Filling the “Empathy Gap”: Campus Discussions on Toxic Masculinity

Students and faculty filled McHugh Commons this Wednesday night for Dr. Thomas Keith’s presentation and screening of his 2015 film, “The Empathy Gap: Masculinity & the Courage to Change.” Keith—a philosophy and gender studies professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona College, and Claremont Graduate University­—has spent a large portion of his research on studying hyper-masculinity and sexism in contemporary culture.

The Office of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, the Butler Center, and the Wellness Resource Center co-hosted the event.

Maria Mendez, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), calls toxic masculinity and strict gender roles “one of the things that we know that impacts different types of violence.”

“We thought it was important to be able to have this conversation,” she continued. 

Although the film’s target audience is men, a notable majority of attendees were women.  “If we’re going to have more progressive men who care about women and who care about themselves, we need everybody on board,” said Keith in his opening remarks.

Although the majority of examples of ‘violent toxic masculinity’ in Keith’s film are athletes and members of Greek life at large universities, the conversation of gender inequality is applicable to any context.   “Simply because CC is a small campus and fraternities are a fraction of the size of those [Keith] referenced, we don’t see the same mentality of or felonies against women. That being said, I have also heard stories of male aggression on campus that I would not have believed if I did not hear it from my friends,” said senior fraternity brother Jack Connors. 

Other students, however, raised concern about Keith’s film over the lack of women actually featured in the documentary and the narrow lens of men that the film targeted. “The Empathy Gap was oversimplified and highly outdated,” said feminist and gender studies minor Kelsey Maxwell. “By focusing exclusively on the experiences of wealthy, heterosexual, educated, and mostly white men, Keith’s film perpetuates the erasure of subordinated people such as men of color and non-heterosexual men,” she continued. 

“There’s a time when you need a space where you need to talk to a direct group of people, and this did that,” said junior Camilla Fuller on the male-focused content of the film. A follow-up discussion of the film took place yesterday afternoon, but the conversation of toxic masculinity will continue on campus as the year progresses.

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