Male athletes make up the majority of the members in Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV), a group that facilitates conversations surrounding issues of masculinity, sexual violence and consent.
Since it’s founding in 2008, BMASV has focused on recruiting members from sports teams and has facilitated conversation within male teams on campus.
“[The founders of the group] had some concerns about the culture at that time and thought that that was a great place to start the conversation. So historically that has been the group BMASV has worked with most intentionally, and it has been really successful in getting in all of varsity locker rooms. It’s an area where we think we made most strides getting consistent programming,” Assistant Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education and adviser for BMASV Lisa Peterson said.
According to co-leader Michael Netto ’18, the group hopes to combat “locker room talk.”
“Throughout history, as seen from the Harvard soccer team and others along those lines, with sports teams you can have a ‘locker room’ setting,” he said, referring to Harvard cancelling their soccer team’s season after it was revealed that the players had been explicitly rating the female recruits. “You also see that talked about in our recent political election. The locker room can be confidential and quiet, so things that go on there aren’t seen by others so players might be saying things there that they don’t necessarily say in other places.”
For this reason, the group stresses the importance of having a space where men can talk about subjects that may not be talked about on a regular basis.
“It was never something that was really talked about that much [at home],” Netto said. “I think it’s important to give people that space to talk about [sexual assault.] … As we know, the standard states that females are the ones that typically experience sexual assault, so it’s good to give males a spot where they can talk as well.”
In addition to giving men a space to talk about sexual violence, all members of BMASV go through training at the beginning of the year in order to facilitate conversation within the male athletic teams.
“When we go around to the teams and talk about [consent and sexual violence], I think it’s good,” Netto said. “It’s good to get after them early. We’ve been trying to [facilitate] in the fall because then they have that experience with them for the rest of the year. If we keep doing that each year, then if you get one thing out of facilitation, it benefits the campus as a whole.”
One of the main focuses of these facilitations is to challenge traditional ideas about masculinity. The group uses a concept titled, “Men Box,” which explains how society defines a “real man” in a narrow definition. For example, if someone is tough, strong, big, or unemotional they are seen as “real men.” Small, weak and sensitive people are not.
“Basically we talk about all those ways men are forced to be inside this box that is totally unattainable and not healthy. Also, we talk about how being a man is really encompassing all the different things inside the box and outside the box,” co-leader Peter Bensen ’18 said. “And we should be praising the characteristics both inside and outside the box.”
So far, the reaction from sports teams has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The response has been good from captains. Usually they’re always open to it—it’s just a matter of time,” Netto said. “Response has actually been exceptional this year for [BMASV]. People have been responding quickly and have been signing up. We have some lined up for the fall and we’re trying to get them done before Thanksgiving break.”
The largest goal for the group this year is to reach out to more campus organizations. Bensen believes that one of the main reasons BMASV has attracted mostly athletes is lack of exposure.
“Athletes in the past have had more exposure to it because they were the ones who were part of the facilitation and they join the next year,” he said. “When I was freshman on the hockey team, one of the core senior members of the group was a hockey player. He talked about it to our team and it was a good way of recruiting younger guys.”
Although BMASV has worked with all male sports teams so far, it hopes to reach out to V-Space, a group of women that facilitate conversation about sex, dating and consent on campus, to help conduct facilitations with co-ed varsity teams such as swimming and diving, club teams, acapella groups and college houses.
“We’re thinking about maybe doing some facilitations where we have V Space and BMASV together and maybe breaking off into two different groups in the beginning and then meeting back together at the end and talking about different things,” Netto said. “So I think that is a step in the right direction … And I think the more groups on campus we can reach out to will also give us a broader membership.”