Zhang: Engendering Discussion

by Angela Zhang | 9/26/11 10:00pm

Ordinarily, I disagree with most things that Roger Lott says, and the same holds true for his most recent column, "Invisible Men" (Sept. 23). I won't bother responding to most of his claims, such as the idea that men are biologically predisposed to become economics majors because they like to provide for women. But for once, I do believe that he has hit on a very real concern that both he and I share.

It's true there aren't many events or student groups on campus devoted to men's issues. In contrast, it's easy to rattle off a number of groups and events dedicated to "women's issues." There's Link Up, Women in Science Project, Women in Business, Society of Women Engineers, V-Week and that's just for starters. But the reason is not, as Lott suggests, because the College is unwilling to support or fund any groups speaking about men's issues. In my experience, College administrators have expressed great interest in groups that address men's issues for example, Josiah Proietti, community director of the East Wheelock cluster, has called for the creation of student organizations that could address masculinity ("Bro Talk," Jan. 19, 2010). Why, then, are there so few men's groups and so many women's groups?

I'd like to speak from my experience as someone who has worked with several student organizations to put on events dedicated to generating honest discussions about gender and feminism. From what I've seen, the problem is that men either don't believe that they're welcome at these events or feel that these events are not relevant to them because, in their minds, the term "gender" doesn't apply to men historically, problems of "gender" have generally been associated with women. It's really difficult to draw the male students on campus to events about gender without specifically marketing them as events directed towards men, as with the annual "Men of Dartmouth" panel. Indeed, many of the organizers (usually female) of such events spend a great deal of time trying to figure out ways to draw men to their event, or trying to express that men are welcome at these events, too. There are even fewer men who are willing to devote time to organizing events or discussions specifically oriented towards men, although in the past, the few events that did so were very well-received ("All-male group discusses media's masculine stereotypes," Jan. 16, 2008).

There is a dearth of events designated specifically for men, but that doesn't mean there are no opportunities to talk about masculinity and male issues on campus. You'd be surprised, for example, at how concerned feminist organizations on campus are with making sure that men, as well as women, benefit from their events. After all, the issues that women face are merely the flip side of the coin of the issues that men face. For example, the same societal pressures that label women as overly emotional and incapable of reason are the ones that discourage men from expressing emotions for fear of being seen as womanly. Accordingly, in every event about gender that I've been to, participants have always been open and welcoming of men's opinions if only more men would show up.

Feminism is not a zero-sum game that tries to promote women over men rather, the fight against sexism is a joint endeavor that requires effort and dialogue on the part of both men and women. I strongly urge any men or women who are interested in male issues to take action. Make an effort to go to an event about gender, even if you're nervous that you'll be the only guy there and be sure to speak up and keep an open mind. Or, if you're bold enough, start your own men's issues student organization (by the way, many women's groups like Link Up and Women in Business are entirely student-run). I think you'd be surprised at how warm a reception you'll receive.