In my interviews of college men, one of the more surprising things that they told me was that one of the ways they needed to prove their manhood specifically as college men is to not prepare academically. When I first heard this it didn’t make sense to me. The purpose of college is learning. How could not studying and not preparing academically be what is expected of college men? But then I thought about every action movie I’ve ever seen.
Pick your favorite action hero. The hero always knows how to speak 7 different languages, can hack any computer system in 10 seconds, can operate military style weaponry (including some that haven’t been invented yet), knows every martial arts move, and always hits the target. But the hero also never prepares, studies, practices, or learns any of this. The only exception might be shooting a target, but the hero isn’t really practicing because he hits the center every time. The message that we get as men is that if you are a real man then you are just inherently good at things. If you have to learn, practice, study, or prepare then you must be less of a man.
This translates for college men where it is seen as manly to be successful but to not need to prepare. It is manly to get an A but brag about how you never bought the book. You can prove your manhood by acing the exam and claiming you never went to class. This resulted in many of my participants studying on the down-low. They knew that it didn’t just come naturally to them like it did for everyone else and so they had to put in the work to be successful. They felt that they needed to keep it a secret because the messages they had gotten is that having to study reveals a failing in them as men. When all their friends would go out they would decline with some masculine excuse – “My girl is coming over and we’re gonna hook-up.” Once their friends were gone – they would hit the books – alone.
These messages that we get as men have powerful implications for college attendance, completion, and success. This is another example illustrating that the root causes of the very real challenges facing men are the same root causes of the very real issues facing women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks – systemic sexism or patriarchy and genderism and how they reinforce rigid gender roles – in this case the traditional hegemonic definition of masculinity.