First, I must confess that every time I prepared to sit down and write this article, my chest would tighten in a fit of anger. While I like to pretend for my own sanity that EMU exists in a semutopian, gender equal, openly accepting state, the announcement of Gender Day displayed on table-tents in the cafeteria quickly brought this fantasy to a crashing halt.
Upon further analysis, it is not an- ger that I feel, but the deep pain and frustration that comes along with trying for so long to fit into a predominantly heterosexual and gender-conforming community as a non-gender-conform- ing, gay identifying, male.
Let me say up front that I do not believe the Campus Activities Council and the students involved in planning the event had malicious intent. The proposed idea would have provided a great space for males and females to build camaraderie with their respec- tive genders, but there are at least two problems with the event being structured in that way.
One, the Feats of Strength and Spa Night events, formerly Men’s Day and Woman’s Night, played on outdated understandings of gender roles, relegating females to pamper themselves while encouraging the macho, testosterone driven male persona. These events are reminiscent of scenes from an earlier era where the man comes home from a long day of grueling work and is greeted by his wife who has spent all day pampering herself, look- ing perfectly put together in order to please her man.
While there is nothing wrong with individuals choosing to and enjoying living into these socially constructed roles, they become problematic when individuals expect all members of a specific sex to act the same way. All too often these stereotypes of gender limit and objectify women and put un- necessary pressure on males, damaging both genders’ perceptions of self-worth as they fall short of being the ideal male or female.
Two, these events eliminate the space for gender non-conforming persons. Quite honestly, I have limited interest in the events that were proposed for Men’s Day (besides maybe the free food). I sometimes have difficulty connecting with other males because we do not always share the same interests. I value opportunities to build relationships with the males in my life, but doing so at a day focused on how a man is supposed to be would only further marginalize and discourage me from any real attempt at connecting.
At the same time, I enjoy having nicely manicured nails and appreciate proper skin care. Trying to force people into a gender box pushes some of us out of the community alltogether.
However, something positive did come out of Gender Day. By the time I was worked up about the marginalization I felt over Gender Day, the event had been restructured and all publicity materials redone. While this may have been one of the most offensive events proposed during my four years at EMU, the community recognized it as such and quickly acted to ensure that those of us who stand at the margins were not further marginalized.
This, however, does not mean that my utopian EMU exists. As many people stood up to challenge the idea of Gender Day, several of my white, heterosexual male friends complained that people were just being “oversensitive,” or that this whole thing was be- ing “blown out of proportion.” However, more sensitivity is still needed when planning events on campus to ensure that space is made for all sorts of people. After all, I would rather people accuse me of being overly sensitive rather than being unaware. Just make sure that comments about me being sensitive are not followed by some statement about that sensitivity making me a woman.
Darian A. Harnish,
Darian is a sentimental senior who hopes that expanded conversation on gender and sexuality have not (only) been in ‘Vane.