Commentary

‘Goat’ serves as a cautionary tale about perils of toxic masculinity

Though ultimately unattainable, this deceptive rabbit of masculinity circulates around our track of life on patriarchal wires that project the alluringly tasty rewards of control, security, and independence, but only if we perpetually continue competing in the race.

Like the young fraternity brothers and pledges, though, as we run and run and run around the course, we invariably stumble and hurt ourselves, we build and accumulate frustration turning to resentment and then turning to anger and often rage because we can never truly reach, grasp, and consume the promised patriarchal bait.

I leave it to viewers to witness the results of one pledge in particular who figuratively and literally ran the track in pursuit of these treasures.

Any sign of challenge or deception to the “rules” will not be tolerated. Fraternity brothers secretly fed the goat a box of laxatives and deposed it in a pledge’s room whom they suspected of snitching to campus authorities about the hazing.

Earlier, at the fraternity party, older alum Mitch symbolically represented not only an elder “statesman,” but could be viewed as representing the voice of the patriarchy, his persona subliminally shouting to all men and boys: Challenge me, punch me, attack me, and I will survive and thrive. No amount of counterattack will topple or replace me. Resistance is futile. I will literally and figuratively crap on you and muck up your personal space and your life chances for success and connection if you defy.

Invariably, though, our training takes hold of us. We thus indoctrinate the next and the next and the next group of pledges/generations, often resulting in attempts to control and prey upon girls and women in so many ways. Consider Donald Trump’s campaign of body shaming and “slut” shaming so many girls and women in his life, for he is simply a clear and present dangerous example.

For those men and boys who survive, the masters dispose of us as dog trainers dispose the overworked greyhounds. We, the pledges of life, are stalked, controlled, used, wasted, and ultimately slaughtered. We see clearly how boys and men are consciously taught to deny and never talk about their needs. We are taught never to express emotion except in the trials of competition, when inebriated, and during the heat of sex.

The latter backfired for Brad, however, when he blurted out “I love you” to the young woman he was about to engage in a sexual encounter. The woman, upon hearing this, immediately cooled her passion and demanded Brad leave her room.

Girls and women, who also grow up in a patriarchal system of domination, are certainly not immune to internalizing these messages and thereby, they often collude, in this instance by requiring her sex partner to deny and inhibit all feelings of intimacy or to show any signs of vulnerability except lustful passion.

Fraternities, of course, perform many benefits for its members and for society. Friendships and networks often endure well beyond graduation. Brothers perform great service projects for their campuses and communities. Brothers also often learn many poignant and important life lessons. And they certainly can engage in good, lighthearted fun.

I personally do not call for the elimination of Greek letter societies. In fact, I served as a proud faculty advisor for seven years to Delta Lambda Phi, a social and service fraternity at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa designed to support gay, bisexual, and other progressive men. I found working with these young men to be one of the most rewarding and inspirational experiences of my university career.

Nevertheless, compulsory toxic hypermasculinity demands of all boys and men their surrendering of their critical reasoning in challenging the system, along with their individuality, their moral and ethical compasses, their emotions, and their very integrity and humanity for some promise of security, support, and sense of camaraderie and the privileges that automatically accrue to followers of the patriarchal system of domination and control.

All-male societies, like fraternities, though, have important decisions to make along a wide continuum from continuing to maintain and promote the systemic patriarchal domination, to redefining what is means to be boys and men.

“Goat” serves as a cautionary tale, and is based on the probing memoirs of Brad Land.

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