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Toxic masculinity sucks

in Campus Journal/Columns by

Toxic masculinity sucks. It sucks because our patriarchal society creates and encourages the male to be unemotional, sexually aggressive, and dominant; where strength is everything and emotions are weakness, where sex and domination are yardsticks by which men are measured, and where “feminine” traits are the means and standards by which the status of a “man” can be taken away. Toxic masculinity sucks — not just because I am a woman, but because it sucks if you’re a man too. It doesn’t matter if you have a dick or not, or what gender you identify as, because at the end of the day, it’s about what we allow the definition of what it means to be a “man.”

Something I find very interesting is the language that surrounds the topic of success in the male world. Insults such as “pussy” or “mangina” are used often when a man is scared or nervous — god forbid he be human! He is called this when he has “no balls,” and at this point, he might as well be a woman. And that is exactly the point I am trying to make. Boys, it is okay to have feelings, it is okay for you to be on the same level as a woman, it is okay to want something deep and meaningful. This message, however, is not what is preached to boys. Young boys as early as the age of 3 begin to internalize the concept that masculinity must be reached in order to become a man as they start to hide their feelings. Boys are more likely to have used drugs than girls at the age of 12, which could be a replacement for their feelings. Teaching boys to be more controlling and violent is evident in the statistic that men are more likely to kill as they commit 90.5% of all murders. These statistics were taken from Kali Holloway’s piece Toxic Masculinity is Killing Men: The Roots of Male Trauma, where she explicitly shows that toxic masculinity does more harm than good!

In the world of toxic masculinity, sex— both heterosexual and homosexual — is used to determine the worth of the man just as it is used as a measurement of a good night. If you got your dick wet, good for you, you’re a man! If you didn’t cum too easily or if you didn’t take forever to cum, good for you, you’re a man! If you knew what you wanted and got it from your partner, good for you, you’re a man!

False, false, and false. All of that is extremely and utterly false.

Some men are not interested in casual sex. Some men like emotions, some men want a connection. That does not make the man more feminine, it just makes them human! Some men, just like some women, cum very easily or sometimes not at all, but either or does not make you less of a man, it, again, just makes you human. Some straight men are inexperienced and don’t know what to do and some men need women to lead–that is fine, that is normal, that is still “manly”! Also, side note. It is not enough for an individual to just know what he or she wants because it is just as important to know what your partner wants and doesn’t want as well. Communication is the most important characteristic between interactions. Don’t take it for granted.

Toxic masculinity is real, and you know what, it’s scary as hell. It is a structure that allows violent and aggressive thoughts that lead to violent and aggressive actions. You may be reading this and think that you are not affected by toxic masculinity or may think that you don’t contribute to it, but honestly, we all do because it’s a game that we are all forced to play–whether you know it or not. It’s a dangerous game that  suppresses emotion, a game that creates violence, a game that encourages rape culture, a game that restores and strengthens homophobia, and a game that is played here at Swarthmore College. The frats play it, the sports teams play it, and the person you are sitting next to right now probably plays it too. These are problems that deserve attention and change, they deserve a damn to be given about and a fuck to shed. It’s about creating an environment that accepts all. No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no body shaming, no transphobia, no ableism. But saying and doing are two completely different things. If we cannot change on our own and learn how to act and treat others with respect, then changes within our structure and social life need to change. It is not enough to say, we must do.

What It Is and What It Isn’t

in Campus Journal by

It’s interesting how you can think one way about a particular thing and then learn something that blows your mind, leaving you to question so many different things. This happened to me this week, and it’s a lot of fun when this happens because your mind is being stretched in ways that you didn’t think were possible, but it also stinks because it is the only thing you can think about. Thank you, Lisa Wade, for making this the best-worst, intellectually stimulating week yet.

For those of you who do not know, Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and author of the recently published book American Hookup, which is about the emergence of sex culture on college campuses. I, myself, have not read this book but a friend of mine highly recommended it to me, so it’s on my list. However, I have recently entered a new era in my life which includes listening to podcasts, and I stumbled across two featuring  Lisa Wade that made me think about hookup culture from a different perspective. With that being said, I highly recommend listening to “Hookup Culture with Lisa Wade” and “Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules of Sex On College Campuses”.

