Defining men’s roles in women’s social justice issues

REBECCA WHITE | Evergreen reporter

Documentary film maker and anti-sexism activist Byron Hurt discussed how men can be allies of women in challenging the issues of sexism, patriarchy and the way men look at masculinity in a discussion Thursday evening in Todd Hall.

In his career, Hurt has spoken to members of the military, sports teams and in front of universities and schools about women’s issues and how men can become involved in creating solutions. Hurt directly engaged the audience, asking men to stand up if they had a woman in their life that they deeply cared about: mother, sister, girlfriend, wife or female friend.

“Most men, when we hear the term violence against women, sexual assault and rape, we remove ourselves from the conversation,” Hurt said. “We think it affects girls we don’t know or don’t care to know.”

Alethea Dumas, secretary for the YWCA of WSU, said Hurt’s speech was an important launching point for men to get involved in social justice issues affecting women.

“We just don’t talk about ways that men actually stand up for the rights of women and social inequality. We don’t have many men coming to speak. It’s a great starting point for the conversation,” Dumas said.

Hurt said most people connect violence to an exaggerated sense of masculinity he refers to as hyper-masculinity.

“Our society is inundated with hyper-masculinity,” Hurt said.

Hurt went on to say there are many examples of hyper-sexualized women and hyper-masculine men our culture views regularly through porn culture, sports culture and other forms of media.

“We are all conditioned to see manhood in a particular way,” Hurt said. “Unless, you see someone deconstruct manhood and masculinity.”

Hurt created a diagram filled with characteristics men in the audience had been told they must have to be considered a “man’s man.” He also created a space outside the diagram of insults provided by the audience toward men who do not fit with that ideal.

“It’s about the words they’ve been pressured into,” said Nora Al-Aqeel, a junior majoring in political science who was at the event. “Because someone pressured them, they put that pressure on the weaker person, the woman.”

The diagram included fearlessness; respect from other men; being a breadwinner; not being feminine; stoic emotionlessness; leadership; integrity; physical strength and toughness.

“I’m not saying you don’t have to be tough; we all do on so many levels,” Hurt said.

Hurt asked the audience to think of the pressure men are under to project this image of hyper-masculinity and the toll it takes.

“How many people in this room know a guy who expresses anger through violence, sadness through drinking or who has committed suicide?” Hurt asked.

Hurt referred to the recent mass shooting in Oregon and noted that many people attribute that mass shooting and others to mental illness. He also noted that many people struggle with mental illness without becoming violent. Hurt believes that 90 percent of the shooters in those situations had a strong sense of hyper-masculinity.

“This is very destructive for boys and men,” Hurt said.

He returned to the diagram of “man’s man” traits, connecting the attributes inside and outside the diagram.

“The risk of stepping outside the box is so great,” Hurt said. “The power of those words polices you.”

Hurt said the key to healthy masculinity and truly becoming an ally to women is letting go of the words that fit inside the diagram.

“When we as men began to stand up and disrupt systems of patriarchy, we give others permission to do the same,” Hurt said.

This presentation was originally planned to coincide with the Week Without Violence last week, but was postponed due to complications with travel.