On Tuesday night, students and community members gathered in Eagle’s Nest to discuss issues associated with male stereotypes at an event titled “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.” The Love Your Body Week (LYBW) event, which was sponsored by ManUP, SANKOFA, Sexual Chocolate, and DIOP, began with a slideshow of news headlines taken from publications across the country, all describing a male shooter or male abuser.
John Barry, a leader of ManUP and BC ’07, spoke of the correlation between these male gender roles and men’s health. He showed a short trailer for a movie entitled, The Mask You Live In.
The trailer exclaimed that men put on a mask—a mask that hides their emotions, allowing them to conform to society’s definition of a man. The film said that males struggle to take off the mask once they put it on, however; and that as a result of the tension between their two identities, males lash out.
The film ended by stating that men often have no one to turn to for emotional support. This results in violent outbursts, including suicide and homicide.
Barry used the trailer to show how masculinity can be linked to mental health. He then continued on to share a personal story.
When he was a senior at Boston College, his grandfather died and three weeks later his stepmother kidnapped his younger sister. He explained how a concerned professor sent him to University Counseling Services. Barry said he did not even know that BC had such services in place.
More recently, Barry said, his father died from Hepatitis C because he refused to seek medical help from a doctor. This goes to show, he said, that men often deny help from others because they think they should be strong and independent.
Similarly, Curt Shilling, a former Boston Red Sox player, was diagnosed with cancer after using oral tobacco products for about 30 years. Schilling said he knew that he would develop cancer, but he continued to dip because it was a social norm.
Andy Petigny, a member of the Office of AHANA Student Programs and leader of the event, said that he hoped that all participants would “engage in discussion, but that it was really just the start” of a longer discussion.
The group participated in an activity called “Man Box,” which involved people shouting out male stereotypes and the leaders of the event scribbling down the answers onto a large sheet of paper taped to the wall.
The words in the “Man Box” included: strong, tall, tough, breadwinner, and confident.
Specific questions were also posed to the group, such as what kind of occupations should males have? People responded, “Doctor, lawyer, policeman, businessman.”
The group was aked what things males should be interested in. Responses included sports, girls, cars, money, sex, and alcohol.
“What kind of relationships should men have?,” the audience was asked. “Dominant, heterosexual, drinking buddies, bros,” people said.
After establishing how males should act and look, the group discussed what males should not be. The list included, shy, fearful, emotional, gay, and scrawny.
The group then broke into smaller groups for more intimate discussions. Many shared personal stories of family members and friends who exhibit these characteristics—males who enjoy a certain kind of music but are too ashamed to play it in front of other males, or fathers who never say “I love you” to their sons.
This type of masculinity can be dangerous to one’s health, Barry said, stating that research indicates that men have increased blood pressure and exhibit riskier driving tendencies due to these systems of oppression.
In addition, males are at more of a risk for psychological distress and substance abuse. A professor at BC, Jim Mahalik, found that males will likely exhibit depression, hostility, phobic anxiety, and compulsivity due to the pressures to be masculine.
Research also suggests that males who are exposed to shame exhibit more violence, partake in risky sexual behaviors, and have smaller supportive friend groups later in life, Barry said, also pointing out that an attachment to masculinity meant that males spent less time at home, spent less quality time with their children, and were less involved in childcare.
Petigny said that this is a “complex and layered” issue, but he hoped that the event would raise awareness and catalyze conversation about masculinity and its effects on the male population.