By Josiah Proietti, Guest Columnist
Published on Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The critical debate about gender equity has been a vibrant source of discourse since coeducation was introduced to Dartmouth in the early ’70s. The most recent installments to the conversation were represented in articles in The D (“The Gospel According to Matthew,” Oct. 9) and Matthew Ritger’s Change:Dartmouth blog. The blog is the latest forum where students, faculty, administrators and alumni have shared fascinating observations on the precarious power dynamics of gender on campus. It is further proof that gender matters deeply to the Dartmouth community, and much is being done to keep the conversation alive.
Gender Sexuality XYZ has been working hard to diversify its membership and impact on campus for the GLBTQ community with great success. The Center for Women and Gender is on the cutting edge of service to college campuses, including the Men’s Project and Mentors Against Violence. Dick’s House sponsors Sexperts and Sexual Assault Peer Advisors. These groups are all doing their part to address gender inequities, increase awareness across campus and improve communication between students about gender and sexuality.
Often times when these groups meet or hold programs, it is remarked that those in attendance do not need the messages, and those that do need them seldom show up. Whenever this is mentioned I wonder who the group is that “needs the message most.” I look around the room to see who is not there. It is usually men, and more specifically heterosexual men, that are absent. I wonder what is keeping those students from showing up to conversations about gender.
The fact of the matter is that heterosexual men are not absent from the conversation about gender, sex and the expression of both. These conversations happen every day, wherever men are hanging out together. They are conversations between men, about men. I’m talking about “bro talk.” Bro talk is any conversation where being a man is central to the content, and there is an absence of critical thought or intellectual honesty. It is any conversation where the “right” way to be a man is implied and any comment that questions those assumptions is considered threatening or self righteous.
Bro talk is not always harmful, but it also does not get those bro-talking men any closer to understanding themselves as men in this world. It only perpetuates the dominant messages sent to them and leaves little space to add to the conversation with openness and curiosity.
It is for these reasons that I propose a group of men on this campus come together to create a different sort of conversational space with the same content of bro talk. The goal would be to better prepare participants to navigate moments of personal uncertainty. There would be no social barriers to entry or participation, and the mission of this group would be to make clearer the experience of men on campus in order to improve the larger Dartmouth community. This group would view heterosexuality as coming with unique challenges that ought to be explored. It is important that I make clear that those challenges accompanying heterosexuality are no more important or more urgent to deal with than those challenges that derive from any other identity on campus. I only claim that a safe space for heterosexual men to explore gender is also needed.
A group of men did this in the Winter term of 2008 with encouraging results. Twelve to 15 men had four conversations covering a range of topics of interest. Some were more successful than others, but none were gratuitous. The meetings were covered by The Dartmouth in (“All-male group discusses media’s masculine stereotypes” Jan. 16 2008). Later some participants created the group Men Of Dartmouth Educating and Learning — M.O.D.E.L. for short — to continue the work started by the Winter 2008 discussion series. In short, the group I propose would be a place where the good questions that are thought, but not uttered, in the world of bro talk could be explored. If you are a man with questions, now is the time to ask.