Male privilege and sexual assault discussed

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Pearson Kunz
Contributing Writer

Six people. Five males, one female. One hour. The topic: The affects Male Privilege and Modern Masculinity.

After the success of professor Ja’Nina Walker’s privilege awareness poster campaign, dialogues around various privileges were planned and executed throughout March. On Tuesday, Mar. 31, a dialogue led by Alejandro Covarrubias, co-director of the Intercultural Centers, and Michael Tadesse-Bell, an academic success coach at CASA, focused on defining the elements of Male Privilege and their affects on our everyday lives.

A brief introduction, the establishment of a brave space, and an explanatory activity began the discussion. Tadesse-Bell gave forum participants a piece of blank, white paper and asked them to crumple it into a ball. Then, one by one, each person took a turn trying to throw the hand-made ball into an open recycling bin at the edge of the room. Some people were closer to the bin than others. Some people had more obstacles in their way than others. Each participant had a certain level of advantage or disadvantage simply because of where they sat in the room. This simple and quick exercise visually illustrated the meaning of privilege as defined by the group leaders: “the unearned access to power and social resources based on group identity.”

Interestingly, no one made the shot. This happenstance actually allowed Covarrubias to point out one of the many harmful effects of privilege: expectations. “I think there’s something really interesting about being in that privileged group where you’re expected to make it,” he explained, “and then, when you don’t, there’s this layer of guilt, shame. [Then,] either we can blame something else or there is something fundamentally wrong about me – that I’m not good enough compared to other men, other white folks, other able-bodied people.”

But what about the expectations of those lacking privilege? Covarrubias continued to describe the other side of privilege expectations. “If you’re in the back of the room, [you are] not expected to make it, ever. And if I make it, it’s ‘Oh, that’s great! You’re the one.’ We have such low expectations to begin with for the marginalized, for the oppressed, that when that don’t make it it’s like: ‘Well, you’re not supposed to,’” he said.

To begin the exploration of male privilege, attendees were given a short period to think of a personal answer to the question posed by discussion leaders: “What have you been taught to do on a daily basis to protect yourself from sexual assault?”  Responses were split into two columns according to the gender they applied to. While the males could only contribute one solid teaching, the female attendee shared a lengthy list of precautions. To explain the disproportionate list sizes, the group discussed how women are expected to adjust their behaviors for men, how women are objectified in the media, as well as how society expects men to protect themselves without specific instruction. Covarrubias additionally pointed out that the sexual assault of males often goes undiscussed despite the prevalence of victims – which, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, constitutes 10% of all victims.

The group members were also asked to provide various examples of how male privilege is present in their lives. Influential institutions such as the government and varying religions were examined through the lens of male privilege. The group also investigated how, even in the earliest moments of childhood, male’s privileges are reinforced with phrases like the all-too-common: “boys will be boys.”

But what exactly does “boys will be boys” mean? The leaders asked forum members to share words that they associate with being a “man.” A list quickly formed that included: strong, dominant, leader, independent, unemotional, courageous, sexual, breadwinner, and protector. A box was drawn around the words to illustrate the limiting definition of manhood that modern masculinity allows – from then on, this became known as the “Man Box.”

If a man can be inside the Man Box, he certainly can be outside it as well. A cluster of descriptors of divergence from masculinity quickly formed outside of the Man Box, including: weak, sensitive, emotional, indecisive, small, soft-spoken, dependent, submissive.

The forum concluded with a discussion on how the Man Box enforces itself and damages men both inside and outside the box. This lead Tadesse-Bell to ask the group: “What specific things can you do to change the dynamic? Think about the things you can do to put some of those things that are outside that box inside that box.” Covarrubias continued the call-to-action by posing a question to inspire the forum: “There’s this idea that the box becomes permeable; that we allow ourselves, that we allow other men, that we allow women and the trans community to exist both inside and outside of what we consider to be masculine and feminine. How do we move from this space so that we can become both dependent and independent and actually become interdependent on each other?” he said.

Although one hour cannot permit a full exploration of male privilege and masculinity’s full complexity, this dialogue acted as a starting point for further discussion and advocacy in the future.

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