Professor Ingram Targets Convential Masculinity At BC

Many people see a correlation between athletics and sexual aggression, as though the two go hand in hand, Brett Ingram, a communication professor at Boston College, said.

“I’m not so sure that’s the case,” he said.

He understands, however, why people would make this association. He pointed to the fact that often when referring to hookups, males will say, “I scored with her,” or that he went to a certain “base” with a girl. Similarly, if an opponent won’t let one score, the initiator forces himself in. All of this terminology stems directly from sports.

Ingram’s talk, hosted by ManUp, GLC, and The Women’s Center, was part of the week-long event Concerned About Rape Education (C.A.R.E ) Week. The six-day program has been on campus for nearly a decade, and its goal is to educate students on the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, with the hope that students will help end it.

Ingram attributed sexual aggression to the competitive nature that masculinity brings to men of all ages. “And again, this is understandable,” Ingram said. “In a capitalist society, happiness is often associated with accumulation rather than sensual appreciation.”
He used an example of a successful man who boasts of the number of cars he has rather than the quality of the cars he owns. The same goes for men, believes Ingram, when discussing their sexual partners—they tend to talk more about how many partners they have had rather than the quality of those relationships.

“There is very little talk of what things felt like—rather, what was done to somebody,” Ingram said. “So sex becomes something that you do to somebody rather than something you share with them.”

Capitalism can also be applied to both the sports culture and the sexual culture in one’s ability to oppose one’s will on someone else, Ingram said. In the sexual realm, we rarely hear about the emotional impacts of sex on a male, but rather the revel of his ability to get a sexual partner.

“This also can be transposed into the economic realm,” Ingram said. “Where competition between people involved in the corporate world comes down to accumulation of capital rather than the spirit of cooperation or making society better.”

Ingram explained that he has taught at several colleges other than BC. He only arrived here two years ago. He has never seen a college campus where so much competition exists. Here, he joked, if there were to be a competition to be the least competitive student, there would be a competition for that.

Ingram pointed out, however, that when we talk about competition, we rarely look at the idea that this competitive drive may come out of one’s own anxiety. To demonstrate this, Ingram cited the “BC lookaway.”

“It seems that everybody’s aware of it, everybody engages in it, but nobody understands why it happens,” Ingram said.

Many people think that it could be a form of social elitism, Ingram said. He thinks that it is instead rooted in discomfort and anxiety. Ingram believes that this anxiety stems from the idea that BC students need to keep up a certain veneer of success, emotional stability, and self-confidence.

Ingram said that out of his 14 years of teaching college students, he has had six students come to his office and cry about a B-plus. All six of these students were in his past two years of teaching at BC.

“This suggests to me that the outward veneer of competence, confidence, and invulnerability is just that—a veneer that is worn tenuously and with some anxiety,” Ingram said.

Therefore, when our eyes meet and we still have several seconds to make a decision about whether to say hello, we decide to look away.

“It’s because in that six to eight seconds that veneer can’t stand,” Ingram said. “It gives people that time to see that you aren’t that solid, that there are uncertainties.”

Masculinity is also rooted in an outward appearance of success and invulnerability. Just one loss, however, can cause the whole facade to fail, he said.

Ingram pointed to athletics and said that when a team loses, it finds scapegoats to blame. For example, the Patriots are always accused of cheating because they always win. People cannot just accept the fact that the Patriots are the better team.

Men come up with similar discourses when a woman rejects them, Ingram said. They might call her demeaning names, or insist that she is not pretty.

“This is, again, a sign of how unstable and how shaky the ground of masculinity is,” Ingram said.

Ingram believes that masculinity is essentially opposed to vulnerability both in the physical and emotional realms. He has found this to be tragic because love and sex are two of life’s greatest pleasures. But men often cannot appreciate them and feel they are maintaining their masculinity.

A solution to this problem might be through comedy, he said.

“One that might simply admit, ‘I’m a mess, you’re a mess,’” Ingram said. “A comic masculinity would revel in the absurdity of playing these roles.”

Featured Image by Danielle Fasciano / Heights Staff

March 26, 2015