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Women Learn To Be Women, Men Learn To Be Men

essietee's picture

"Letter to a John" - Ani DiFranco

In thinking about college activism in regard to Judith Butler’s lecture last night, I am struck by the thought of “appearing” on a college campus. While I would like to think that I’m having a typical college experience, the fact remains that I attend a women’s college and have little interaction with the male gender. Attending a domestic study away program last semester increased not only my academic knowledge but my social experiences as well, and I now call several of my male classmates from my time away from Bryn Mawr my closest friends.

Maintaining a friendship, as most of us know, takes a lot of work. So while most of my friends from my study-away experience do not go to Bryn Mawr or reside in the Philadelphia area, I regularly make efforts to remain in contact with them. Most recently I found myself braving a bizarre October snowstorm during a visit to Williams College in Williamstown, MA. While touring campus, I spotted a flier that would never, ever, not in a million years be seen on our campus. The flier reads as follows:

“Are you interested in men’s issues? Are you ‘man enough’ to talk about your feelings? Are you looking for different representations of masculinity? Then come meet, share your thoughts, and learn from other men who are interested in having conversations about the diverse experiences of male-identified people!”

This flier, which is for a men’s support group, caught me incredibly off guard. It looked more like something I would see during Hell Week than a veritable discussion group, but I believe that’s because we don’t talk about men’s issues on this campus. I find that many of the conversations I have here at Bryn Mawr pertain to women’s and LGBT issues; both are social minorities that rein as majorities here. But in the Bryn Mawr Bubble, men’s issues become the minority.

What would it take for us to talk about such a topic at a women’s college? What is discussed at such a meeting? Does such a thing exist at Haverford, seeing as there are male-identified people on their co-ed campus? More so, why did this flier catch me so off-guard? Feminism means fighting for gender equality, which would mean that male-identified people have as much right to a support group as female-identified people. I fear that I may have been seeing the parts rather than the whole: I understand my own struggles as a young woman involved in LGBT issues. What about the position of males looking to better understand their gender and sexuality?


phenoms's picture

applying Barard

I hate the lack of discussion surrounding men as gendered people - both in life and academia. I had real difficulty understanding Karen Barard's writing and lecture. She was often too abstract for me to ground any of her theory in reality. But, I think her ideas on intra-action really resonate here. Women's and men's issues are intricately entangled with one another. Can it possibly be effective to isolate one and study it without the foiling effect of the other?

jfwright's picture

"Gender" Studies?

Personally, I think "gender studies" in general does a poor job of talking about some of the issues that men face. Men have gendered experiences, too; I'd like to talk about Self-Made Man, in which the author, a butch lesbian named Norah Vincent, lived as a man for 18 months in an effort to learn about the differences in male and female experiences. According to Vincent, the differences were staggering: suddenly, her feelings had to be suppressed in a manner she never expected, and the pressure to prove her masculinity was staggering. By the end of the project, her feelings about the way in which she deceived her informants built up alongside the stresses she hadn't expected from enacting a male gender role, and she checked into a mental hospital for the depression she experienced.

An interview with Vincent about this project can be found online here: But, I want to pull out a particular quote:

"Men are suffering. They have different problems than women have, but they don't have it better," she said. "They need our sympathy. They need our love, and maybe they need each other more than anything else. They need to be together."

Ironically, Vincent said, it took experiencing life as a man for her to appreciate being a woman. "I really like being a woman. ... I like it more now because I think it's more of a privilege."

When I first read this book, I went to a lecture by Vincent offered at Haverford (back in 2008), and I remember the same sentiment expressed consistently in the book and by the author herself: women are suffering, but so are men. (I know that this statement is full of binary assumptions, but I think it's still valid.) If we are going to take a hard look at gender, we have to recognized that along with women and trans* and genderqueer individuals, cis men are oppressed, too. Queer men may be oppressed when they deviate from gender and sexuality norms, and straight men may be oppressed by the gender and sexuality norms that they desperately fear budging from (if this book is any indication of the trouble that they face). While this book is certainly not the be-all and end-all description of male experience (and claiming that being a women is a "privilege" is certainly not true for many women, especially outside of a Western context as we discussed in class), for me, it's been worth thinking about as I've studied gender at Bryn Mawr for the past three and a half years.

leamirella's picture

Came across this on a blog:

Men's studies? I also this the idea of "gender warfare" that they make "appear" particularly interesting and I'm having very mixed feelings towards it. Thoughts?

leamirella's picture

Men's studies?

This idea of men's issues is really interesting. We talk so much about women's studies, feminism and the oppression of women when we sometimes fail to realize that we are in a gender studies class and should also consider all other genders as well. I remember writing a high school paper and wondering why there was no male equivalent to feminism.

I think you're right though - male-identified people do have as much right to have their own support groups but I do share your, I guess, surprise at such a thing. I think that this "surprise" is because it's just something that doesn't "appear" - but not just at Bryn Mawr. However, I also want to consider these "female" and "male" support groups. While they are based on personal identification (and thus, intersexed individuals who have identified with a gender are included), don't you also think that the fact that there are separate "women's" and "men's" support groups reinforce the gender binary and thus, drives a bigger wedge between these two genders?

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that while everyone has the right to their own support group, I'm not quite sure how I feel about having separate female and male groups. If we're truly working for equality, then shouldn't we all just work together in order to do this? How about just a gender support group that allows access to everyone?