You Can Keep Your Rum and Coke

By Emily Spennato

If toxic masculinity were a hurricane, college campuses would be the eye of the storm. The booze, the parties, the frats. A large administration somewhere behind the scenes running the show.

It’s easy to see where it comes from. Get thousands of people together. Sometimes,  add a popular sports team and thousands of fans. For a period of four years, young adults are faced with the most amount of free time they’ve ever had and ever will have, and on top of that, they often have absolutely no authoritative influences. Our brains are not done developing, and yet we are placed into an environment that is accustomed to themes of extreme responsibility and physical accountability, an environment where rape culture and binge drinking run rampant.

As a second semester college senior, I have a heightened awareness of nostalgia and the looming fact that my four years of free time are coming to an end. In a fashion that aided that nostalgia, Facebook recently reminded me of a photo I posted three years ago. It was a photo of the first time I was ever in a college bar. I looked like a freshman, wearing something I would now probably never wear. I shared the photo with my roommate, noticing how much my appearance had changed to fit the collegiate bar culture. I now wear tight jeans instead of baggy, and crop tops instead of a blouse. My skirts got shorter and my boots got taller. Was I dressing to show the confidence I had accumulated over four years, or was I complying with the culture that has been surrounding me, subconsciously and consciously, since I was eighteen?

Appearance has nothing to do with intention, and yet I was judging myself. I looked at the photo and realized at the time just how naive I was about everything that being an eighteen year old female in a bar meant. It wasn’t about the fake I.D.

College campuses are generally fifty-fifty when it comes to a male/female ratio, and yet colleges are dominated by trademarks of toxic masculinity. In a college environment, bullying exists. Hazing exists. Bad intentions exist. Women and men are expected to open themselves up in the most vulnerable way possible. In my four years at the same institution, my opinions of toxic masculinity have changed and expanded. The most difficult realization? It’s not always just limited to men.

Even in college, “cool kid” culture exists. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that bar etiquette is different for men and women. Toxic masculinity in a bar setting impacts the same kind of people that “cool kid” culture affected; the men who aren’t “guy’s guys”, and the women who don’t fit the sorority girl standard. Just as it creates a sense of competition on college campuses, toxic masculinity may also lead to negative mental health effects.

College is the first time many young adults are on their own, and the first time they are solely responsible for their own well being. Because of toxic masculinity discouraging males from being in touch with their emotions and discouraging females from being vulnerable, it results in a disregard for the upkeep of mental health, instead of feeling and addressing true and accessible emotions. In a space where sexuality is often explored initially and intensely, many men are exposed to the (false) idea that male sexuality equals power, which has negative effects on both sexes. Masculinity is supposed to equate to security, comfort and maturity, but according to the American Psychological Association, masculinity is a major factor in poor male mental health; “Masculinity norms for example can govern the way men seek help...they vary from moment to moment, situation to situation such that a man who enacts a particular masculinity in the boardroom may enact a very different kind of masculinity on the street corner. It is more complex than that. But in general, when men adhere rigidly to the kinds of norms that encourage them to not share their emotions...They can have poorer mental health outcomes, particularly more depressive symptomatology because doing so cuts them off I think from the social networks and social supports that might help them get through a difficult time. The norms around masculinity also vary by race and social location. So it depends on where you sit on the social ladder, how you enact those particular brands of masculinity.” A college campus is the perfect example of a social ladder. Across college campuses and bars where “cool kid” culture exists, emphasizing the stature of sorority girls and frat guys creates a definitive social line between people who don’t fall into those categories. Those who don’t fit the standard may become more outward targets of toxic masculinity when it comes to dating on college campuses, ultimately negatively impacting the experience of everyone involved.

The issue lies deeper than collegiate patriarchy. Sexual experiences often lead to heightened emotions, but the emphasis that a college culture puts on sex is forcing young adults to suppress those emotions. Instead of viewing sex as an intimate or empowering act, sex is portrayed as trivial, volatile, and common. The college atmosphere changes dating for relationships into dating for sex. Would you rather go home alone, or sleep with that guy on the football team who just bought you a rum and coke but won’t drive you home the next day? But of course--dating in college has not only allowed me to give into the stereotype, but it has also taught me what to make of it. I believe the college environment has taught me how to read people in a way that no other environment has taught me. I’m more able to see people’s true intentions, and see who has my best interests in mind. Some men only view sex as a way to exert power, but for other men--and women-- are simply victims of a patriarchal system that aims to suppress them.

In order to make a change, we must squash the inequality between sexes entirely. Sex is not a power game. Sex is a balancing act. Emotions are inward, sex is outward. Self-worth does not depend on whose bed you wake up in the next morning. Sex and all it comes with is physically and emotionally complicated, and yet its prominence in college culture actively influences the way both genders carry themselves. Toxic masculinity contributes to holding men to a lower standard of etiquette than women.  Does engaging in the casualness of sex ultimately make you an enabler of toxic masculinity? No. But holding young men to a lower standard in terms of behavior, etiquette, and sexual conduct does, especially in a time where the development of self-worth is so important. Holding ourselves accountable for sexist behavior in casual environments is what is going to make young individuals strong when faced with environments that are not so casual.