Over the past several years sexual assault has become an increasingly popular subject. Whether this is because there is a rise in sexual assault or because it is simply more acceptable to openly discuss the matter, is unclear. Whatever the case, sexual abuse/assault/violence and harassment has exploded into common conversation.
A genre deemed ‘Misery Lit’ captures almost exclusively the lives of those who have overcome abuse. The memoir explosion and craze for reading about sexual abuse has mainly made its debut in America. While this could be due to the exploitative nature of America, it could just as easily have formed from our culture of masculinity.
Brock Turner is a classic example of the normalization of rape in America. In 2016 the Stanford college student was charged with sexually penetrating an unconscious woman with the intent to rape her behind a dumpster. While he was given six months in jail, he was released after three. When his father spoke out about the case, he described his son’s behavior as: “A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
In order to solve the problem of frequent and seemingly-acceptable sexual assault, our culture must begin with the boys. According to Childrennow.org when 10-17 year olds are asked about men’s roles on television, almost three fourths of boys describe them as “violent”. More than two thirds describe them as “angry”. A Michigan University study found that typical 2-5 year olds watch 32 hours of television a week. If prime social and relational development is cemented early in life, what does this say about the future of our society? This is not exclusively a woman’s problem. Men suffer too.
Ideas of masculinity vary from different countries. In China a common attribute to masculinity is success through career. It is not uncommon to sacrifice family time to be the financial provider. In some African cultures there are specific tribal rituals that encourage community as a strong part of identity. When discussing masculinity in America, many men are at a loss for explanation.
After asking a small selection of American men from different political backgrounds and different states, I heard these answers:
“Masculinity is a concept made entirely from the media.”
“Being strong, holding a job, and supporting family.”
“Being funny or angry. They’re kind of the same thing.”
“Never showing too much emotion.”
“There’s no such thing as gender.”
Although the last one was said with irony, I knew what he was trying to say. Pornography does have a connection to masculinity. Why would a (typical) recording of a man and a woman having sex be portrayed as masculine? Some would say, if they are both involved, it is equal feminine as is masculine. Because the man who had made the “Porn!” joke grew up in the age of the internet, however, he understands automatically that most pornography does not picture men and women equally. With often degrading scenes demonstrating dominance, violence, and humiliation, internet pornography is generally considered a man’s world. If the majority of porn on the internet is tailored for men, does that make it masculine?
In the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, a popular slogan emerged in 2015: “No means yes, yes means anal!”
Whether this would have happened without internet porn is up for debate, however, this type of hostile sexual aggression on school campus was not nearly as reported ten years ago as it is now. In the past decade, the word ‘fraternity’ has started to gain a different kind of association. Although not all fraternities are sexually hostile, the image of a large sign hanging above a Frat house with the words “Freshman Daughter Drop Off” sums up feelings of disgust from many women around the United States.
A large depiction of men in the media are shaped by a set of cookie cutter characteristics. Some of those traits include:
- work-oriented rather than home/relationship-oriented
- non-white men are frequently depicted as having more aggression or hostility
If the only emotion that is acceptable for men in America to express is anger, men have a lot to be angry about. Countless studies show that holding in emotion can cause physical distress in the future and depression throughout life. If women are allowed to feel a full range of emotion, express those emotions with friends, and readily seek help if needed, the resentment that men have toward women may be growing.
The Good Men Project is one website doing their share to promote healthy, confident men. In order to shape a new generation of masculinity, our society needs to find more outlets for educating male identity. Whether this is funded through public school classes, activity coaches, websites, community counseling or other avenues, we have an obligation to our girls and boys.