It’s a common misconception that gender discussions and dating panels are relevant only, or at least primarily, to women. Gender has just as much impact on a man’s life as it does a woman’s, but you don’t often hear “men” and “gender” closely associated in a conversation, because gender is a “women’s issue” or a topic in which only women have a stake. Perhaps this is because the debates always center on women’s empowerment or disenfranchisement, but again, such debates do not inherently exclude male voices or opinions. Or at least, they shouldn’t.
A few weeks ago, Sexuality Series hosted three separate events: the mentoring program’s annual panel on life choices for women; “Half the Sky,” a film on female empowerment worldwide; and a workshop on healthy dating relationships presented by Safe Haven’s Tara Aday. No men showed up for the first event — not surprising because it was advertised to women. Two men attended the film. Only two men who were not from SAPT participated in the dating workshop, neither staying for the entire time.
At the women’s life choices panel, several female faculty members voiced their concern on how there were no men at the panel. Again, the posters and Facebook events all named it a panel on “women’s life choices,” so it was natural to assume that it wasn’t relevant to men (though, interestingly, four of the 30 people who attended The Man Event earlier this semester were women). What’s more, the fact that a panel on career vs. family is marketed only for women perpetuates the assumption that only women have to worry about a family when planning a career path.
Someone needs to challenge that assumption.
One of the main issues the women on the panel stressed was the egalitarian nature of a relationship — dating or marriage. Professor Linda Naranjo-Huebl of the English department called her husband her “partner.” Their relationship was equal, and, as such, any life choices she (or he) made affected them both equally.
“Men need to be at talks like this,” said an older woman in the audience, “I’ll even do the advertising!”
The two male students who attended the showing of “Half the Sky” were equally discontent with the underrepresentation of their sex at the event (there were over 30 attendees in total). Both were quite vocal and involved in the discussion that followed the film, each voicing gratitude for the knowledge he had gained. Gender equality, they both understood, will go nowhere if only one of the two genders gets involved.
Then there’s the dating workshop. It’s disconcerting that only two male non-SAPT members made an appearance — brief appearances at that. The workshop, “Should Love Hurt?”, explored the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy dating relationships in order to educate and inform those in relationships or watching friends in such relationships. Did men not come because the word “love” was in the title? Don’t men care about love just as much as women? Shouldn’t they?
Dating concerns men just as much as women, and in a society where men are typically (though not always) the aggressors in abusive relationships, the responsibility falls even more heavily on their shoulders to invest in healthy dating lifestyles and remain educated in order to keep both themselves and their friends accountable.
I don’t write any of this to bash men. I write this to voice a concern about a very fundamental assumption in our society: that gender (and dating) is not a men’s issue. This is not to say men aren’t fulfilling their roles, or that they are falling short; rather, this meant to expose that the assumption that gender doesn’t affect men is equally harmful to men as it is to women and that it robs men of a beautiful and fundamental aspect and expression of their nature.