Listen to Build Community

by Anat Levtov | 7/23/96 5:00am

As I sat through the last half hour of the discussion on Wednesday night in Collis Commonground, I was struck by the hypocritical actions of the people around me. Members of the audience were saying the administration does not listen to us, does not hear our needs and demands, that the administration is against us. But wait a second, who is really not listening here?

In one of the exercises which opened the meeting the facilitator, Gabrielle Lucke, asked the members of the audience to imagine their response if they woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a window breaking. The men's answers were somewhat humorous, one in particular eliciting widespread laughter from the audience: "I'll need to fix that in the morning." When Lucke asked the women to respond to the same question, the attitude was markedly different -- "Who is he?" "How big is he?" "Can I get out of my room?" "Is anyone with me?" "Can I get help?"

Lucke also asked another question, which Jackson Katz asked at his lecture during Sexual Assault Awareness Week in the spring -- "What do you do on a daily basis to protect yourself from being raped?" The responses of the men and women were similar to those I heard in the spring, yet the atmosphere in the room was incredibly different.

One man said on Wednesday, "It's just not part of my daily life." Yet it certainly sounded like it was part of the daily life for many of the women -- women who were on his DOC trip and in his UGA group and in his classes. While women were speaking up, the men sitting in front of me were laughing and joking with each other. They did not seem to be moved at all by the fact that women live with an unconscious daily fear that men do not, even here at Dartmouth, on this campus that we would like to think is so safe. Are women listening to each other on this campus? After hearing some of the thoughts expressed by women Wednesday night, I would have to say not. When we say that other women are being hypersensitive and overreacting to things, are we truly listening to each other? There is no rule book for appropriate reactions to a crime of assault, abuse, or even plain old disrespect. Each individual will respond differently and emotions are really not measurable. How can we expect men to listen and try and understand if we ourselves are not opening our ears and hearts to each other's stories and listening without making assumptions and judging?

Just because you are not listening, it does not mean that no one is screaming. Any discussion of gender issues on this campus will get us nowhere until we start to pay attention to the real problems -- men not listening to women, and women not listening to each other. The administration can't help us there -- we have to do that ourselves. Obviously, a 300-person meeting in Collis is not conducive to productive communication. So, it is the responsibility of each one of us to recreate these conversations in a space where we can hear each other and talk until we begin to become a community.

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