“Why Are You Like This?”- A Three Part Blog About Male Masculinity
For the longest time in my life, I’ve felt uncomfortable around boys/men. I never understood why. Whenever I’m in a group of guys, I’ll catch myself having a response to what they’re saying- but not saying it out loud. As time went on, this feeling of intimidation kept getting worse but also another feeling arose: annoyance. I was annoyed with myself for feeling this way. What is it that’s making me feel this way?
I grew up in a Turkish American home in Mount Prospect, IL. I grew up with both of my parents and I have two younger sisters. My family is mainly female. My father was the only male in my life as I was growing up. I used to think this was why I felt the way I felt when I was around men. I thought this outlook I had, came from the absence of masculinity in life. It is definitely a factor, but not necessarily the root of the feeling.
I didn’t always feel like this. I even remember being in first grade and having friendships with a lot of boys in my class. The feeling crept up on me as I got older. I was changing, and so were the people around me. Towards the end of elementary school boys and girls begin separating. Girls were friends with girls and boys were friends with boys. In my own experience, I rarely saw boy/girl friendships. When I was in middle school, the school even separated the boys and girls for gym class. Boys were on one side of the gym, and the girls were on the other. We never interacted with the boys. It was because boys play sports more “intensely” and they were worried that the girls would get “hurt”. At a very young age, I was taught that there was a solid line that separated boys from girls. I was reminded of this when reading, “Wars, Wimps, and Women” by Carol Cohn. Instead of bringing together our differences, the school placed us into binaries. Boys vs girls. Tough vs weak. Aggressive vs passive. I don’t think this was intentional, but it did have a long lasting effect on me.
High school was a completely terrifying new territory for me. I tried so hard to make friends, and I absolutely did. I even had my first serious relationship in high school. We started dating after being friends for a little over a year. It took a while for me to become comfortable with being friends with him, and I thought I was ready to become more. I remember we had the same gym period, but we were in separate classes- so sometimes we would see each other. But I always hoped we wouldn’t because I didn’t want him to see me “gross and sweaty”. I also remember that he would sometimes say the dumbest things, but I could never bring myself to responding like I wanted to. Now that I look back, I don’t feel embarrassed about being “gross and sweaty” and I’m not okay with not being able to tell him when he was being an idiot. Again, why did I feel this way? Why did it matter that I was “gross and sweaty”? Why couldn’t I call him out for saying sexist things?
Further thinking made me realize this uncomfortable feeling doesn’t happen around all men. Men who feel entitled to everything this world has to offer. Men who make people around them feel inferior. Men who are blind to their privilege. Men whose ego you can see radiating off of them. This kind of man is unfortunately very popular. I go to school with them, I work with them, I see them when I’m picking up my nine-year old sister from school. These are men I encounter almost every day of my life.
I went through another form of culture shock when I began school at Marquette University. After spending two years at Harper Community College in Palatine, IL- I was exposed to all kinds of people. Everyone was different and the school was so diverse. Everything that I was used to seeing at home, was gone. Everyone here looks the same, there is no diversity what so ever. In the first couple weeks of school, I hadn’t seen a boy not wearing khaki shorts, a pair of Sperry’s and a shirt with “MARQUETTE” plastered on the front. What is it with these boys at this school? What made them any different than the guys at my community college?
Going to a school like Marquette University adds to the entitlement lots of boys already feel. This is a wonderful school we attend- but it inflates a lot of peoples’ ego’s, far more than I’d hope. In attempts of integrating me into Marquette, my best friend added me to her preexisting group chats with her friends from here. I was thankful for this because I have never been good at making friends on my own- up until the day after the 2016 elections. It was 7:30am, and in one of the group chats, I was being told by a Straight White Boy that I was being over dramatic. He tried to tell me that Donald Trump was not racist, and that I had been watching too much CNN. And there is was. I notice these types of people on campus all the time, but I never thought I’d ever actually have to deal with one. I told him that I was not going to argue with him, because you honestly cannot argue with these people, and he responded “That’s good”. I could feel the smugness in the text message, and he probably thought to himself, “damn…I showed her!”. Which is fine. You know and I know that he did not win that, maybe one day he’ll realize it too.
