By: Hannah Holland
Last Thursday, March 29, Byron Hurt captivated listeners from the Trinity community with his telling exposè on how masculinity is viewed in American society and more specifically, within rap and hip-hop music culture. Hurt shared his own personal struggle to find himself beneath the crippling pressure society constructs in order to be identified as a real “man.”
Hurt is a highly regarded anti-sexism activist, cinematographer and talk show host. From a young age, Hurt says he identified with civil rights leaders and actively worked to stand on their shoulders and further the progress of civil rights. It was not until he graduated from Northeastern University that he realized how pervasive anti-women’s sentiments are and the correlation they have with problems of race. He was asked when interviewing for a job with the “MVP Project” how African-American men’s violence against African-American women could possibly uplift the African-American community. After finishing the interview, he finally understood this concept.
Hurt began the seminar by drawing with a marker, a large, black square on a pad of paper. He then asked the men in the audience to call out words that they believed dictated what it means to be a man. The empty box was quickly filled with words and phrases such as emotionally detached, strong, tough and provider. Despite physical characteristics such as age, race or background, every man in the room was in agreement on the words chosen. The words were describing the quintessential macho man. They created the image of “hypo-masculinity” that American men strive for.
Afterwards, Hurt asked the audience what words they might be called if they neglected to act like the man illustrated by the words in the box. With fervor, stinging words such as bitch, soft and weak were shared. Hurt then pointed out that the underlying link between the words that were used to belittle men were traditionally said by male chauvinists to describe women. These words functioned as more than just insults, but as social controls used to put men back in their place. When men do not act as hyper-masculine as society dictates, they are seen as less of a man, and less of a person. Why would a man ever leave the social constraints of being a “man” long enough to be able to find who they truly are, if by doing so they run the risk of being seen as weak and worthless? Hurt argues that they wouldn’t.
The words on the paper, whether in the box or out of the box, are what contribute to violence and degradation of women and limit the opportunities of men that have no choice but to act in the only way society has deemed acceptable. Through the masculinity that is forced upon men, they are paralyzed within the “box” and ultimately have nothing else to draw from but those ideals. Hurt explained that there is no reward and no benefit for men to standup for women because by aligning yourself with women, your masculine credibility is challenged.
He then showed the audience clips from his movie, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, which further highlighted the disconnection between men and women in our culture. The history of violence and misogyny that is now so strongly associated with the hip-hop culture has been well established in America. Rap is a physical manifestation of customs that predate its existence. Hurt urged the audience not to view this as “male bashing,” but rather as a look at how our culture might grow to become more supportive of women. Speak out against misogyny and give space for men to be free to break the male mold. Hurt’s presentation was the first of many organized events put on by the International Hip-Hop Festival this past weekend.