'Men' Of Dartmouth

by Emily Johnson | 11/24/08 4:01am

I attended the "Men at Dartmouth" panel with trepidation. If it weren't for the fact that so many upperclassmen had me the panel was not to be missed, I never would have crammed myself into Collis Common Ground with a couple hundred other students last Wednesday night.

Thankfully, the panel was far different from what I'd envisioned when I quickly dismissed the promotional Blitzes; from the blunt subject line, "MEN OF DARTMOUTH," I had pictured a bunch of frat brothers congratulating themselves on what sweet dudes they were, obnoxiously flaunting their right to freedom of speech and belittling the cause of progress for women on this campus.

Instead, the panelists shared candid, humble stories of the daunting obstacles they overcame with heart and courage. When it came to defining what it means to be a man, the speakers seemed to come to similar conclusions. One of Brendan Hart '10's remarks provides a good example: "Being an all-state football player doesn't make me a man. Being a marine doesn't make me a man. Being in a fraternity doesn't make you a man. Self-reflection, realizing your strengths, integrity of self -- these things make you a man. And all you frat guys, listen up: Treating women with respect and dignity makes you a man. Being able to put yourself in a larger context makes you a man"("'Men of Dartmouth' draws large crowd," Nov. 19).

It is undeniable that the panelists' messages and stories were inspirational. I couldn't shake the feeling, however, that there was something off about the event.

Certainly, there is a lot of talk about what it means to be a woman at Dartmouth, thanks to the balance of gender relations being tipped so firmly out of our favor. In fact, the Men of Dartmouth panel is based on the model provided by the Women of Dartmouth panel. Listening to the first panelist speak, however, I immediately began to wonder whether gender was the most effective way to frame the stories being told.

To me, the traits that Hart identified have nothing to do with being a man and everything to do with being a grown, mature human being. As a woman, I hope that someday I will be able to truly know myself, to recognize my strengths and find integrity of self. There is nothing uniquely masculine about such a quest, but Hart's comment seems to suggest otherwise.

Self-reflection, integrity and dignity are all values that should be encouraged, but must they be encouraged in the context of masculinity? Continuing to define gender relations in terms of Man vs. Woman, even when these archetypes are positive, seems unnecessarily divisive. Do we really need to define identities in terms of gender -- granting one sex a monopoly on a specific set of traits -- as we've done for so many centuries with distressing consequences?

Looking back at articles about past Women at Dartmouth panels, as well as last year's inaugural Men of Dartmouth panel, the first thing that jumped out at me was the marked similarity between the men's and women's stories. Men and women alike spoke about faith, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, depression and immigration.There are many other ways these stories could have been framed, with the same benefit to the audience. Why not feature these powerful stories together, in a panel on overcoming obstacles, or finding a sense of self, or on wisdom from students nearing the end of their time at Dartmouth? A panel that combines both voices would have been just as enlightening, if not more so.

It could be unifying to see that our peers, regardless of gender, are on the same journey to self-realization and maturity that we are undertaking. There is a tendency to see gender relations issues as us-versus-them struggles. The panelists' moving stories have a universal appeal that women could easily relate to, if only they hadn't been labeled as stories of manhood. In fact, side-by-side, the common themes of the stories told by both genders would have shown through acutely.