On the same evening as our beloved New England Patriots convincingly won the AFC Championship over the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17, we welcomed Eric Barthold back to campus to speak with faculty, student leadership, male athletes, and our ninth grade boys about redefining masculinity in today’s society.
Over the past decade, the NFL, arguably the most ‘macho’ professional sports league, has made nearly as many headlines around dating violence, sexual assault, and head injuries as it has around the quality of play on the field. While the league has worked to increase awareness around these issues, an underlying conflict remains in our society around what it means to ‘be a man’.
Daily, adolescents wrestle with tough questions that pit their conscience against perceived societal norms. Is it more ‘manly’ to shake off a hard hit and get back on the field even though you may be concussed or to acknowledge the injury took place and seek out the necessary support to heal properly before returning to action? Is it more manly to have a sexual conquest over a woman or to treat her with respect? The answers to these questions may seem abundantly clear to us as adults, but the landscape in which our students operate is far more complex as mixed messages abound from the media, peers, and even misguided adults in their life.
Sunday’s NFC and AFC championship games, with the requisite chest-thumping, head-butting, ‘man-up’ celebrations of any major male athletic event, served as the perfect backdrop for Eric’s message to students and faculty. Through small group conversations, Eric navigated the complex waters of what it means to be a man in today’s society with grace and credibility as he asked boys about the pressures they face in their adolescent lives: What does it really mean to be a man? What does that look like? How does media depict men and women, and what is not included in that portrayal? What is consent? How might our society’s culture of masculinity create a culture of sexaul violence? What can we do to change that?
While we understand these conversations with our students will not drastically shift the prevailing cultural around masculinity, we recognize through continued conversation and an opportunity to have our male students open up about the pressures they feel, we can continue to support a healthy culture within the Proctor community. Many thanks to Residential Life Coordinator Kyle Tremblay for organizing Eric’s visit to campus Sunday, and to Eric for sparking a critical dialogue with which we must continue to engage alongside our students.