Campfire Initiative, Safehouse Services, and a grant from the US Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Vines said he has been surprised with how much support the event seems to be receiving around the state. He has had no problem finding people willing to share their stories, and Men Speak has even launched a podcast with recorded versions of some of the stories shared at its events. The only problem?

“Our events are getting too long,” Vines said. “We had eight storytellers in Cheyenne, and that was two hours...And I kept thinking, you know, ’There's a lot of numb butts out in the patio at Blue Raven Brewery tonight.’”

The next Men Speak will be held at Frontier Brewing Company and Taproom in Casper on August 2nd.

Suraj Singareddy is originally from Atlanta, GA, and is a rising junior at Yale University. He's currently an English major with a minor in computer science. He also helps run the Yale Daily News' podcast department, writes for a science-fiction magazine called Cortex, and likes to do different theatre-y stuff around campus. He also loves to read comics and graphic novels in his free time, and is always looking for book recommendations!

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