“Chitty chitty bang bang, she wants a pretty shitty gang-bang,” was the snippet of song I heard being chanted by at least a dozen drunk-sounding men as I happened to be walking by a dorm room during frat rush season last year.
Disturbing incidents like this are not anomalous; we all that 1 in 3 undergrad women experience sexually inappropriate behavior at Princeton, and we know that men comprise the vast majority of perpetrators. Culture and biology both play into this. But rather than writing off masculinity as inherently toxic, we need a healthy vision for the role of men in campus life. This issue continues to be addressed through efforts like and the newly hired men’s engagement , but there are three areas in need of change.
The first elephant in the room is pornography. While many women increasingly report using porn, the still reveal a stark divide between male and female usage of pornography. Porn, created for a male audience, also informs male sexual attitudes. Surveys have shown that porn influences teenage boys on what kind of sex they want to have. If we want men to treat women like people and not like objects, curbing porn addiction on campus is an obvious first step, yet one that receives little attention. Thanks to orientation, RCAs, and social media campaigns, I know who to turn to if I am suffering from depression or anxiety. But when it comes to resources for helping myself or others avoid or reverse the detriments of porn, resources are scant.
Secondly, college men need meaningful male-male friendships. When all-male groups gather in private after-hours, the fact that we sometimes get gang-rape songs reveals the superficiality of many male relationships. Too often, men come together over the glorification of sex and alcohol and not over the shared pursuit of virtue and excellence.
Princeton’s Greek-life ban is a testament to the problem — all-male social groups have caused more damage than the co-ed eating clubs. Healthy culture would have room for both co-ed and single-sex fellowship opportunities without tainting the concept of “fraternity” with debauchery and misogyny. That being said, it’s not all bad — I see many groups of men who bond over things that are good and true: service, religion, academic interests, and athletics. It is wonderful to see groups of men being vulnerable with each other, lifting each other up through difficult times, and passing on advice and mentorship. These sorts of community-building endeavors change a culture.
Lastly, our campus culture needs to promote a positive vision of masculinity. Many students are wary of discussing gender differences for fear of stereotyping or denying intersex identity. On the contrary, it is possible to acknowledge unique traits of men while avoiding these pitfalls. Having exceptions to the binary does not imply that “male” is not a well-defined biological concept. For example, men in general tend to be larger, physically stronger, and more tolerant of alcohol than women. Given that these biological differences partially explain why most sexual offenders are men, we should turn these factors into positive rather than negative forces. An essential part of healthy masculinity should be to channel these characteristics toward the defense and protection of the more vulnerable, instead of toward violence and aggression. This is not merely some nostalgic longing for chivalrous men who hold doors open for women. We should work for a culture where a guy walking a girl home would never think to have ulterior motives for doing so, where men who have the strength and ability are unafraid to intervene in potentially dangerous social situations — on the Street, at pre-games, or anywhere else on campus.
Toxic masculinity brings out the worst in men and damages the community at all levels. Let’s reclaim what is positive and healthy about male identity and reject unhelpful stereotypes. Let’s give men something to be proud of.
Thomas Clark is a junior studying computer science and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.