Byron Hurt, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and anti-misogyny activist, addressed students about locker room talk and toxic masculinity on Tuesday. The talk was sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College.
“I want to do an exercise that really gets to the heart of toxic masculinity,” Hurt said, drawing a large square on the whiteboard in front of him. “But this exercise only works if everyone in the room is honest and open. I don’t want anyone to feel censored because of the judgement of myself or anyone else in the room.”
Hurt then posed a series of questions specifically to the men in the lecture hall, asking how they were conditioned to be “a man’s man” by their male mentors and peers. He asked the crowd to share what words were used or inferred when being taught how to be a man. As he began calling on people throughout the lecture hall, he wrote each answer inside the box on the whiteboard: strong, athletic, invulnerable, heterosexual, provider.
Hurt then addressed the women in the crowd, asking not what they wanted men to be, but things that boys and men are socialized and conditioned to be by other boys and men. Words continued to be added to the board: commanding, intimidating, tough, unemotional, independent.
One face out of the crowd offered the words, “know how to fight,” and after Hurt had written it on the board, he shared a story with the students. Hurt recalled how his cousins always forced him to fight and wrestle with them.
“There was always always this pressure from the older men in my family to toughen me up and to make me stronger,” Hurt said. “But I didn’t wanna fight, I just wanted to hang out and have fun.”
Once the box had been filled, Hurt asked everyone in the room to raise their hand if they had heard someone refer to another man with one of the words inside, and every single hand in the room went up.
He then continued by asking the crowd how boys and men are labelled if they dare stand outside the box. As these words like gay, bitch, p—sy, and f—ot, were spoken, Hurt began writing them outside of the box, surrounding it in a slew of homophobic and sexist slurs. When someone brought up the word, “sissy,” Hurt shared another personal anecdote about the first time he was called that word.
It happened when he was five years old, and at that age he still slept in the same bed as his older sister, who was 10. One night when he had a friend over, Hurt was getting ready for bed, his friend noticed him and his sister getting into bed together. His friend looked him in the eye and said, “You’re a sissy.”
Hurt said he remembers his body going cold. He did not know what the word sissy meant at the time, but he knew that it had something to do with his sister, who was a girl.
“I never wanted to sleep in the same bed as my sister again,” he said.
The word had so much power over him that even though he had no clue what it meant, he knew he didn’t want to be associated with it.
Hurt then gestured to all of the words outside of the box.
“These words are extremely powerful,” he said. “In fact, these words are so powerful, that they control the behavior of boys and men.”
Men and boys who do not fall among the words inside the box are not seen as male at all, he said. White, heterosexual, cis-men are seen as normal people in society, he said, and so people outside of the box, by definition, are seen as less than men. They are devalued in society and they are undesirable people to be like, according to Hurt. These words also affect women and girls, he said.
“They make women commodities to be bought and sold and they teach men that certain behaviors are acceptable,” he said.
These words are not just locker room talk, they are misogyny, according to Hurt.
“So the question is, what are we going to do to change this reality?” Hurt said. “Are we going to continue to let it fester, or are you going to question and challenge it? Will you have the courage to speak up and speak out about it? Or will you just let it go?”
Featured Image by Delaney Vorwick / Heights Staff