[Author’s Note: The following Lesley students and alums contributed to this article: Ben Arcangeli, Patrick Branley, Jenny Levine, Ian Ljutich, Ivy Maiorino, Cacky Mellor, Samantha Shapiro, Emily Welden]
This piece is in response to two articles written in the past few weeks – “A Male Perspective on Gender Inequality at Lesley University” and “A Response From Public Enemy Number One.” The response that I plan to share is situated in a way that reflects my understanding of these concerns (both personally and intellectually), while also reflecting on the broader response from the Lesley community. I am writing this article as a Lesley undergraduate student, Co-President of the Third Wave Feminist Organization on campus, and as an activist in a variety of other settings. I identify as a feminist, queer, woman who is white and college-educated. Each of these identities shape my perspective and my understanding of the world.
However, while this is considered an opinion piece, I hope to distinguish some clear facts and knowledge about feminism and gender equity that are often misunderstood. This piece is in no way an attack of the author or his views, and instead is meant to invite further conversation.
First, I want to express my appreciation for concerns around masculinity. Feminists, especially third wave feminists, are responsible for acknowledging and analyzing how harmful stereotypes about masculinity impact all of our lives. Feminists are interested in deconstructing gender stereotypes and expectations that are simply unrealistic or unattainable. The makers of Miss Representation (referenced in the second article) have released a film this year, titled “The Mask You Live In,” which provides a critical and important look at the impact of dangerous masculine stereotypes (i.e. expecting boys and men to be unemotional, etc). A group of Lesley students and faculty have been working to bring this film to campus for several months and will be hosting two screening and discussion times on April 20th at 1pm and 6pm. We invite you to join in this discussion as we continue to address these issues.
For several years, faculty at Lesley have been attempting to construct a course on masculinities but have not yet been successful. In my own work on campus, I have been sure to include and encourage all genders to join in conversation and events. More importantly, the Women’s Center is an inclusive space — the resources, programming, and staff are available to students of all genders. Students who are on the staff have been working to change the name to something more gender-inclusive. However, male students rarely utilize this space and they hope for this to change.
While I feel that we agree on providing curriculum or spaces to discuss masculinity, I think that we may differ conceptually. An understanding of the challenges facings boys and men, because of harmful gender stereotypes and expectations, is inherently feminist. Specific policies or approaches to course curriculum exist intentionally, and with good reason. Here’s why:
Defining Feminisms. We may not want to consult Merriam-Webster dictionary as a source for understanding feminism. This definition aligns more closely with ideals of egalitarianism. Feminism is a complex movement, with a long history, and is not singular. There are many feminisms (all of which include an analysis of masculinity). Further, feminism is not only about men and women, because there are many genders. If we had to choose a better way of defining feminism, we could look to Black feminist scholar bell hooks, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
Gender is not biological. Sex is biological, while gender is about personal identification. There are more than two genders and sexes. Check out this fun genderbread person: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/01/the-genderbread-person/
Guest policies. These exist for the safety of our students. Also, students in an all-women dormitory may be seeking a women’s space. Survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence (or someone currently experiencing violence) may feel safer in a women’s space. I recognize that not every student choosing all-women housing is selecting it for this reason, but it is a reality for some students.
1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted during their academic career.
These are serious and frightening realities. Students are asked to accompany their guests (regardless of gender), simply to prevent someone who does not belong in the building from being there. This is a campus-wide policy that does not operate under the assumption that all men are dangerous, but instead is implemented to assure safety.
Gender Curriculum. In a course such as “Social Problems,” issues of inequality are evaluated. Specifically, there is a focus on marginalized groups (according to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, etc.) because these groups experience clear discrepancies in opportunity. Undeniably, women are challenged with significant gaps in opportunity. In your experience of discussing gender in an Economics class, I wondered what the discussion involved. I can imagine that reference to the wage gap and women in the global economy would be fitting topics for an economics class in 2015. As a Teaching Assistant for “Social Problems,” I know that a discussion of masculinity has been incorporated, and we encourage students to share their thoughts on gender stereotypes. For courses that address gender, I expect that dialogue around masculinity would be welcomed and included, as it has been in my experiences.
“Trailblazers for their gender.” We do not live in a society where sexism has been solved, much like we do not live in a country where racism no longer exists. Increasing numbers of women in positions of power is not an indicator of equality. In fact, it may appear that more women are receiving parity when they are not, explained in these two articles discussing women CEO’s (United States and globally) . It may indicate optimistic cultural trends toward equal opportunity and representation, but the problem is not solved.
Privilege and Oppression. This is a difficult concept to grasp, and I know that it took me quite some time to fully understand it as well, but men cannot be oppressed. Dominant, privileged groups, within the context of our society, cannot be oppressed based on that component of their identity alone. Men can be oppressed in a variety of ways, because of other marginalized identities that they may hold (race, class, sexual orientation, ability etc.), but not simply because they identify as a cisgender man. This is a result of historical systems of oppression that continue today.
Patriarchy. As defined by Allan G. Johnson in The Gender Knot, patriarchy is “male identified, male dominated, male centered.” We should be concerned about masculinity because we are all impacted by a patriarchal system, and have internalized these messages to different degrees. The same messages that tell men that they can have no weaknesses tell women that they can have no flaws. This is all rooted in the same divisive and limiting patriarchal teachings on gender. Socially constructed femininity serves to support and illuminate what patriarchy holds up as ideal masculinity, and nobody is served well by it. Nobody is served well by it, but some people do gain from it. This is “white male privilege.” Women’s voice in the classroom, for example, can be perceived as “too much” sometimes, when it is not centered around the male experience. We discuss women’s experiences in courses that address gender, because until 1970, there was no such curriculum that addressed women’s and gender studies.
Like damaging stereotypes and expectations of masculinity, false and extreme tropes of feminists distance us from meaningful dialogue and work. Gender inequities within our society should not be a source of shame, but rather a motivation for better understanding others’ lived experiences. Those of us who contributed to this essay all look forward to continuing this conversation on campus, and propose that we have healthy discussion around these topics at future events.