I want to put this on the table. I believe that we are in a time where women and LGBTQIA+ people deserve to be heard and in power. However, I do not believe that cis-men should be discriminated against and not be allowed to sit at the table.
An event that honestly piqued my interest as a Women’s and Gender Studies major was the “Exploring Masculinity” event hosted by the Intercultural Center. I was shocked that there was such an opportunity for cis-men to join one another and talk about masculinity. Often times when masculinity is brought up in the classroom or even popular youth media, it is shot down and demonized. To provide sympathy or pity towards men is social suicide and seen as heterosexual feminists being brainwashed and subservient to their male partners. I can see why.
I was in a long-term relationship at one point where I had to compromise my feminist self and almost suppress it in order to be happy with a traditional lifestyle with a white-picketed fence, children, and the only spin was that I wanted to work. I guess that is what I get when I think I am invincible to toxic masculinity, as all I talk about is the social constructs of gender and its history. So why on God’s green earth am I entertaining the thought of giving men space when for the majority of my life all interactions with men have been sexist and objectifying?
Well, it’s because I feel like men do not have the chance to even reflect on their masculinity without either A) enjoying the privileges of it B) not getting the opportunity or C) getting shot down every time they try to bring up their experiences as a man. Don’t get me wrong, I do think mansplaining is a problem, but I think what is even more of a problem in our modern times is not actively providing men the chance to redefine what masculinity is in a healthy way.
I think we have tried this by presentations and learning feminist theory. But, we really haven’t sat down and actually asked them: “What do you think masculinity is? And what do you think it should be?” You can ask just about any man, and they will say some of these expectations that they have participated in were not their idea alone. Another is they feel robbed of the ability to make intimate connections with their peers out of the fear of being seen as less manly and even potentially gay. Now, despite the male privilege that most of us cite on a daily basis when referring to men and the power that they have over society, we cannot ignore how incredibly sick and inhumane it is that men, on a daily basis, cannot acknowledge the basic emotional and mental needs of a human without either A) being shamed for it B) being labeled as something they may not identify as or C) being told woe is me, cry me a river. Because of this, I feel that it is incredibly important that we make more space for cis-men to explore masculinity and gender.
This is entirely necessary so that men can have the opportunity to redefine what masculinity means to them and see that identifying as something other than a man is okay. In the end, we are not only helping men feel like people, but we are giving the people who are in power the tools that they need to dismantle the system that confines them the most and oppresses the rest of us. By actively providing cis-men the outlet to explore what their identity means to them, we can then invite them to the table where we can change the system and liberate us all. Even if the likelihood of this happening feels impossible by providing this opportunity at a small liberal arts school, I can say with certainty that this is the way that we need to go in order to enact change and create a society that we are equal and happy no matter our gender and sexual orientation.
Ryan Ford '23,