There is something about hookup culture that I both love and hate, which leaves me in a really confusing place. I am a firm believer in experimenting with other people to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Do you like girls or do you like guys? Do you like sex a little rougher or a little softer? Lights on or lights off? Hooking up allows for individual growth as it is an experience that ultimately leads to self discovery. So, with all of this positivity I have towards hook ups, why do they leave me feeling so dirty? And Lisa Wade helped me finally answer this question that I’ve been asking since my junior year of high school: it’s not the physical part of the interaction that bothers me, but rather the culture that surrounds it.

Hookup culture itself is a relatively new form of socialization that arose in the 1920s. This is the period of time when the rise of industrialization attracted people away from rural parts of the country to cities. This change of setting allowed for the hookup culture to take root and flourish due to the close proximities in which people were now living. Along with this, cities offered nightlife, which is where the culture of hookups ultimately began. Also, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, helped influence the women’s movement of 1960, often called the Second Wave. This 1960s movement pushed for more equality for women. This equality would grant women more freedom outside of the house, encouraging more sexual freedom since women were then allowed to publicly embrace their body and sexuality, adding to the hookup culture. So, like I said, hookup culture is a relatively new phenomenon. But, before I go any further, I want to make it known to my audience that I will be focusing on heterosexual hookups… as that culture bothers me most and is the one that Lisa Wade talks about in the mentioned podcasts. There are, of course, similarities between same-sex and opposite-sex hookups, but I will be focusing on and critiquing that of opposite-sex hookups.

Examining the society in which we all live today, we embrace masculinity; not the “looks” of it but rather its normalities. However, when a girl crosses the gender boundary and takes on more masculine characteristics and lifestyle, she is looked down upon. There is a clear distinction between the roles and expectations that men and women are supposed to embody. However, when thinking of the qualities that are most rewarded and looked upon highly in our society, they are the traits and qualities that embody masculinity. Since men are the “most” ideal humans, as they contain the most “ideal” traits, it is they who women should follow; it is they who should lead. This attitude seeps into the infrastructure and culture of hookups that normalize the idea that men should “choose” who to hook up with, not women. These thoughts and ideas in our heads soon become actions, creating the hookup culture that I have come to hate.

It is the so-called “script” that the majority of hookup participants follow, myself included. It first begins with the girl wanting to be desired by the guy so that he chooses her. Maybe her shorts will be a little shorter, shirt a little tighter, boobs pushed up a bit — I mean heck I’ve done this before, and I know I’m not the only one. Then what follows next is the guy comes up from behind and latches onto the girl, and she looks around and if her friends nod in approval, she goes for him. We did this in high school, and, honestly, it did not even phase me because that is normal. Our society embraces the man and what he embodies, so us women and young girls find it rewarding when the man chooses us. I was at a concert where this happened to me. I was dancing and the guy came up and we started grinding and then he proceeded to grab my boobs. Back then my friends and I were all excited because he wanted me and my boobs, but that is so fucked up. It’s fucked up how we all unquestionably follow this so-called script and don’t even question its ways.

Lisa Wade believes that the hookup culture is deeply connected to rape culture due to this script. This is because the hookup culture calls for a carefree environment that turns into one of carelessness. Hookups are typically a one-and-done deal, a  hit-it-and-quit-it, if you will. Feelings aren’t supposed to accompany a hookup, but if they do, you are seen as desperate and clingy according to the script. Having feelings is apparently feminine and therefore bad, and that is why the hookup culture deters these emotions. It’s the idea that wanting someone is worse because in this culture you are just supposed to want something–the idea that women are sexual objects created to please men.

So, a couple things. Hookup culture sucks. Hookup culture rocks. Podcasts. Lisa Wade. Mind. Blown.

‘The merits of Swarthmore’s Delta Upsilon’ misses the point

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Last week, Nathaniel Frum wrote an Op-Ed defending Delta Upsilon (DU) in the wake of instances of racism coming forward from other fraternities around the country. His core argument was that DU does a great deal of charity work, which therefore makes them a wonderful organization and a positive asset to our community. In fact, he claimed, “We can come nearer to our shared goal of a civil and open community if more at Swarthmore emulate our example and support our positive actions.”

The issue with this claim is that this does nothing to address the negative impact of DU, and charitable actions don’t excuse bad behavior. To put it simply, filling slots for a blood drive does not cancel out the unsafe environment which many students complain about. The letter’s claims of charity and moral superiority are missing the point. Frum also explained that recent instances of racism in Greek life are isolated incidents that have nothing to do with Swarthmore’s chapter of DU. I disagree.

