Inside the locker room with Byron Hurt

(Byron Hurt explored the true meaning of masculinity in his talk at FSU on Oct. 2. By Amanda Martin)

Documentary filmmaker and author Byron Hurt made his fourth visit to FSU on Oct. 2 to engage with students and discuss toxic masculinity and “what it means to be a man in America.” 

Interim Dean of Students David Baldwin introduced Hurt and said, “He has been using his voice to act against stereotypes of gender, race and music.” 

He began his talk in the forum by discussing the recent tragedy, which occurred in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

There was a moment of silence for those who lost their lives and their families.

He said, “We should not be normalized or sensitized to this act of domestic terrorism.

“The tragedy … was toxic white masculinity with access to military arsenal,” he said.

Hurt defines toxic masculinity as “men being unable to cope with emotion,” thus turning to the only thing they know – violence.

“Maleness and violence occur in order to overcompensate for the inability to cope with inadequateness and the rest of us suffer. … We are not talking about all men, but the culture that produces it,” he said.

To engage with the audience, Hurt drew a green box on a large pad of paper that was on the stage. He asked the male attendees, “When you were growing up, what characteristic did older men tell you to be?”   

Answers included “tough,” “polite,” “don’t show emotion,” “honor your word,” “respect women” and “stand your ground.”

Their responses were placed in the green box to symbolize the box of masculinity into which young boys are placed.

“This isn’t working anymore,” he said.

Hurt asked the audience what words they would be called if they did not abide by the words in the box.

Answers included “soft,” “loser,” “girl,” “sensitive,” “weak” and “gay.”

Hurt pointed out the words have a feminine connotation. “Apparently, being considered feminine makes you less of a man,” he said, “Those words police our behavior.”

Freshman Cameron McCloude-Thomas said, “It made you realize that the words you say create a bigger reaction.” 

Hurt referenced the time he was playing college football at Northeastern University and got injured. Upon telling his coach about his injury, the coach said, “I thought you were tough.” This incident resulted in Hurt playing the remainder of the game with a broken rib.

“I was afraid tell my coach that I was scared to play,” he said.

This prompted a laugh from the audience.

He responded to the laughter with seriousness. “For guys to admit vulnerability, we laugh because it is still so unusual. … It’s hard to be authentic when our society denies it.”

He continued the exercise by asking the audience ways that masculinity becomes destructive.

In light of recent events, the conversation was again directed toward the Las Vegas shooting. Hurt provided a different perspective by asking the audience – “What was torturing [the shooter]?”

Other topics of discussion included what happens when men become emotionally unavailable.

Hurt provided a personal example and referenced his father’s stone-cold demeanor while Hurt was growing up.

“I wanted him to show emotion –  to prove to me that he was human,” he said.    

He ended the talk on a positive note, asking the audience what they think healthy masculinity looks like.

The audience responded with “confidence,” “compassion,” “physical fitness” and “self-defined.”

Hurt said, “Expressing emotion should not be considered soft. It is a healthy and freeing thing to do. You don’t have to put on a show for anybody.”

Freshman Jamison Dunn said, “There’s a stereotype that men can’t talk about emotion. It is reassuring to talk about the issue publicly.”

Hurt added, “We don’t have to accept what is in front of us. This way of raising men isn’t working anymore.”

He noted most mass shootings in the U.S are performed by men.

He left the audience with a task, “I challenge you to challenge the culture. We don’t have to settle.”

Baldwin praised Hurt’s use of the green box, saying, “When you are placed in that box, you get cramped. When you resist, violence happens.”

Several student athletes attended the talk in order to comply with the new NCAA laws that requires coaches, athletes and administrators to attend one sexual violence prevention talk per year, according to a student athlete.

Junior Manny Payton said, “I felt like it strengthened my knowledge on how to become a better man.”

Sophomore Danny Lopes said while he did not relate to the box metaphor, “I know it applies to people I know. I learned how to help them.”

Freshman TJ Darton said, “I thought it was informative. Some things he was talking about, like acting tough, are second nature to me.”

Hurt said, “Universities are perfect places to talk about this issue. Students are constantly challenging themselves to grow. They are more open to new ideas.”

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