Engaging Male Athletes in Sexual Assault Prevention | Eric Barthold | TEDxColbyCollege

Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Denise RQ I am going to begin
where I think every conversation about sexual assault
in college should begin; with an exploration
of today’s concept of masculinity. When I ask students,
“What does it mean to be a real man?” The responses are almost identical
whether they are in seventh grade, or seniors in high school,
or seniors in college. “Real men are tough, they are athletic,
they are strong, they are in control, they drink beer, and they drive trucks.” Guys who do not live up to that standard
are emotional, they are weak, they care too much about things,
they drive Priuses and wear skinny jeans. Whatever that means. Then finally when asked, “What do we call other guys
who exhibit those latter characteristics?” The words that I receive are always: ‘gay’, ‘pussy’, ‘bitch’, ‘fag’, ‘queer’, ‘vagina’. Just by asking that simple question
of “What does it mean to be a man?”, we already see
this distancing, this separation between us as guys, and “others”. We kind of keep our distance there. We see them almost as below us because when you think about
the words that I mentioned, the two worst things
that a guy can call another guy are some variation of ‘gay’, or a ‘woman’. What does that tell us about how we view
those two groups of people? Asked again, defining
that question of “a real man” shows us the constant pressure that us as guys are under
to be seen as ‘manly’, or at least confining to this idea
of what it means to be a guy. If I am a guy, and I wear my deodorant,
my “Old Spice” deodorant, I drink with my friends, I am athletic,
I am popular with the ladies, I am good. I am fine;
I am within that concept. But as soon as I start stepping
a little bit outside, and I am a little emotional or vulnerable, or do something a little bit different
from what is expected, I am called one of those many words, “Stop being such a pussy!”
then pushed right back into the box. Guys are under this constant pressure
to prove themselves from a very early age, everything from avoiding any toy
that could be seen as girly, to the cyber-bullying
that we see in high-schools where one guy will display a false image of himself
as controlling and powerful at the expense
of another of his classmates. Athletes, especially, are inundated
with these messages because being athletic is so central
to what it means to be in this box, and everyone expects that all those other things
around in the “man box” will accompany being athletic. The problem is not necessarily,
for me, what is in the box; being a guy is not a bad thing,
I love being a guy, there is nothing inherently wrong
with driving a truck, being athletic is a great characteristic,
it is healthy, and so is responsibility. The pressure we are under to be in here, to be in this box all the time
is the issue for me. Because when we look
at those characteristics of a “real man”, it is impossible to stay
within that definition. If it is impossible to stay
within that box all the time, we are saying it is impossible to live
up to that standard that we have set of what it means to be a guy. My experience, turning to me, when I first saw this exercise called
“the man box” that I am describing in Professor Mark Tappan’s class
here at Colby College, it was a hugely-freeing experience for me. I grew up playing soccer, and I ski-raced. Athletics was, and still is,
a huge part of my identity. In a lot of ways, I fit into this space. But at the same time, I had
massive glasses and a perfect bowl cut until sophomore year of high school. I was certainly not
your “high school player”. I was really shy, I loved school, and I often felt more comfortable
with my female friends. But at the same time,
my membership on the soccer team kind of categorized me
as being in this box, this space. I was kind of caught in limbo. When I saw
this “man box” exercise, I said, “Oh it’s OK. I can be the star athlete,
and the nice guy I always want to be.” I can be fiercely competitive,
and emotional, sensitive, all those attributes
that I really care about. Just trying to return back towards
college, often we as guys in college, categorize or justify our membership
within this space of masculinity by how much we can drink, what the stunts
we can pull off when we are drunk [are], and how many girls we can have sex with. It is such a heteronormatively
charged atmosphere. Think about the morning debrief sessions. Sunday mornings. One guy tells a story, sets a standard. Then as soon as some other friend
tells a more absurd story, or something more noteworthy, that initial storyteller is put back
under the microscope, and all of a sudden, finds himself
on this precipice between being “the man” and being distanced as “an other”. As a young college student,
especially male, it is really easy, in that type of atmosphere to start
thinking, “What is wrong with me? Everyone else seems to be having sex,
and I hear these stories, why am I not getting some?” That is the anxiety
that I am talking about, and being male does not necessarily
mean a certain set of standards. There are certainly men who are victims
of sexual violence in college. They can be, and they are. However, the vast majority of perpetrators
of sexual assault are male. Why is this? I think if we take the perspective
of a college male, especially if he finds himself
within all-male spaces, like sports teams or fraternities,
where the “man box” is so dominant, it is little bit easier to understand. First of all, you have that huge amount
of anxiety that I mentioned, about being in the box, but also that, “What is wrong with me?
I am not having sex!” You have that huge amount of anxiety, then you have this hierarchy
starting between men and women, where basically, based on those words
