“It’s not your fault!” exclaims Victoria Mescall, a former resident advisor, sorority member, and current sorority house mom. As a domestic violence activist, Mescall makes sure no one feels responsible for their own abusive experience.
“Even if I say it a hundred more times, even if I say it every day until I die, there’s people I know that won’t believe me,” Mescall says. “They will still always think that they went outside, they went upstairs, they didn’t say ‘no’ at first. They will always think that they had a hand in what happened to them.”
Violence happens for many reasons, but toxic masculinity is the prevailing cause. Anyone can be masculine, but the issue isn’t masculinity — the issue is toxicity. According to the American Psychological Association, toxic masculinity is the pressure to fulfill particular traits, such as being aggressive, heterosexual, and stoic. “Toxic men” are molded by a variety of factors, like their upbringing and culturally accepted norms of domineering, violent men.
Toxic masculinity has dangerous outcomes: sexual assault, domestic violence, and misogyny, to name a few. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. The key to resolving violence between men and women lies in combating toxic masculinity.
Dr. Tanya Gesek, a child and adolescent psychologist, explains that toxic masculinity makes men feel entitled to push boundaries and engage in dominating behaviors, especially towards women and LGBTQ+ individuals. She says that marginalized groups are pushing back against discrimination from toxic men.
“I think you see toxic masculinity in relationships, I think you see it in athletics, I think you see it in the business world,” says Gesek. “It’s considered a positive asset, but then women are looked at as ‘bitchy’ and ‘bossy.’”
Toxic masculinity is also seen among young men in fraternities, who agree that the stereotype is sometimes accurate. It’s difficult to overlook this community, especially in instances of hazing or sexual assault.
Bailey Arredondo, Newhouse graduate student and former fraternity brother at Texas Christian University, says that brothers who tend to exemplify toxic masculinity hide behind their Greek letters.
“Toxic masculinity is when you first meet someone and they immediately say what fraternity they’re a part of, instead of their name and where they’re from,” says Arredondo.
This type of brother prefers the social scene of fraternities over the philanthropy. Relying on the social aspect of fraternities can cause men to act hypermasculine, another factor in toxicity. However, not all fraternity members prescribe to toxic masculinity. Both Arredondo and Syracuse University fraternity member Ben Weiner remain true to themselves.
“I still call my mom everyday, I still love to watch football games, I still go to the gym,” says Weiner. “I’m still me.”
Weiner is a camp counselor at Camp Schodack for the Boy Scouts of America, and gets to be a role model for young boys; he instills the virtues of respect and self-acceptance. Hopefully, as the 10- and 11-year-olds grow, they remember and internalize traits that make a good man.
Both Arredondo and Gesek, the child and adolescent psychologist, teach important values to the next generation of boys: kindness, understanding boundaries, and staying true to themselves. They also agree that it’s critical to educate girls about toxic masculinity so they’re a part of the conversation.
Domestic violence activist Mescall believes that boys and girls should learn about toxicity together.
“This isn’t the fifth grade puberty video. We don’t need to be in separate classrooms to have these talks,” says Mescall. “I think it’s more problematic when you do that because teaching women that they have to look out for something in the world that could harm them perpetuates this idea that it’s your fault.”
This was originally printed in Equal Time Magazine’s Fall 2019 print issue. Read it here.