Each year, a new class of freshmen emerges on campus, excited for the new freedoms college has to offer. They go through a flurry of meetups and parties where strangers quickly become friends. Nonetheless, it is not easy for everybody to relax in their new surroundings. Women and queer folks, in particular, have to remain cautious. It is no secret that sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses, with gender, sexual, and racial minorities being the most vulnerable. It is not only the direct risk of sexual violence but also the pervasive “rape culture” that agitates and endangers students. To combat rape culture, we must reexamine and reproduce healthy masculinity on college campuses.
Rape culture in college
Rape culture refers to an environment in which sexual misconduct, assault, and violence are normalized. On a personal level, rape culture can look like misogynistic and objectifying jokes passed between friends. On a social level, it can refer to toxic masculine groups that promote extreme hazing and taking sexual “conquests.” Most importantly, rape culture can be built into the very structure of universities by stacking the odds against victims during Title IX processes.
Rape culture is produced under a patriarchal system. While men are often the perpetrators of rape culture, they can also be the victims of it. Toxic masculinity rejects and isolates men that choose to call out toxic behaviors. Therefore, advocating for healthy masculinity would benefit students across the board.
What healthy masculinity looks like
Toxic masculinity demands a limited and repressive definition of “manhood.” Under this definition, men must be aggressive and possessive in order to prove their manliness. Supposedly, “feminine” traits like emotionality and sensitivity are equated to weakness.
In turn, healthy masculinity is not the mere absence of toxic masculine behaviors. True healthy masculinity means actively encouraging vulnerability and resisting patriarchal structures. It creates a culture where people of all genders feel comfortable discussing gendered issues and calling out toxic conduct. The need for healthy masculinity is particularly salient for college campuses, where exclusive groups such as fraternities or athletic teams can come to define masculinity for all of its members.
Healthy masculinity in action
College students are taking it into their own hands to address the issues of toxic masculinity and rape culture. Men Can Stop Rape is an organization that works towards creating violence-free cultures and positively empowering men. Their program, Campus Men of the Strength Club, educates college students to become role models of healthy masculinity. The student members host educational events in partnership with campus women’s groups to explore the ways men can be allies to women.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst boasts a Men and Masculinities Center that supports male students from a “male positive, multicultural, and pro-feminist perspective.” The center’s workshops identify unhealthy behaviors such as sexual violence and refusal to use condoms. They also offer active bystander training for their community members.
The future of campus cultures
It is incredibly beneficial to promote healthy masculinity on college campuses. However, students themselves should not have to carry the entire burden of education and activism. Universities are responsible for sponsoring groups such as Men Can Stop Rape and fostering spaces for positive discussions. We must recognize the role men have in combatting rape culture and toxic masculinity. Only then, can we create campus environments where students of all intersections feel safe and supported.