Arts and Culture Editor
Documentary filmmaker, Bryon Hurt, came to Millersville this week to facilitate an important conversation about toxic masculinity with our students.
The SMC Multipurpose Room was filled mostly with Greek life members and student athletes who were encouraged to attend by their respective organizations. Hurt, himself, used to be a student athlete and a fraternity brother. He put a heavy emphasis on these specific groups, for understandable reasons; both organizations are often associated with hypermasculinity.
Hurt experienced masculinity issues throughout his life but never knew much about them or how they affected women. Through his college experience, he gained the proper knowledge to give race, class, and gender issues the nuance necessary for others to understand. As a filmmaker, Hurt gives attention to these issues through his films, including “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” and “Soul Food Junkies.”
After pulling out a white board, Hurt explained an interactive demonstration called the “Male Box Exercise.” He used this exercise as a way to help guys to think about issues that affect all men across racial lines. First, he drew a square on the whiteboard. Then, he asked the men to volunteer words that were associated with masculinity and manhood, while the women in the room observed to get some insight into men’s lives. As words were called out, Hurt would write them inside the box.
Men in the crowd were quick to yell out qualities that they’ve been taught to exemplify since they were young. They called out the words tough, strong, provider, courageous, assertive, dominant, emotionless and many more. Men in the audience also felt as though there are societal sexual expectations that they need to measure up to such as stamina and the number of girls they have gotten with.
“It’s getting tight inside this box,” said Hurt as it began filling up with words representing common expectations of men. When men step outside this box, they are called weak or soft. They are given the title of bitch or pussy or gay. These words have the power to make them feel ashamed and push them right back inside the cramped box.
Hurt asked the guys in the audience to raise their hands if they have ever used those slurs to talk about other guys. A sea of hands rose in the air. Then he asked the women the to do the same. Once again, a sea of hands rose in the air.
“How do these slurs connect? Who are they referring to?” Hurt posed. When these slurs are used, it is implied that women, transsexuals, and homosexuals are less than heterosexual men because they are associated with the things outside the box. Hurt admitted to using homophobic language while he was in a fraternity at college. One of his brothers challenged him one day by asking why that sort of language was necessary. Just that simple question caused Hurt to rethink the way he spoke. Derogatory words are so normalized that people don’t realize the history and power behind them. These may have been the last words a gay man heard before he was beaten to death for his sexuality. Or “bitch” may have been the last word a woman heard before her spouse sexually or physically abused her. These words are heavy. Yet, they are hurled around to the extent where it’s everyday language.
Boys are told not to cry. When a guy expresses his feelings and emotions, he becomes a “pussy.” It isn’t healthy to let unexpressed emotions build up, because when someone finally gets to their breaking point, it gets ugly, according to Hurt. Men have higher suicide rates. They are more likely to lash out with violence. Unexpressed emotion can foster mental illness and emotional unavailability. Hurt encourages men to not let these words bother them or shove them back into the box. If guys can remain unaffected by these demeaning slurs, they are free to be “authentically masculine” without the bounds of any box that tells them who to be.
Hurt also addressed the aspect of privilege that contributes to the patriarchy. To help interrupt the cycle, according to Hurt, every person needs to understand what unearned advantages they are given because of their gender, race, or class. According to Hurt, it is important to reflect on the ways you may be privileged because of prejudice in society. As an African American male, Hurt has privilege because of his gender but loses some because of his race. For example, he is more likely to get funding for his films over a woman. He doesn’t feel the need to walk down the street gripping his keys in between his fingers or worry if the way he is dressed will cause predators to think that he is “asking for it.” As an African American, on the other hand, he has to be concerned with a lower life expectancy, how he addresses police, and many other issues.
Women, especially trans women and women of color, experience a lack of privilege every day, according to Hurt. One of the main examples he used was women’s increased vulnerability to sexual assault and violence. Women often share their location with their friends, carry pepper spray, lock their doors once they get into a car, watch their drinks closely, and a whole laundry list of other things to ensure their vulnerability to predators is as miniscule as possible.
Hurt encourages everyone, men and women, to resist language that allows the patriarchy to continue to maintain power and privilege for those who have it. The patriarchy is a system that needs to be interrupted. By doing small things like cutting out these words and challenging others who use them, it can create social change. It’s the little things in everyday actions that have power, according to Hurt. He also encourages people to have conversations about masculinity and privilege. The more conversations you have about a subject, the less taboo it becomes.