Columns / Discourse / May 16, 2014

The old boys’ club

Thus far, the campus-wide discussion of sexual assault has focused on a number of important topics, including victim’s rights, administrative responses and the collective campus responsibility to prevent sexual assault. It’s time now to turn to a rarely-discussed facet of gender inequality: male culture.

To begin to tackle this dilemma, we need to break down what male culture is, and analyze how it can contribute to unhealthy relationships and the objectification of women.

Male culture is omnipresent in our society — it is the set of behaviors that directly benefit from and usually perpetrate or reinforce male privilege. It is the objectification of women, the ridiculing of non-heterosexual and non-cisgendered practices and the normalization of male power and dominance. (To find male culture, try comparing the language that is used to discuss women in conversations you have with men and the conversations you have with women.)

Male culture is thus a dominant, exclusive culture. By surrounding ourselves with only men, we “other” women, transforming them into mysterious, passive fetish objects. Thus, gender-segregated areas like athletics and fraternities can give rise to the extreme sexism that then leads to the dismissal of female narratives and normalization of sexual harassment and assault.

Male culture is self-policing. As boys, the most important thing to us is the approval of our male peers. Being called gay is the ultimate transgression of masculinity because it means one has abandoned the central goal of ‘getting girls’ and has ‘switched sides,’ becoming weak and effeminate — i.e. a woman.

The ‘friendzone’ is a perfect example of this. Borrowing from an anonymous netizen, the friendzone is the idea that women are machines that swallow kindness tokens and dispense sex.

Other men reinforce this notion through ridiculing or disbelieving male friends seen hanging out one-on-one with a woman while ‘not getting any.’ Men ridicule the man that would rather talk about his feelings than his lust, replacing the human experience of women with the image of owed subservience towards men, including the idea that women somehow ‘owe men’ access to their bodies.

In the words of senior Joy Westerman, male culture “feminizes rebellion,” making it cowardly or worse, gay. Rather than encouraging empathy or radical listening, male culture tends to other the perspectives and personal stories of men, women and trans* people who seek to upend the system

There is often undeserved sympathy for male peers accused of sexual assault. This is reinforced by insufficient mechanisms for delivering justice, turning accusations into indictments of the victim. Men then form a protective barrier around their peer in order to protect themselves as a whole from accusations of criminality. The complainant is ‘crazy,’ or she was ‘asking for it.’

Male culture permeates society through language as well. Most obviously, we talk of males as men and women as girls. This leads to a deep power imbalance, and the kind of atmosphere that normalizes aggressive male behavior and ignores oppressed women’s voices.

If you have never heard about personal experiences with sexual assault from any of your female friends, it is likely because they don’t trust you. Listen to women as subjects, as humans whose personal desires and choices are entirely up to them, and you will surely learn of disgusting transgressions committed by your male compatriots.

Turn male culture into a forum on how to be better people and more empathetic listeners, and we can create an environment that is much more conducive to justice and individuals’ well-being, rather than one that at best just lets injustice slide.


Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

Tags:  feminism gay gender inequality hierarchy injustice Joy Westerman male culture patriarchy rape culture sexual assault transgression

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