Fraternities were founded on exclusion tied to race, class, and gender/gender presentation. Although it may seem less explicit now, they still operate under these exclusions, thus resulting in homogenous groups of white heteromasculinity.  As a result, they tend to perpetuate racism, misogyny, and homophobia, which is why people of color, women, and queer folk often feel uncomfortable/unsafe in these spaces.

I am obviously aware that there are (very few) queer and/or non-white fraternity brothers, but this does not change the fact that the culture is still problematic and makes others feel unsafe. One person’s comfort does not invalidate another’s discomfort.

It is obviously difficult for me to discuss my frustration with fraternities without bringing up personal experiences, so for the sake of this piece I will open up about the past four years. I am a white gay man, and my identity has largely shaped how I have interacted with fraternity culture on this campus.

My freshman and sophomore years I frequently encountered sentiments along the lines of “See, I think you fit in here because you’re not like other gay guys. You’re not all girly and stuff.” At the time this was a huge compliment; my identity felt validated by those I admired. These were the cool people who I had looked up to in high school and who have the most social capital, and they liked me!

What I didn’t understand at the time is that I wasn’t being validated… I was being excused. What they really meant was “We can ignore the fact that you’re gay, don’t worry.”

After some self-reflection I realized that this attitude was very toxic for me. Fraternities are large groups of men that conform to white, cisgender, heterosexual masculinity, and when outsiders can’t follow suit it becomes an unsafe environment.  If I ever did anything “gay” (read: femme) I got strange, judgmental looks from brothers; I felt like a zoo exhibit. Frum explained, “A core tenet of Delta Upsilon is to ‘build better men,’” but these men looked down on my identity with scathing disapproval.

After some time I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one who felt unsafe. I had many discussions with those of various identities, and it seemed that people of color, transgender and gender nonbinary folk, women, and intersections of those groups had similar complaints. I had read numerous pieces, both from Swat and national publications, of instances in which people explained why they felt unsafe. I even heard testimonials from many of my friends. One explained how numerous fraternity brothers had spread rumors of her promiscuity in a demeaning manor. Another friend was called a racial slur. Like Frum, I had dismissed these as isolated events in which someone felt uncomfortable, and which seemed independent of DU.

Unfortunately, that notion is false. These organizations function on the exclusion of marginalized communities, and this is inherent to their structure – even here.

There are dozens of instances of racist parties hosted by fraternities across the country. In 2013 several fraternities at California Polytechnic State University hosted a “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” party, and Duke University’s chapter of Kappa Sigma hosted an Asian themed party. In that same year, Swarthmore College’s chapter of Phi Psi released bids in the form of a collage of nude and semi-nude women.

All of these events show extreme racial and/or gender insensitivity, and there are many more that have made national headlines. I don’t know what number would show the skeptics that this is an institutional trend, but I’m settling at three right now because this is a short piece.

These instances give us an idea of what goes on behind closed doors, but the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) incident at Oklahoma University gives us a clear picture – or rather video – of what many fraternity brothers think and what they are taught to think by their fraternity in the quest to “build better men.” As many of you know, the video released shows some fraternity brothers chanting about hanging black men (using a slur) from trees. Now, you may think, “Wow! That doesn’t sound like the fraternity brothers I know – this must be an isolated incident.”

What you may not understand is that these acts of aggression and violence is what many marginalized folks fear when they step into fraternities. Why are the brothers staring at me? What are they whispering to their bros right now? What do they say behind closed doors?

Many have told me about conversations that they have overheard between brothers in which they hear homophobic sentiments, often including the word “faggot.” This doesn’t surprise me.

Those stares I receive when I don’t perform masculinity properly mean much more than discomfort – it represents their hatred for my identity. I don’t need to hear what they say behind closed doors to understand that, although there is ample proof.

Now we as a society have seen what goes on when it’s “just the bros” explicitly, and it’s exactly what marginalized communities have been saying for years. People have shared their personal and traumatic experiences, and our natural response is to dismiss them. I think it is time to stop pretending these acts of violence are random and address the problem at hand.

My purpose in writing this piece is obviously to make an argument, but more than that I want to propose action. If what I say is true, and fraternities are part of a racist, sexist, homophobic system that functions of the oppression of others, why do we have them at Swarthmore College? I think it is time we don’t.

People have been trying to eliminate these boys clubs for a very long time, and there really isn’t a reason to keep them. They have survived due to their financial connections and influence (privilege), but we as an academic institution dedicated to creating a safe environment for its students need to sever these ties.

Thanks for convincing me to write this piece, Nathaniel Frum. Your words inspired me to take action.


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