The University of Texas is facing ridicule after a new program called “MasculinUT” was announced in a way that insinuated it was treating masculinity as a mental health crisis.. The university has attempted to explain the program as simply an effort to “bring more men to the table to address interpersonal violence, sexual assault and other issues,” but the reality is that UT is still promoting a facetious connection between masculinity and assault and violence.
When the program was originally announced, its stated goal was to help male UT students “take control over their gender identity and develop a healthy sense of masculinity.” as PJ Media reported:
The program is predicated on a critique of so-called “restrictive masculinity.” Men, the program argues, suffer when they are told to “act like a man” or when they are encouraged to fulfill traditional gender roles, such as being “successful” or “the breadwinner.”
Though you might enjoy “taking care of people” or being “active,” MasculinUT warns that many of these attributes are actually dangerous, claiming that “traditional ideas of masculinity place men into rigid (or restrictive) boxes [which]… prevent them from developing their emotional maturity.”
“If you are a male student at UT reading this right now, we hope that learning about this helps you not to feel guilty about having participated in these definitions of masculinity, and instead feel empowered to break the cycle!” the program offers.
As mentioned above, the program is also run by UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center “[l]ike other UT programs related to sexual assault and interpersonal violence.” And the website’s stated “project goals and guiding principles” still focus on the idea that certain types of masculine emotions and traits are negative and connected to sexual assault and violence.
For example, they are making an effort to “[p]romote an ethic of care for men and masculine-identified individuals who cannot escape expectations of masculinity,” “‘[e]ncourage a wider range of acceptable emotions,” and “[d]ecrease excessive competition and increase empathy.”
On the page about “restrictive masculinity,” among the “traditional ideas of masculinity” that “place men into rigid (or restrictive) boxes” and pressure them to “emulate this ideal and prevent them from developing their emotional maturity” include being a bread winner, tough, active, strong, successful, standing up for themselves, being knowledgeable about sex, and being able to take care of people.
UT can object to the criticism that they called masculinity a “mental health issue” all they want. Despite a lack of evidence from college programs attempting to claim a connection to masculinity and sexual violence, UT and numerous other universities still continue to push this narrative.
The idea that it is a negative — or, excuse me, let me adopt their language, a “restrictive” or “exclusionary” — characteristic for a man to be a bread winner and provide for his family, to be confident and strong, to be physically active, is absolutely ridiculous.
And the idea that masculinity has anything to do with sexual assault or violence is absolutely offensive.
A man is not more likely to be a rapist or sexually harass women just because he is professionally successful, has facial hair, enjoys competitive sports, or any other masculine type trait. A man rapes or harasses women because that man has decided his personal desires are more important than those of the other human being he is harassing or assaulting. Rapists are rapists because they are bad people who have decided to do bad things.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.