The Four Hundred: The Difficulty of Separating ‘Toxic’ from ‘Masculinity’

On Jan. 27, Terry Crews tweeted a short video clip of an interview of comedian D.L. Hughley. Speaking to VLAD TV in an interview posted on Aug. 10, 2018, Hughley was asked about Crews regarding the sexual assault accusations that Crews had made against Adam Venit, an agent with renowned talent agency William Morris Endeavor. Hughley mocked Crews’ confession, and stated that “God gave you muscles so that you (Crews) could say no, and mean it.” Crews included the quote mentioned, and asked a question in response, asking Hughley whether he was implying that “I (Crews) “wanted” to be sexually assaulted?”

Hughley isn’t the first person Crews has had to call out, ever since he made his sexual assault public. After Crews had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of proposed legislation known as the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, Curtis Jackson, popularly known by his rap name 50 cent, had posted photos of Terry Crews on his Instagram profile, mocking Crews’s testimony, including the words “What the f**k is going on here man?” and asking Crews to “get the strap.”

Crews also included other celebrities, like record producer Russell Simmons and media personality Tariq Nasheed in another tweet. Crews included Nasheed because Nasheed had tweeted about Crews, asking why Crews was “mad at me (Nasheed)” and mocked Crews, making the comment that “He (Crews) sure didn’t have that same energy when he let that white man grab his crotch.” In Simmons’ case, it was an email that Simmons had sent to Crews, a screenshot of which Crews had shared in a tweet on Nov. 19, 2017. Every person that Crews included had chosen to mock Crews’ revelations, and question why he couldn’t use his physical force against the assaulter. The same question was asked to Crews at the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony as well, to which Crews had replied that he refrained from violence since he thought that as a “black man in America….You only have a few shots at success. You only have a few chances to make yourself a viable member of the community.”

The celebrities taking potshots at another member of their own community for coming forward with a sexual assault accusation speaks about a larger culture of men not coming forward with such cases. According to statistics found on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) on Sexual Assault in the United States, one in 71 men is raped at some point in their lives, while one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. In a report published on analysis website FiveThirtyEight on Jan. 2, 2018, reporters Katheryn Casteel, Julia Wolfe and Mai Nguyen took a close look at data from The National Crime Victimization Survey on victims of sexual assault, and found that 77 percent of incidents of rape and sexual assault was not reported to the police in 2017 alone. It is evident that this number includes men too.

The reasons why men refrain from reporting cases of sexual assault are multiple. In a study published in the Journal of American College Health in 2006, a research team from the University of Missouri-Columbia surveyed students at a Midwestern university to better understand what stops women and men from reporting sexual assault. The authors wrote in the study: “Compared with women, men may fail to report because reporting is perceived to jeopardize their masculine self-identity.”

Masculinity has come under the scanner with the #MeToo movement, where prominent men in powerful positions were seen exploiting their power for their benefit. Men are supposed to behave in certain ways that have come to be defined over a period of time. Men are not supposed to cry, show affection or vulnerability, which leads to a negative effect on men. In a 2012 study conducted by Christin Munsch, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, male undergraduates were given a fake masculinity test. The subjects were exposed to certain scenarios, including one in which a woman is sexually assaulted. The study showed that men who were told they were more feminine felt threatened and blamed the victim, while those who were told they were more masculine, sympathized with the victim.

The statistics and studies just go to show how a strict definition of masculinity affects men to a large extent too. Traditional masculine identity has been defined by researchers to have beliefs like “Suppressing emotions,” “Making an appearance of hardness,” and “ violence as an indicator of power.” These factors have also contributed to why men don’t live as long, have a harder time making and maintaining friendships, and also why men commit suicide more often.

Masculinity and Femininity have been defined by the times they were set in. They served their purposes as classifications for quite a long time. It does, however, seem like rigid definitions can only cause problems. A rigid definition means that a person has to abide by an arbitrary set of rules that makes someone masculine or feminine. Why does it have to be the case? We’ve moved far beyond some set of behaviors, beyond what we are supposed to be. We live in an age when we can choose to define ourselves the way we wish to. There should be liberty for people to define themselves, instead of having to stick to someone else’s notion of what you should be. We should have the power to choose, and maybe right now, that choice means a rejection of constructs.