The Whale in the Room

It was June 2015. I had graduated high school only a few short weeks before, and the first day of orientation was upon me. After being greeted by an enthusiastic small army of upperclassmen in blue polos and khaki shorts, I lugged my duffel bag into a bedroom on the fifth floor of Vanderslice Hall and sat alone on the sturdy, bare mattress. I was about to spend my first night of many at Boston College.

At orientation, at Welcome Week, and during the first few weeks of my freshman year, I was inundated with an influx of new peers, who came from many walks of life. I met individuals from different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as some who identified as LGBTQ+ or gender queer. Identities that, while nominally accepted, never really manifested themselves in high school.

Before I got to BC and met new people at such a rapid rate, I was made hyper-aware of two BC-specific stereotypes: that everyone here wears Vineyard Vines, and that all of the males that do so can more or less fall under the category of a “BC bro.”

While I always understood the importance of keeping an open mind, I quickly found myself labeling every male donning a light blue quarter zip as the archetypal, homophobic, misogynistic, plex-dwelling BC bro. I immediately became anxious that I would be confronted with the toxic masculinity of the BC bro that I had been warned about for such a substantial part of my first-year programming in the period leading up to freshman fall.

Living in BC’s freshman dorms on Upper, where each floor is single-gendered, was particularly overwhelming. Throughout the beginning of my freshman year, I walked through the first floor of Cheverus Hall and wrote off every one of my fellow residents as a BC bro as a reflex. I took one glance at them, or listened to pieces of their conversations, and immediately decided that these guys fell into that stereotypical category. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The BC bro does exist to some extent, and the problems of toxic masculinity are unequivocally prevalent on campus. It is incredibly important for students to engage in dialogue about the gender dynamic at BC and it’s great that students have been doing so.

I find that the predominant conversation on campus surrounding gender, however, hinges on an image of the BC bro as a straight white male who sports Vineyard Vines, white mid-calves, and Vans. It seems that our conversation about masculine fragility on campus is hasty, and it really ought not to be. A conversation that has the potential for depth or that could explore solutions is suddenly compromised by pretending that the problem is concentrated solely within a population that is often generalized.

Such hastiness is dangerous because those who fit the superficial, physical appearance aspect of the BC bro are held accountable for the behavior of the actual BC bros, some of whom may not outwardly appear to fit the part. A discourse that continues in this direction will continue to cast negativity on individuals based on their appearance rather than their actions, thereby leaving us with no progress on gender equality both inside and outside of the classroom.

The culture of toxic masculinity is something that pervades BC, but it is not exclusive to this institution. It’s imperative to spend less time whining about BC bros wearing preppy clothing and to start dissecting “bro culture” more generally.

This approach additionally requires the application of intersectionality, and recognizing that the fragility tied to masculinity is not exclusive to straight, white males. Groups at the intersections of various non-white and non-straight identities also exhibit behavior that is toxic and disparaging of women.

The best way for us to move forward is to look at masculinity, femininity, and gender fluidity through a lens that surveys a greater scope of individuals. If we begin to make assumptions about people and their impact on the gender dynamic based on the type of shirt that they wear, we too play into the very same stereotyping that already harms racial, sexual, and religious minority groups.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor