I wrote about acquaintance rape in this space last time, and since it’s Take Back the Night week I think it’s worthwhile to continue the conversation about gender-motivated violence and, especially, the motives behind it. After all, to end these crimes we have to figure out why they are perpetrated in the first place.

To get people talking, Take Back the Night and Georgetown University Men Advocating Relationship Responsibility held a screening and discussion of the documentary “Tough Guise.” During the meeting, educator Jackson Katz argued that men are conditioned to live by socially constructed ideas of masculinity which tend to be overly violent and sexual and are propagated through the media and entertainment industries. Violent behavior, for example, is reported by the media as extraordinary for women but the norm for men, and images of violence and sexuality have gotten more and more explicit over the years, especially those geared toward men. What makes these constructions so powerful is that part of masculinity is the very performance of it.

The performance of masculinity dictates everything from the way men dress (generally, conservative, loose-fitting clothes) to the things that they are supposed to be interested in (cars, sports, beer, sex) to the way that they are supposed to interact with others (without emotion). In fact, one thing that a lot of the students at the discussion, male and female, seemed to agree on was that men may feel more trapped by the “box” of masculine identity than women may feel about femininity. Women have won the ability to be as feminine or as masculine as they want, but men do not have nearly the same breadth of options.

The troublesome part about the performance of masculinity is that it’s all about asserting power. Rape, for example, is a pretty obvious example of a power struggle over sex and consent. When students at last night’s event offered examples of aggressive masculinity, they all had a common element of the aggressor putting someone else down to make himself feel better. One girl said that she saw a male Georgetown student beat up another guy on crutches and justified it by saying that it was to demonstrate his masculinity. Another girl said that she knows guys who have a rating system of girls who walk into their parties, based on whether they would have sex with them or not. Another student said that a friend of hers on one of the LGBTQ working groups has been getting harassing messages.

Not only do men try to emulate the mainstream definition of masculinity, but they also tend to enforce it among each other. If you back down from a challenge, you’re called a “fag” or a “pussy” (probably my two least favorite words in the English language), and if you don’t act according to the heterosexual norm, you might even be beaten up.

There’s a real problem here if men are being belittled by each other for trying to break out of the box of masculine identity, to be themselves and make good decisions. One frustrating thing that I learned, though, is that there isn’t so much that women can do. We can be supportive of our male friends who approach us about these issues, but when women try to broach the subject, guys get uncomfortable. I can’t go up to my guy friends and tell them all that they should join GUMARR; it’s something that they have to decide to do on their own.

But what I hope that I can do is spotlight the good things that these groups are doing. GUMARR is out there to be a resource for the kind of guy who does not want to live according to the aggressive stereotype. Another great group, the Male Development Association, started by black campus leaders at Georgetown, provides students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts an environment in which they can discuss what it means – and doesn’t mean – to be a young black man. (And by the way, there’s a companion discussion group just for girls, called Girl Talk, if the women out there want to participate in something like this, too.)

I’m a big fan of these groups because the best way that we can combat gender, racial and other social issues is just to start talking about them. I hope some of you guys out there write in and tell me that I’m wrong about the stereotypes. Most importantly, I hope that you guys talk about these things candidly among yourselves, too.

Emily Liner is a senior in the college and layout editor of THE HOYA. She can be reached at linerthehoya.com. SKIRTING THE ISSUES will appear every other Friday.

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