The “man box” describes the social construct of masculinity that dictates behavior commonly associated with the male gender. While NYU is known for its so-called woke-ness, or general awareness surrounding social issues, we are not immune to the man box. Some students reside comfortably outside the man box regardless of whether or not society would label them as a true man. However, there are many trapped in the box’s constraints, trying to meet a dangerous standard of hegemonic masculinity and abandoning themselves in the process.
The man box was first introduced to me in a TED talk by Tony Porter titled “A Call To Men.” In his talk, Porter highlights what it means to be a man in our society: real men are both physically and emotionally strong, competitive, emotionally stoic and able to get a lot of girls, to name a few attributes. While Porter recognizes that these traits are not necessarily bad, the pressure to fulfill all of them surpressing emotions is crippling. According to statistics gathered by researchers Brian Heilman, Gary Barker and Alexander Harrison, men who can be classified as being in the man box in the United States and United Kingdom are significantly more likely to meet a screening standard for depression than men who are considered outside the box. This pressure veers into an even more dangerous territory when men apply it to their interactions with women.
In Porter’s talk, he recalled a time when he asked a 12-year-old boy, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you you were playing like a girl?” The boy responded that it would destroy him. If it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching boys about girls? While the man box forces men to strive toward authority, strength and control, it also brings them to view women as submissive, weak and unstable. Women then get pushed to a lower level of objectification. This state is where the collective socialization of men lies, which is what we see most commonly at NYU. I’ve heard guy friends debating about whether a porn star’s breasts were too large, or whether they should ditch a girl because she has too many emotions. Even worse, I’ve had a guy tell me that he needs to stop talking to a girl because he was starting to develop feelings for her.
This collective socialization of men is the base upon which sexual harassment and assault are built. Sexual assault and dating violence cannot occur unless women are first viewed as property, or objects to use without emotional involvement. While it is not easy to shatter the walls of the man box that exists on our campus, it is necessary. All of us — students, parents, educators and the media — have the ability to help reinforce positive and unrestricted ideas of male existence and ultimately obliterate the man box.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 13 print edition. Email Tyler Crews at [email protected]