Possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men.
“Handsome, muscled, and driven, he’s a prime example of masculinity.”
synonyms: virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, strength, muscularity, ruggedness, robustness
This notion of masculinity is exemplified and magnified on college campuses throughout the United States. Strength and muscularity are on display as young men crowd into campus gyms to max out on bench press for the third time in a week. A young woman swoons as a young man flaunts his virility, stumbling over to her in an unfinished basement, graciously offering her the remainder of his warm beer, and motivated by the hopes of her coming home with him. A parade of testosterone and vigor is visible as a fight erupts outside over a spilled drink. The idea of hypermasculinity, as manifested at places like Boston College, is so inherent in university culture that it is the official dictionary definition of masculinity.
Masculinity Unmasked, a photo campaign by UGBC, aims to challenge this notion of masculinity at BC by opening up conversation about the ways that BC culture and society at large shapes expectations for men. The inspiration for the campaign comes from a general lack of discussion about a campus issue that pervades almost every facet of the social culture.
“There is so much discussion about feminism and issues surrounding oppressed femininity, yet a conversation about the male experience is largely lacking,” said Michael Razis, MCAS '19, the photographer behind the photos posted on the campaign’s Facebook page. “This is not to make a claim about one experience being more or less [significant] than the other, but we figured it would be interesting to learn about how male-identifying students on campus were taught to understand masculinity and how that understanding has either changed or remained the same.”
The campaign's discoveries are eye-opening. Profiles of BC men range across all races, religions, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic classes. Some reflect on the influence their upbringing has had on their personal takes on masculinity. Others comment on how rigid cultural beliefs manifest themselves in the form of adages like: “boys don’t cry." Members of LGBTQ+ community describe their experiences with the perceived duality of masculinity and being gay. Some offer non-traditional stories of masculinity—like being raised by a strong, single mother who stressed the importance of respecting women. All of the stories are tremendously different, but linked by the common thread of conforming to traditional notions of masculinity.
Although the profiles told varying stories, all revolved around the pressure to fit into the mold of the “BC bro,” and the anxiety that comes with being outside that mold. This infamous mold is associated with BC just as much as the Mods or Doug Flutie; any student will describe the stereotypical BC male as rich, white, and athletic, with an affinity for drinking and Vineyard Vines.
“Some expectations of masculinity at BC that immediately come to mind are being straight and hooking up with lots of girls that other guys deem ‘hot,’” Razis said. "Another is drinking a lot and being able to hold [one's] liquor, otherwise falling under the category of ‘soft.’ There is also the expectation that guys at BC hit up the Plex on a bi-daily, if not daily, basis to bulk up.”
A topic of discussion at BC, and highlighted in the photo campaign, is the lack of diversity around campus and how this contributes to ideas of masculinity.
“I think that BC attracts more straight, white, cis-gendered students than some other universities because of its Jesuit backdrop,” Razis said. “While the Jesuit tradition does not necessarily ground itself strictly in tradition or conservatism—it often seeks to do the opposite, actually—Jesuits are undeniably tied to Catholicism. This undercurrent of Catholicism at Boston College allows social traditions in regards to gender, sexuality, and race to remain a bit more stringent than at other secularized institutions of higher education. It would be unrealistic, however, to say that masculinity or conservative tradition is less policed at other American colleges/universities.”
Notably, this concept isn't exclusive to Boston College. Universities nationwide are working to dispel the notion of hypermasculinity that can quickly devolve into “toxic masculinity," which is characterized by a model of manhood that strives for dominance and control. This form of masculinity is often held accountable in cases of sexual assault, violence, and hazing, which is why universities are actively working to combat it.
Conversely, wearing Vineyard Vines, working out, and drinking does not transform a BC student into a stoic, emotionless misogynist. Hypermasculinity becomes an issue when one's masculinity is used to intimidate, pressure, or marginalize a group that is different. This is a problem everywhere, from high school locker rooms and college campuses all the way up to the White House. President Elect Trump’s statements regarding women acted as a perfect illustration of the dangers of hypermasculinity and how deeply ingrained in male culture it is. Still, the issue goes far deeper than what men choose to wear or how they choose to show emotion. The issue is with how masculinity is entrenched and perceived in our culture, and how this impacts the outside world far beyond BC’s campus.
“Appearances are not the crux of masculinity’s destructive qualities,” Razis said. “Students will say that fitting into the 'BC bro' mold of drinking a lot, working out [frequently], and wearing certain clothes will consequently associate one with misogyny. I think this is ridiculous. Misogyny comes out of what you say and believe, not what you wear. It is problematic statements and beliefs that our attention must be diverted to rather than irrelevant outward appearances.”
The public perception of masculinity at BC and in society as a whole, as implied by the dictionary definition, has remained stagnant for many years. It assumes that men are primal, strong, straight, and emotionally vacant. The photo campaign Masculinity Unmasked aims to show that men aren’t reduced to these stereotypes; rather, a man is someone who can fully grasp his identity and remain true to it.
Diamani Clifton, one of the students profiled for Masculinity Unmasked, summed up masculinity perfectly when asked by members of the campaign to share his thoughts: “I think masculinity is being who you are—regardless of what the world says—protecting those you love, and thinking for yourself.”