Masculinity takes on a whole new role at Marquette. I’ve never seen a school so obsessed with a sports team. The Marquette basketball team is put on a pedestal and all the boys are treated like celebrities. Congratulations, you can play a sport- good for you. I don’t see the need for special treatment just because someone’s good at dribbling a ball. In 2011, there were incidents of campus rape at Marquette, involving the basketball team. Milwaukee police were not notified by the school that this had happened. Even though, the university is required by state law to report all crimes to the police. The basketball players, whose names were never revealed, didn’t get charged or convicted with anything. Basically, just a slap on the wrist. Bob Baizer, a lawyer for one of the victims said, “Marquette administrators clearly thought the law was that you protect your (athletes) if they’re having a good year”. Why should these athletes get a free pass? If you rape someone, you should be punished. An article in the tribune says, “Christopher Miller (vice president for student affairs) declined to discuss specific outcomes, saying only that all the athletes were disciplined. A source close to one of the accused said the athlete was required to write a paper as part of his punishment (Haggerty, Lighty and Clair 2011).” A paper? You rape someone and your “punishment” is a paper? Just because you’re good at a sport, it doesn’t excuse raping someone, yet- they all got away with it. Five years later, and all I can do is complain about it in a paper.
Greek life is not as intense at Marquette, then it is in other schools- but it is still prevalent. Joining a fraternity gives brotherhood a whole new meaning. The main point of joining a sorority or fraternity is to make friends. Of course it is also definitely a job networking mechanism for the future and a way to give back to the community. Boys in fraternities are a whole new species with masculinity up front and center. Going away to college, being without parents for the first time and a new school can be overwhelming. Boys who join fraternities just want to belong somewhere and they want acceptance. By joining a fraternity, you are basically committing yourself to a life-long relationship with these other boys.
My best friend has a lot of friends that are in fraternities, and it is very interesting to watch their interactions. You notice almost instantly how dedicated these boys are to one another. They do absolutely everything together- whether it’s just hanging out, studying, playing video games, partying etc. The concept of brotherhood is taken very seriously- you can tell they definitely value their relationships with each other more than their relationships with others outside of the fraternity.
This can be a good thing, and a bad thing. How far does brotherhood go? Does it interfere with your morals and values? We hear stories about rape, drugs, alcohol and hazing when it comes to fraternities. As much as I hate to admit, fraternities have power. You walk into a frat house and you can literally feel the testosterone. As Robert M. Sapolsky says in his article “Testosterone Rules”, “testosterone isn’t causing aggression, it’s exaggerating the aggression that’s already there”. Meaning, we can’t blame testosterone for the negative behaviors seen in fraternities. If you think about it, its behavioral science. You put a bunch of guys together and call it “brotherhood”, of course their sense of entitlement skyrockets. This entitlement can be very dangerous and detrimental to others. Of course a lot of fraternities face heavy consequences for their actions, but even more so get away with it, because you know- “boys will be boys”. The concept of fraternities automatically makes me think of Michael Kimmel. Men need the approval of other men. By getting this approval, they feel validated. This is why boys rush; this is why they deal with the hazing. Once they are finally a part of the fraternity, they think they’re better than everyone.
Masculinity has been shaped for years and years. It has been instilled in boys since even before they were born. A couple finds out they’re having a baby boy? Blue walls, blue clothing, trucks, action figures. He hasn’t even reached the world yet and he already has standards. After he is born he is taught to put his emotions aside: “boys don’t cry”, “stop being such a girl”, “if they hit you, you hit BACK”. It’s absolutely horrifying. This reminds me of reading, “No Way My Boys Are Going To Be Like That!…” by Emily Kane. Boys are more likely to have negative responses to their sons not conforming. Some parents even thought/feared that this would lead to homosexuality. Unfortunately, because of that, these boys grow up to be guys I went to high school with, guys on the Marquette Basketball team and guys that are in fraternities. Society is in total control of the way people are. If society could throw away all their expectations of men, (and women) and be a society that is accepting, caring, loving and empathetic- we’d all flourish. And maybe, that feeling I have, would go away. That feeling I have, that I am positive countless others have- would be gone. Obviously, this is not something that is going to happen overnight. It may take years, maybe generations. But it’s important to know that change can be good sometimes, and it should be embraced. If we ever expect progress, things have to change. These boys have to be taught from a young age that it is okay to be different and there is no perfect mold. We make our own molds and it is about time people start realizing that.