Toxic masculinity remains a prevalent facet of university life: a circumscribed and repressive guidebook to manhood, the concept negates male affirmations of emotion and exalts violence, sex and aggression – specifically over women.
It’s a grassroots project in many respects: cultivated from childhood, the phrase ‘man-up’ permeates our classrooms, locker-rooms and playgrounds, cultivating an environment that condones verbal, physical and sexual violence and shuns displays of male emotion – exempting anger.
The term lends itself to an equally ugly component of higher education: rape culture.
Rape culture umbrellas a veritable smorgasbord of behaviour, including but not limited to: sexual objectification, rape trivialisation, victim blaming and slut shaming.
The two are inextricably linked: a catch-22 of concepts, feeding each-others vile habits in a bid to exalt the macho-male figure.
Though it’s predominantly women who are groped, catcalled and assaulted, the models are of equal damage to the male psyche – an aspect brought to light in new novel: Be a Man. Deconstructing and lamenting upon the strict gender roles men are expected to inhabit, author Chris Hemmings revisits his university days in a visual expose of ‘lad culture’.
The novel is self-effacing in many respects, due to its active debasement of the author’s own endeavours in rape culture: a direct result of the toxic masculinity that characterised his childhood.
Hemmings, former member of a university rugby club, has penned an exposé of the culture that saw him embroiled in various situations that celebrated both the objectification and degradation of women. A particularly gruesome image arises on his recount of ‘hot leg’, a game involving pissing on girl’s legs in clubs, holding on to her so she cannot move away. He laments on such occasions in both reverie and disgust.
The novel delves into the realm of male emotion, or more specifically, suppressed male emotion. Speaking to psychologists, victims of self-harm and men who lost friends to suicide, Hemmings attempts to navigate this repressed space and make sense of the often-stifled male ego. Re-examining the inadequately bandaged wounds of his father’s death, he reflects on his inability to cope or process with the wall of emotion he found himself confronted with. He is movingly honest about his inability to process his death, a direct consequence of the hyper-masculine veneer he was forced to adopt.
Acting as an indictment of toxic masculinity, the novel exposes the ways in which we, as students, are actively partaking in rape culture. He explains how ‘turning a blind eye’ proves detrimental to the cause; nonchalance is as harmful as taking an active role and sees the problems associated with rape culture only amplified.
Speaking on LBC, he confessed: “The biggest shame I have is that some of the activities we were doing, even though I wasn’t getting involved with them I was either laughing along or just not saying no.
“That’s where a lot of the problems stem from with young lads. Lad culture and masculinity doesn’t allow us to call out the foibles of other men and the activities thatwe do.”
Hemmings has harnessed his past riddled in foul play and brought forth a novel seeped in courage and resolution. It is both a timely and revealing depiction of toxic masculinity: this book is a critical contribution to overcoming society’s policing of gender norms.
Hemmings’ receptive response to his adolescence lends itself to a topical conversation that pervades our campus: he has opened a dialogue for reconstructing the oppressive gender paradigm that grips our university lives.