Laurel Hall 101 was more crowded than on an exam day as dozens of students showed up to hear Tony Porter, activist, educator and TED Talk host, give a lecture on masculinity Monday night. With men and women from multiple organizations and backgrounds in attendance, the composition of the crowd reflected the way this issue affects people of every walk of life.
“Our definition of men is wrapped in muscles, an extremely limited definition of strength,” Porter said. Heterosexuality is part of the glue that holds this box together, but “gay men, transmen, they’re part of this conversation,” Porter said, adding that sexuality, too, is often socialized by our parents.
The metaphorical box contains ideas such as “having less value in women,” “treating women as property” and “The Man, The Legend,” a t-shirt which stands as a crude reference to the importance of a man’s genitals.
Porter has given this lecture and several others in his series before on Ted Talks, and some of the students who showed up to hear it had already heard one like it.
“We’re part of a group called ‘The Men’s Project,’” said Jesus Morales Sanchez, a fourth-semester chemical engineering major. “We talk about masculinity and what’s the role in becoming advocates for gender equity. We started the project by watching one of Tony Porter’s Ted Talks,” he said.
“Right now I’m just trying to learn about masculinity and how society constructs it and how to break out of that box,” said Conor Boba, eight-semester chemistry major and member of The Men’s Project.
“Manhood teaches that men are strong, and women are weak,” Porter said. “We’re defining manhood by distancing ourselves from what we perceive to be the experience of women.” Porter engaged in a Socratic method of question-and-answer with the audience that revealed the root of gender inequality is in the way we were socialized by our parents.
While often taught in psychology classes, this concept is an overlooked part of the fight for gender and sexual equality. Society, Porter said, is essentially creating an environment where a small amount of men “can create an epidemic of violence against women” in the presence of all the good men. The majority of men who don’t perpetrate violence against women are ignoring it by grappling instead with the rigid notion of what it means to be a man. Porter cited statistics on the severity of violence against women in the United States, including that one in three homicides against women are committed by “the man who says he loves her.”
To demonstrate his point, Porter brought the lecture to a close asking a young man to share his personal experience with being in love, which made men and women alike laugh uncomfortably.
“Men are taught to push their feelings down, taught to them as little boys. Men are supposed to always be under control,” Porter said. One emotion they’re allowed to express, though, is anger. “Anger is just a secondary emotion, a response to fear and pain,” Porter said.
Porter left the audience with a question about what the future might look like if men could be more open about their feelings and attitudes.
“What if we normalize this, and men comfortably talk about love all the time? What kind of impact would that have on the next generation of boys? This man box is holding men hostage,” Porter said.
Amanda Campanaro is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.