On Wednesday, April 10, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Student Organization for Sexual Safety and the Wellness Resource Center brought speakers Derek McCoy and Ellen Wallace to Colorado College to discuss toxic masculinity. The discussion focused on the culture of masculinity, gender norms, and relationship violence. 

  McCoy, a former NFL player, explained how he comes from “a culture of masculinity.” He has taken the opportunity to use his voice and power to become the director of prevention Initiatives at Project PAVE, an organization centered on preventing relationship violence. Wallace is the director of StandUp! Colorado, an organization with similar aims. 

Photo by Daniel Sarché

  The talk relied heavily on the interactions within the tightly packed room, and provided opportunities for self-reflection on how we are socialized into our genders. The main goal for both McCoy and Wallace is to help “both the abusers and the victims.” McCoy pointed out how the use of the word “toxic” when discussing masculinity only polarizes the issue. He asked, “By calling them toxic, is that going to get them in this room?” Shaming those who have done wrong does nothing to change behavior or to encourage accountability for their actions; it only pushes people further to violence. 

    The discussion also emphasized the importance of changing the term “domestic” violence to “relationship” violence. As “domestic” is a word associated with marriage and those living in the same household, “relationship” expands upon this concept and makes it more real and applicable to the masses. According to McCoy, a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the U.S. Therefore, referring to violence that occurs within a “relationship” broadens what is encompassed in this sort of violence, and sheds light on the entirety of this massive issue.

    Looking closely at gender expectations, McCoy discussed the use of the phrases “be a man” or “be a woman” and what sort of behavior those phrases imply. For example, McCoy reflected on his time in the NFL, explaining how he and his teammates would “often roast each other because it’s easier than intimacy.” This suppression of emotions, as opposed to regulation, creates unhealthy coping habits that often lead to explosions of violence. “Being a man” can ultimately mean developing unhealthy coping mechanisms and denying who one really is, which results in losing the pathway to one’s purpose. McCoy explained how the only way to really remedy this is to humanize emotions and to have “intersectionality of confidence.” This includes confidence in one’s gender, sexuality, race, and socioeconomic status, among many other things.

Most importantly, McCoy explained how, “white man to white man, that’s where the real work happens.” These talks and discussions are important, but change happens when individuals intervene in real-time events. This does not simply mean yelling at someone every time they use negatively-gendered language, as context is everything. “Calling-in” versus “calling-out” is entirely situational and can be affected by the setting, time, and relationship to that individual.

Wallace expanded on this idea when she explained how anyone can be a “campaign champion”, and the immense power one can have just by stepping up and speaking out. 

Masculinity is not necessarily toxic. It can be a powerful tool. Looking at it through a new lens reveals the ways it positively and negatively affects society, and by practicing the positive, genuine changes can take place. For those interested in the reframing of masculinity, StandUp! Colorado, Project PAVE, SOSS, and the Wellness Resource Center are all committed to enacting these positive changes and are willing to help.

Another aspect that Tiefenthaler emphasized to the room was the importance of mentorship. However, she pointed out that this involves more than finding someone smart to praise you and tell you what to do: “you have to be a good mentee.” It’s more than networking, it’s forming real relationships with those around you. Having this support system makes you an effective follower as well as a successful leader.

Finally, she expressed the importance of intent throughout the discussion. She explained how, in her decision-making process for the well-being of Colorado College and its community, even if she makes a mistake, her intent will not be doubted. Tiefenthaler instilled in the students of the Palmer classroom just how important it is to have female leaders, specifically on our campus, and emphasized the incredible opportunity we have as students of the liberal arts.

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