Gender roles constrain men, too

Adrian Northrup

Discussions about feminism are very common today, and the recent visit of Gloria Steinem, perhaps the most well known feminist of all time, to our campus has sparked many conversations about it. Some people feel that feminism is pass‚ and has no real need in a nation where women have the right to vote, and there has even been a lot of change in gender roles since Steinem first began speaking out in the 1960s.

Others, particularly men, feel that feminism provides an excuse for women not to succeed and encourages them to be angry at men. They believe that it limits and stifles women, but the only limitation that I see is in their inability to understand the full message of feminism and to listen to people with an experience that is different from theirs.

I attended Gloria Steinem’s presentation on Sept. 26, and I know that her message contained a lot more depth than “Women are human beings.” Steinem spoke for equality for all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, religion or any other aspect of a person that may set them apart from mainstream society.

A key point of her message was, “Not only can women not do many things that men can do, but men cannot do many things that women can do.” As men are not allowed the same kind of creative expression or demonstration of emotion and sensitivity in our society, Steinem represents a liberation of the human spirit for all people, not just women. In fact, men and women are not that different except for roles that are imposed upon us by our social environment.

Feminism mobilizes and empowers people to speak out and be active participants in our society. If certain people have not been excluded from certain activities, I suppose that would explain why we have had so many black women as presidents. The next time you are in a classroom setting, pay attention to how often women feel comfortable placing themselves in a discussion compared to men.

I am willing to bet that you will see an imbalance because women have been told not to exhibit themselves in public and not to participate or lead. In rebellion to this mentality, feminist leaders have been speaking out and through bravery, placing themselves in the public eye and becoming the constant targets of attacks.

On this campus, you can walk around, and, in Hibbard Hall alone, you can see pictures on bulletin boards advertising something by using the female body in an overtly sexual way. How many male bodies do you see being objectified in the same way? I am not opposed to sexual expression, but I don’t think we can try to pretend that men and women are being treated the same in the media. Such treatment of women can be harmful to the sexuality of both genders.

It is very easy for some people to dismiss the feminist message and complain that there is not attention to “men’s issues” or that there are not “men’s studies classes.” While men do not have issues in many of the same ways that women do today, as I noted earlier, gender role restrictions can be harmful to people of both genders, and there should be more attention paid to how they affect men.

The ideals of masculinity can prevent men from being creative and understanding. The competitive nature that is foisted on men can encourage unkind behavior and perpetuates war and violence. However, it is unfortunate that people can’t see that most courses offered on any campus are indeed “Men’s Studies” courses. In all disciplines, the focus is largely on the lives, works, and discoveries of men and there is quite an imbalance in gender coverage.

This is just another example of how things are not all equal and hunky-dory already. We need to rethink gender constructions and categorizations of people in general. I think that before a person makes generalized statements about what it is like for a person to be female, black, Jewish, gay, etc., they should talk to and listen to people who actually are of that group. Only then will they have an idea about what it is like.