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Toxic Masculinity is alive and well, and at university

Masculinity

A new Toxic Masculinity study shows shocking sexual violence by male university students, and points to misogynistic culture behind it.

Toxic Masculinity is one of those phrases that won’t go away, no matter how compromised and unhelpful it can be. And the reason is simply because of alarming new insights into male behaviour which can only be put in a context of ‘toxic’ misogyny within peer groups and an attendant social acceptance which allows such behaviour to flourish. A new study called ‘Understanding Sexual Aggression in UK Male University Students’ by researchers at the University of Kent, surveyed 554 male students from 100 UK universities over two studies, and found 63 of them had committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes and other instances of sexual violence in the past 2 years.

The study showed that there was a direct correlation between misogynistic views held by the students and those who had admitted to the offences. Participants were asked questions about a range of sexual scenarios, including having sex with drunk women, and their views on women and relationships in general. Those with misogynistic views were far more likely to have been the ones who also anonymously revealed they had perpetrated acts of sexual violence.

Co-author of the study, Samuel Hales, part of the University of Kent’s Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology, told the Guardian, “Of the 63 perpetrators who took part in either the first or second study, 37 reported perpetrating unwanted sexual contact, 32 sexual coercion and 30 rape or attempted rape….Perpetrators were significantly more likely to endorse offence-excusing myths associated with rape – eg victims are to blame for being assaulted – and to have more negative sexist and hostile views about women – believing that many of their troubles were the fault of women – and to report sexually fantasising more about harmful acts, such as physically hurting their sexual partner when they didn’t have consent to do so.”

This puts a clear correlation between troubling views of women and offences committed against them. In other words it points to a misogynistic social culture in which certain men feel they have a licence to act in these ways. One which is angry, resentful yet frighteningly arrogant. The kind of thinking readily available on social media, as well as peer groups, which means vulnerable boys and young men can easily be led into an assumption that this is somehow ‘correct’ male behaviour.

Work against Toxic Masculinity, from this viewpoint, is still required and has to involve older men, men in positions of authority, to educate and create cultural change.

For more on working with men and boys in these matters, visit Beyond Equality, who do brilliant work in schools and workplaces.

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