Two weeks ago, Evergreen students were offered a series of events centered around the theme ‘No One wins in Patriarchy Week’ and, as a follow-up to those events, on March 5, the ‘International Womyn’s Week’ hosted an event titled, “What Kind of Man are You? – Patriarchy and Male Allyship.”
As an Evergreen male, I fully support educating people about the consequences of patriarchy and I understand the need to celebrate strong, independent women in our society. In the midst of all this discussion of women’s empowerment and patriarchy, though, a question must be asked: How can men most effectively recognize and begin to disassemble the systems of oppression that they receive so much privilege from?
Dozens of men and women, including myself, attended the workshop on March 5. Joe Beatty, an Evergreen Student and a co-organizer of the workshop, said, ”When we were planning this, we weren’t thinking of just a ‘men’s support group,’ but really to try and help men deconstruct their patriarchy and sexism. So much of the burden of education falls onto the oppressed. An ally is someone who uses their privilege to take that burden off.”
The workshop went through several activities where the group could talk about times when they’ve felt privileged, oppressed, or targeted in society. As a white, cis-gendered male, I often feel like I walk on eggshells whenever the topic of gender arises because I don’t want to be targeted as sexist. I’m sure many other men feel the same way that I do. And while educating men about patriarchy and other systems of oppression is important, that goal often coincides with men educating themselves on who they are as individuals.
From this workshop, I took away the difference between the the term “empowerment” from the term “support”. “Male empowerment” is not commonly used, and for good reason. As a gender, men don’t need empowerment – most men already receive privilege from a system that oppresses females and have no need for more empowerment. But men do need support – support in a way that allows men to begin to analyze that they have privilege, and from there, how to use their privilege to help those who are oppressed.
In 1994, John Ford, the Development Director of KAOS radio, helped organize a Men’s Resource Center at Evergreen. The group’s official statement was, “Men Seeking Answers.” When the Center was first formed, Ford recalled that when there was a woman at the meeting, everyone would clam up and become nervous. Sometimes, the men would be openly chastised by visiting women for speaking their honest opinion – a rare occurrence, but it hurt morale whenever it happened. “My goal was to create a space where men could speak their mind without being called sexist,” said Ford. “How can we understand ourselves and be better people if all we are focused on [is] our shame or original sin?”
The Center held discussions on touchy subjects relating to identity and gender roles. “I would put up posters saying, ‘I’m not sure if I like me, but I need you to,’ and ‘Porn. Erotica. Smut. What is the difference? Says who?’” said Ford. Once, he remembered, he held a seminar on how to (politely) flirt with women, requested by a student who was shy. “It was a time when no one knew what to do, some people thought they did, and college people got caught in the middle.”
Unfortunately, the Men’s Resource Center lasted for only three years, and faded away in 1997 due to a lack of interest. The Student Activities’ Library still contains many of the books that Ford donated to the Center and can be checked out by students.
While collaboration between men, women, queer and trans people of all genders, and other marginalized groups is invaluable, there needs to be spaces organized and operated by men for males, just as there are supportive spaces organized and operated by women, people of color, queer and trans folk, etc. We all need that safe place to talk about what it means to be an individual in today’s society. From my point of view, men need a place away from mainstream media telling us “boys will be boys”, where we can discuss that it is normal to be emotional and empathetic.
Men need this space to learn about their privilege from other men, and how to use it to recognize and resist patriarchy and other systems of oppression. Patriarchy affects us all – men included – and the more steps we take towards understanding ourselves, our privileges, and how we can work together against systems of oppression, the farther we come to living in a more equal and equitable society.
By Ray Still