Aaron W. Voyles looks at how masculine activities like weight lifting provide opportunities for college men to be vulnerable.
Last week, I wrote about how video games, an indulgence of some men, can also be used as a tool to build positive relationships. This week, I’ve been thinking about another masculine topic, which is lifting. I hear a lot of chatter in my work about bro culture and the negativities that come with things like lifting and an ultra-masculine culture that is bad for colleges.
Lifting weights, it seems, is seen as one of the most masculine past times a male can have. My Twitter feed and Facebook are filled with memes about people missing legs day, taking their supplements, and asking that age old question, “Do you even lift, bro?”
Like any hobby or cultural phenomenon, there can be negative associations with lifting. Certainly a culture that suggest that men must have massive muscles and six packs to be manly is bad. The number of young boys and men we see relying heavily on supplements is disheartening, more so when you start to look for correlations between nature testosterone boosters and the idea of becoming an “alpha” male.
But wrapped up in this hyper masculine collage is also a space that I have seen many of my students taken advantage of. I too, have tapped into this space. That space is silence. When lifting, you have a lot of off time. In fact, in his program Starting Strength, Rippetoe even suggests waiting between three and five minutes between each set. What this means is that there’s a lot of down time. A lot of silence.
It’s silence, unless, of course, you are talking to your gym partner. And this is where I’ve seen lifting actually break down the walls of the so-called Man Box. The lifting gives men the cover to talk about things emotionally. During lifting, I have discussed with other men relationships, sex, depression, fitting in, and many other topics that we never would have discussed in a vulnerable way outside of that space.
While these conversations are ones that would normally open men up to ridicule for being seen as weak or a sissy, having them in between sets of the Power Matrix chest workout balances that. As I’ve started to dig into research on those societal constraints that make it hard for men to feel as though they can process emotions and share about their insecurities, having an ultra masculine environment that permits that emotional unpacking is helpful.
I have used this in one-on-one conversations with at-risk college men and seen it be a great outlet for them. The physical nature of the activity helps to work through frustrations and anger in a healthy way, while the sheer slowness of the activity provides space to just be with and talk with another man.
In my work with college men, I have seen this repeat with other activities. With video games, I have watched roommates work through a conflict while playing Modern Warfare. I have seen men discuss past painful relationships through talking about their tattoos.
While I admit that there are dangerous elements to any of these items, in my work I think it’s important to continually think about how we can flip these activities to have positive outcomes for masculinity too. Engaging in something like lifting in the right setting, can be healthy for body, mind, and spirit. Now, let me go finish this set.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Edits by Nancy Lien
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
Could I Be an Expert on College Men?
Commitments that Compete
Broken Lantern Blues
Speaking with the Language of Responsibility
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat