Are you gonna do anything about it? Come on,” asks Dr Clifton Evers, talking about people who write about “toxic masculinity”, meaning the harmful aspects of being a man, without taking action.
It marked a rare moment of anger in an otherwise softly spoken talk entitled “Toxic Masculinity and Sexual Violence”. Hosted by “It Happens Here”- Newcastle University’s anti-sexual-violence society- the talk differed starkly to many other events put on by the University. The audience were regularly asked to share their thoughts, for example, and at one point Clifton Evers, a lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle, got volunteers up for an exercise designed to teach them about non-verbal communication.
While the audience found this humorous in parts, Evers’s approach seemed to come from a genuine insight: he points out that merely identifying the influence of “toxic masculinity” on men isn’t enough. When we do, “people put their guard up”, he says, and they insist they don’t do anything toxic. Evers’s focus is more on providing men with alternatives ways of behaving, or “giving people an option out” of toxic behaviours.
Evers has no shortage of explanations for why men continue to exhibit such behaviour. He explains that “I grew up looking for validation from other men”, and that the pressure of wanting to be “one of the lads” can encourage men “not to reveal vulnerability in any shape or form”. Any vulnerability that is shown can damage one’s position in the pecking order, he argues, and this is often recouped with violence. He also explains that men often only disclose sexual assault to other men, which excludes women from the process who could challenge the toxic conditions that create such a reluctance to come forwards in the first place.
Most of the attendees agreed that it was an engaging talk, but many still argue that more needs to be done to tackle these issues. The talk was targeted at men, yet the audience was overwhelmingly female, perhaps proving how reluctant men are to discuss thorny issues such as sexual assault. An anonymous student argued that while it is great that toxic masculinity is being discussed, the lack of men in the audience shows that “it is not being discussed by the people who will benefit most from it”.