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One athlete’s perspective: “Locker Talk or Toxic Masculinity” focuses on men, objectifies women

This past Monday, under the direction of multiple Carleton organizations, all varsity athletes were required to convene in Skinner Memorial Chapel to hear a sort of convocation regarding sexual violence. Motivated by the NCAA Board of Governors’ adoption of new sexual violence policy, which mandates that all coaches, college athletes and athletics administrators are required to be annually educated in sexual violence prevention. With the 2019-2020 academic year being the first since the revamped sexual violence policy’s implementation, Carleton Athletics took a pragmatic, time-saving approach in its initial attempt to provide a comprehensive sexual violence education.

As opposed to each team undergoing individual or group training, like Carleton’s Green Dot program, Carleton opted to have each team partake in the same education: a presentation given by Emmy-nominated filmmaker and activist Byron Hurt, entitled “Locker Room Talk, or Toxic Masculinity?” Co-sponsored by SHAC, the Gender and Sexuality Center, Carleton’s Title IX Office, the Office of Intercultural Learning, the Office of Health Promotion and Carleton Varsity Athletics, Hurt addressed a crowd of almost exclusively those involved in the athletic community, although the event was open to the Carleton public. Hurt spoke, engaged the crowd, and dialogued on his own experience as a man for about an hour, receiving mixed reviews from student-athletes on both his subject matter and on Carleton’s handling of sexual violence education.

Entering the chapel, many male student-athletes were under the assumption that they would be participating in a talk directly confronting, criticizing, and shaming their own masculinity. The title of Hurt’s presentation, “Locker Room Talk, or Toxic Masculinity?” hearkens back to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, where he defended a 2005 hot-mic excerpt, in which he was recorded bragging about groping, kissing, and forcing himself upon women, by claiming his obviously sexist and offensive banter was semi-acceptable “locker room talk.” An anonymous male student-athlete, unaffiliated with the Carletonian, voiced his concerns with us prior to Hurt’s chat: “Obviously, when the entire athletic program, men and women both, are forced to attend a talk discussing ‘locker room talk’ and toxic masculinity, you feel a little bit implicated. It’s never fun to be semi-referenced in the talk discussing ‘locker room talk’ and toxic masculinity, you feel a little bit implicated. It’s never fun to be semi-referenced in the same context as toxic masculinity, or whatever ‘locker room talk’ consists of.” Female student-athletes also felt concerned entering the talk, as perhaps they’d have no relevance in, or need to partake in Hurt’s conversation, as the title gave the presentation the appearance of being significantly male-oriented.

After an introduction by GSC Director Danny Matthews, Hurt took the stage. Byron began by taking fifteen minutes to introduce himself, elaborating extensively on his background as he paced through the chapel aisle, and explaining how he originally became interested in gender and sexual violence activism. As a student at Northeastern University, a mentor of Hurt asked him about the daily measures that Hurt took to ensure that he would not be sexually assaulted. As Byron explained, he had never even pondered the idea that as a male, he could be a victim of sexual violence.

Image Credit: Holy Cross University
Activist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Byron Hurt spoke to Carleton athletics program this past Monday.

Hurt, after confirming with the men in the audience that they too did not take daily measures to prevent sexual assault, then prompted the women in the crowd to provide examples of the ways in which they guarded themselves against sexual violence. Unsurprisingly, Hurt received numerous responses from violence conscious women, including, but not limited to, not wearing provocative clothing, never walking alone, using the buddy system, not leaving one’s drink unattended, walking with keys to defend oneself, and keeping a method of self defense, like mace, in a purse. This exercise, according to Hurt, was to enlighten men to the constant dangers imposed on women by rape culture. “It serves me no good to stand up here and attack you for being male,” Hurt said of the activity. “That is not my point. My point is to help you think about the world that you live in, and how it is very different from the world that women are subjected to.”

By all accounts, Hurt is right in exposing men to some of the horrors of being a woman, and having to worry about potentially defending yourself from an attacker at any given moment. The issue underscoring Hurt’s lecture is his utter abstention of women from the discussion about sexual assault, with the exception of using them as objective examples to educate men. An unnamed female student-athlete articulated these sentiments: “I think what he said was important and needed to be said, but it was frustrating that this was supposed to be our big NCAA talk on sexual violence, and it wasn’t geared towards women at all. It was only geared toward men.”

As mentioned previously, this is the first year of the NCAA’s mandate that all individuals involved in varsity athletics must attend some sort of educational seminar on sexual violence. The athletic program had not yet been required to coordinate this type of education for each of the students and coaches in its program, so perhaps it is deserving of somewhat of a learning curve. Although, athletic administrators do give hour-long compliance presentations to each team at the beginning of each academic year, discussing subjects like hazing and academic policy, so they are no stranger to ensuring that each athlete receives hour-long, NCAA mandated educational seminars. Further, it appears that Hurt has given the exact same presentation multiple times, most recently presenting at St. Cloud State. Certainly, the athletic administration had a detailed idea of the material that was to be discussed in the presentation before contracting Hurt. Assuming they did, qualms about the exemplification of women as an objective male teaching tool were not considered, and set aside for convenience purposes. Though more difficult to coordinate, numerous other methods of in-house sexual violence education exist on campus. The GSC advertises “a great menu of hour-long workshops you can host,” that while perhaps more inefficient to coordinate, would likely come at a cheaper cost, and could have been tailored to educate both men and women more effectively than a program-wide presentation that distanced women from the conversation around sexual violence.

Perhaps the most curious example of this male-only education phenomenon occurred at Hurt’s conclusion, where he asked the men in the crowd to stand up if they had a mother, sister, or female friend or other relative that they cared about, challenging those standing to consider the emotional distress they would feel if those that they cared about were the target of an act of sexual violence. This cemented the objectification of women in Hurt’s presentation as not humans deserving of rights, but as means to an end of teaching men about sexual violence. Men should not be interested in preventing sexual violence against women because they are mothers, sisters, and daughters, but because they deserve equal rights, respect, and equal treatment as their husbands, brothers, and sons.

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