Groups Work to Redefine Masculinity
by William Singer
is no secret that, at Oberlin and elsewhere, women as a group have
been more willing than men to confront the ways gender roles shape
society, as well as individual behavior. However, at Oberlin, signs
are starting to crop up that men too are starting to involve themselves
in the issue, working alongside other men. This semester, a male-oriented
ExCo course and a new group against sexual violence have emerged
in an effort to help men examine the ways in which gender informs
Paul Gargagliano, a junior and instructor for this semesters
ExCo on Mens Health, saw the need to educate men on their
bodies after becoming concerned about his own physical condition.
I started to have prostate issues recently, and I didnt
know where my prostate was, he said.
As he planned the course, he expanded its subject to include aspects
of mens social health as well. It became a mens
issues class in general, Gargaliano said.
In many instances, social growth and physical health are closely
related. For example, the average man can expect a significantly
shorter life span than the average woman, a fact that Gargagliano
speculates may be partially due to societal pressures on men to
prove their manliness by engaging in physically damaging behaviors
such as excessive drinking.
Additionally, Gargagliano believes that men can improve the quality
of their life by sharing experiences with other men, instead of
trying to figure everything out alone. Its strange to
me that men never talk about their genitals other than [making comments
like] I got some action last night, he said. Men
would have a lot more sexual pleasure if they talked to each other
openly about these things and women would, too.
Interested in offering an alternative to the macho socialization
of US dominant culture, Gargagliano thinks men need a different
kind of environment where they can learn to become more considerate
of others and more emotionally self-aware. There are a lot
of all-male spaces [in our society]
but most all of them are
sexist, he said. Wouldnt it be wild if we put
together an all male space that would be positive?
Such, in part, is the mission of Men Can Stop Rape, a national organization
with a new Oberlin chapter that held its first meeting last Tuesday.
Benjamin Joffe-Walt, a senior and organizer of the group, sees its
emergence as an important step in the campaign against sexual violence.
A previous group on campus of Men Against Sexual Violence was led
by a female member of the Sexual Assault Support Team. Joffe-Walt,
who is also a member of SAST, believes that the lack of male leadership
limited the effectiveness of that organization. Its
pretty inappropriate to leave the labor of organizing [a group of
men against sexual violence] to women, he said.
Sophomore Gabe Peterson, a member of MCSR, expects that men will
more honestly consider their own masculinity through discussions
in the all-male environment. For some people, being in a mens
group makes them feel less attacked, he said. Its
people like you, and that makes it more comfortable and accepting.
What I would hope [MCSR] would be is an ally to SAST,
Joffe-Walt said. Where SAST is primarily an advocacy group for survivors
of sexual violence, Joffe-Walt sees MCSR as dedicated to a different
aspect of the problem. For the most part, the preventative
work that can be done to stop sexual violence has to be done by
Peterson believes that there is a need for a new group on campus
that is vocally opposed to sexual violence. I think SAST,
by a lot of people on this campus and perhaps by the administration,
is perceived as a radical group of mostly women, he said.
I think having men address some of those same issues
With that mission in mind, a primary goal of the group is to create
a place for men to talk about what it means to be a man. A
pretty significant reason that sexual violence occurs, Joffe-Walt
said, is because of the ways in which different forms of social
oppression impede upon the way two people communicate in a relationship.
Most people, if they took a survey of what their male friends
perceived to be the definition of sexual consent, would find it
is very, if not violently, different from what women would say,
he said. For example
many men Ive spoken to consider
it perfectly acceptable to have sex for the first time with a woman
who is very drunk, provided that a sexual attraction had been implied
beforehand. Joffe-Walt believes that many women reject this
Peterson thinks that becoming more aware of their actions is a good
starting point for men to combat sexual violence. Its
important to have men talk about these types of things because a)
men are taught not to and b) men and women talk about it in different
ways, Peterson said. Theres a lot of people out
there who are like, Well I would never commit rape,
and, without exploring sexual assault and without thinking about
it, might do something and then say, I didnt know that
could be sexual assault.