WAGS: (Re) Constructing Masculinity Panel

Instead of hosting a Brown Bag lecture, Women and Gender Studies hosted a panel featuring three male professors in different departments titled (Re)constructing Masculinity in Womanist Solidarity.

The idea for a men’s panel during women’s week came from a brainstorm between Dr. Ashley Cross and Dr. Jordan Pascoe. Dr. Ashley Cross selected English professor Dr. David Witzling, religious studies professor Dr. Jawanza Clark and sociology professor Dr. Cory Blad to be on the panel.

“On the panel, I tried to get diverse voices, styles, perspectives. I also tried to pick three faculty members that I know in their lives as well as in their scholarship are in solidarity with women’s issues and also think about solidarity and intersectionality and are feminists. Also, I chose professors who students have been learning these things from,” said Cross.

Being that they all have different educational backgrounds, as well as personal backgrounds, each professor addressed the issues of masculinity, allyship, womanism/feminism, and other similarly related issues in unique ways.

Dr. Blad chose to speak about deconstructing privilege and understanding power relationships in the world and where allyship falls into it. Dr. Clark spoke about the culture of toxic masculinity and about taking steps to fight against; he even raised points about how toxic masculinity plays a part in gun violence and about how race ties into gendered issues. Dr. Witzling started out speaking about an online discussion about social issues and then discussed the importance of taking the time to talk about and fully understand the core of the dialogues one is part of.

After the professors spoke on their perspectives and shared the thoughts they had prepared, the panel turned from presentation to discussion. The floor was opened up for questions and students and professors alike asked challenging questions for the panelists to grapple with.

Senior Alannah Boyle, who has been involved with planning Women’s Week, asked the professors about how they feel when women students walk into their offices given the underlying, yet pervasive issues of the sexual assault climate.

“I think that we talked about really serious things and that the questions asked didn’t shy away from the nitty gritty of sexual violence and harassment and the experiences of women and the different experiences of men,” said Boyle, “I thought that the audience as a whole did a really good job of asking tough questions and bringing up uncomfortable things.”

The panelists also felt that the audience members, including Boyle, asked truly striking questions.

Dr. David Witzling said, “Dr. Cross asked us to be on the panel and I think all three of us gave very academic answers to the title of the panel and the question of what it means to be a male ally to feminists and feminists. The way we all talked to the audience was in the way we would talk in a classroom or at a conference but then in the discussion portion, the questions students were asking were more about the experiences of being a student on the campus than we had thought about. It should have been obvious, I should have thought that the questions were going to deal with practical concerns of female students on campus, but I didn’t.”

This panel was the first time that a WAGS Brown Bag was not just one professor speaking about a topic of research but was a panel of professors speaking about a social issue that is on the rise. While it was the first event like this, it was successful and opened up new strands of dialogue that previously did not exist.

In all responses from the panelists, planners and attendees, there was a strong, concurrent expression of a need for many more future conversations about such issues.

“I think [the panel] was great and I think it was an important conversation because I think it’s very easy to get polarized, like men versus women. To me that’s debilitating. It’s understandable given the rape culture, the sexual harassment culture we’re grappling with. It’s not that productive to be polarized; men need to be in the conversation, they need to be feminists, they need to support women’s issues or else, nothing is really going to change,” said Cross.

Cross also said, “I was conscious of there being a different discourse among faculty and students and then the discourse between students and faculty. I think we need to have a better sense about what those dialogues are.”

“I think [events like this one] are incredibly important in the context of this college, this institution. What it does is it creates space to have these conversations and you have to have space to have these conversations and to push this idea of creating solidarity forward. It would be great if there were more men in the room,” said Blad, “It would be great if there were more white folk at diversity events. It would be great if these things happened because in that space you can listen, you can step back.”

A need for more male involvement in future discussions about feminism, allyship and solidarity was also expressed.

Dr. Clark said, “I think there should be more engagement, men should participate more in these conversations. Women’s studies and feminism are viewed as women’s areas and that men don’t have anything to contribute to these conversations but that’s just the very reason for the panel, to talk about how feminism impacts male humanity as well.”

Dr. Cory Blad cites the panel as important and as a place that women students could speak, “freely, openly and honestly” which they do not always have the opportunity to do. However, he, among others, still feels there is work to be done.

Blad said, “I’d like to see culture change. I’d like to see people not viewing ideas of social justice and ideas of solidarity building as projects that other people do. They should be projects that we, collectively, are engaged in. Unless people see events and weeks like this as being something for everybody to participate in and understand, it’s going to be a challenge for us to move beyond where we are.”

“Men have to challenge each other in those spaces where women aren’t around, in those all male spaces, to break the cycle of perpetuating these dangerous ideas about women,” said Clark.

Dr. Clark felt that males in academia could do more about conversations surrounding toxic masculinity and feminism.

“Men need to write more about these things – about the problems of toxic masculinity – and do scholarship in that area so that these conversations can continue, as opposed to having just one conversation and then moving on,” said Clark, “So I think that’s how it becomes ingrained and entrenched: if you make it a part of your scholarship, a part of your being, in your pedagogy and in your classroom, as opposed to just one-off conversation that doesn’t go anywhere after that.”

Though from a different approach, Witzling agreed.

“As a teacher, you have to remind students that challenging sexism and the long history of patriarchy in American culture is something they ought to be thinking about, whatever the subject matter they’re studying is. You have to remind them – in all sense of students – are for all; all students are responsible for the changes that need to come,” said Witzling.

While the panel opened up great discussions that many hope to see continued into the future, there is more work to be done in everyday life and in making sure more participate not only in the conversation but in living in solidarity, not just speaking about it.

“Solidarity isn’t always easy. Even as a white woman, I need to be an ally in other spaces. Being an ally isn’t always easy, sometimes it comes at a cost of comfort. It can be difficult. It’s not supposed to be easy,” said Boyle.