we mentioned, the two worst things a guy can call another guy,
one of which being a woman, but also the vast number of media images
of women as sexual objects, whether that is
in mainstream film or with porn, which, in so many ways, is the standard
of guy’s sexuality and sex. That is sort of what they think it is. So you have this hierarchy starting; then finally, there is this expectation
that guys are going to have sex in college and when that expectation is there, almost you get this sense
of being entitled to have sex. So when you are not having sex,
and you have this sense of entitlement, and you do not ever have to think
about ever being sexually assaulted because of our male privilege, that is a really toxic recipe; that hierarchy, the anxiety,
and the entitlement, that is a really toxic recipe
that I think, given a side of alcohol, could lead to something
like sexual violence. How do we disrupt this? How do we change this picture
of sexual assault in college, but also the masculine stereotypes
and the pressures that we are under? I think there are various ideas
of how to change culture in college, but I think one key lies
in working with male athletes. Male athletes have
a huge amount of social power, in our society at large, but also on college campuses. Often, that power is used
in negative ways, or to get away with negative behaviors. Often because of the pressures
they are under to be seen as “the man”. That is often
how they will exhibit those behaviors. It is only a small percentage
of guys and male athletes who are actively dictating
and perpetrating those behaviors, and enforcing them. The vast majority of guys
are in the middle of a spectrum between your picture
of hegemonic masculinity, and your guy leading the charge
to end violence against women. Most guys are somewhere in the middle, but they shift towards
the negative side of masculinity, because of the social power
that resides there. Remember, those type of behaviors
will also win you membership and a sense of belonging
within this male space. That is why I conduct conversations with male athletes and guys
about their gender assumptions and raising awareness of sexual assault. I think that if we can talk
with guys about those things, we are going to relieve the huge amount
of anxiety that boys feel, and have that freeing experience I did but also build empathy within guys to close that distance between each other, between the guys and everyone outside. That is why I do what I do,
and I think if we conduct these peer-to-peer conversations
that question those things, we can amplify the healthy voices
within men who are in the middle but might not be able to share that
because of the pressures they are under. If we can amplify
the healthy voices of guys who would normally shift this direction
towards the negative behaviors, if we can amplify their voices,
we can shift that social power towards the guys who exhibit
the compassion, the empathy, the leadership, and courage that is needed to expand past this definition
of what we see as a guy. If we can amplify
those voices in the middle who would normally shift this direction
because of the social power, we can isolate the guys
on this side of the spectrum, because all of a sudden,
we will shift their power towards the guys exhibiting
all of those great characteristics, and hopefully then, set the tone
of “That is where our masculinity lies”, not in those negative behaviors. Thinking about sport, there’s inherent leadership accountability
and courage within sport and I think these are hugely key
to this effort we are involved in. Male athletes are certainly not
the only ones who can show those traits, and much of the work that I do starts from a foundation of years
and years of courageous women doing the same talks that I am doing now. I am so thankful
to those groups beforehand. However, can you imagine if we could use
the transformative power of sport, that so many athletes
identify with and love, as a way to change
how we see our community? That for me is just so exciting,
as a way to make this social change. Talking openly and emotionally,
with men and boys, about gender pressures,
about sexual assaults, already deviates
from what we see as being “manly”. It already deviates
from the expectations we have of guys and male sports teams. But I expect more. I expect that if we can conduct
these conversations within those male spaces that we can free guys from that emotionally suffocating
and anxious cloak of masculinity, we can raise awareness of sexual assault, and yes, I think if these conversations
become commonplace, I do think we can prevent
sexual assault in college. Thank you. (Applause)

11 thoughts on “Engaging Male Athletes in Sexual Assault Prevention | Eric Barthold | TEDxColbyCollege

  1. This guy takes about nine minutes to get to the point, then pulls out a bunch of mythology and asks "how can we change this?"

  2. I am making this comment as a retired man who was a meek and mild maths graduate. I am smaller than average and I have always been respectful of women.
    The theme of this young man's talk is COMPLETELY FALSE.
    It is based on his indoctrination by feminism. It is based on the theme of the falsehoods taught in "Gender Studies" courses.

  3. Women sexually harass men all the time. That does not make men harassing women right – it just adds a perspective that is rarely mentioned.

  4. At my school almost all of the guys wear more femme cloths… the more liberal kids are the most popular actually..

  5. Nothing says Masculinity like tataling on girls who are mean to you. Said sarcastically by Jordan Keppler

  6. Great talk. And you're right that many female activists and some women in casual conversations, have been saying this for years and years. Men like you contributing will be a lot of help.

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