On Jan. 27, in conjunction with Stanford’s department of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Sigma Nu held the first event in a speaker series: “Fraternity Engagement with Gender Issues: To Know, To Understand, To Act.” Though I applaud Sigma Nu for joining the conversation about these issues around campus, their event lacked an explicit effort to talk about how class, race, sexuality and privilege play an uncomfortable role in this conversation.
As a Black woman with a brief stint in Greek life and culture, I needed the conversation not to erase the presence of women like me. They should have specifiedwho they were talking about when they gave general statistics. And to open the discussion to the audience more effectively.
The conversation included wonderful points by scholars brilliant in their own disciplines. Each speaker could have used the entire time to educate the audience, and was given less than 15 minutes. It was too fast and too broad. If this effort is going to be a serious, intentional, and heartfelt one, it cannot be rushed.
Faculty Director of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Christine Min Wotipka talked plainly and clearly about the distinction between sex and gender, and the socialization children experience their entire lives. I appreciated her acknowledgment of an understanding that usually is taken for granted, but wished her presentation could have touched on those who do not conform to gender binaries.
Alec Watts provided a presentation on masculinity, a topic that is not talked about enough — especially without biased pathology. He stated that masculinity can heavily influence men’s emotional and mental health and political beliefs and cause violence against women. And he beautifully explained that masculinity is not innate to men, rather narrowly defined. It is socially harmful, and largely dependent on their background and cultural situation.
Watts elaborated that in order for masculinity to be achieved one has to be male, white, straight, educated, financially successful, physical strong, have high self control, be a leader , unemotional, confident and powerful.
Hold up. Why was this not what the entire hour was about? Statistics and disconnected facts about only two genders will never measure up to the innate human interest in learning about the social construction of one’s own identity.
The assumed identity for every guy in Sigma Nu is one of power. In order to find meaning in a topic, one must see themselves in the subject matter. It must come from someone they believe – often someone who looks like them. Watts was the highlight of the night, offering vital insight to the audience. It’s always uncomfortable to talk whiteness and masculinity with a crowd of people born into privilege. In my experience, white men get defensive and feel as if their characters are under attack. But this was the perfect opportunity to talk about this identity – and was unfortunately rushed.
At the very core of these issues is the acknowledgement, validation and affirmation of identity. How identity is constructed, policed and perceived intrapersonally and by mainstream society. The presentation lacked a realistic connection to human issues, and specificity.
Pay gap was discussed – with American women making 78 percent of what men make. Yet it failed to mention that the pay gap grows even wider for African American women who make an average of 64 cents to the White man’s dollar. The speakers mentioned that Western psychologists have assumed women refusing sex was a normal part of sexuality for a long time. But for most of the history of this country Black women were considered so sexually deviant that rape to a Black woman’s body was not even possible. What this talk really needed was clarification about which women and which bodies were being discussed.
Each speaker ended their presentation with a call to action; however, if there were men in the room sincerely ready to answer that call, I don’t think they were given enough tools.
To Know. To Understand. To Act. Requires specificity and time. For people who don’t study these issues or don’t experience being marginalized, these topics are monstrous to even begin to think about. I have been feminine, gendered and Black my whole life and I still could have spent hours reflecting on the rich information on each slide.
I’m curious to see if the whole series will follow the same format of the first event. If there will continue to be a glossing over of race, class, sexuality and privilege in the events to come. I felt invisible and unwelcomed as a member of Greek life. This shouldn’t be the case during such important programming.