The Athenaeum is one of the greatest resources at Claremont McKenna. Four nights a week, we get to engage with speakers from diverse fields in an intimate setting over a fantastic dinner that somehow costs the same as a meal-swipe at Collins. As you could expect, some speakers are better attended than others, but there’s another dynamic that goes on within the variable attendance figures at the Ath: certain subjects consistently draw a gender-skewed audience when they really, really shouldn’t.

Here are some examples from my three-and-a-half semesters at CMC:

  • Jackson Katz, an activist and educator who does training sessions with student athletes on preventing sexual violence, who spoke about the toxic pressures of masculinity, sexual assault, and ways that men and boys can push back against rape culture and violence against women;
  • Gloria Allred, a lawyer whose clients have included survivors—and not just women—of sexual violence, who spoke about sexual harassment in workplaces and how college administrations across the country have failed their students in handling sexual assault;
  • Jennifer L. Pozner, an activist featured in the documentary Miss Representation, who spoke about the cultural consequences of the media’s demeaning portrayals of women and encouragement of violent and misogynistic male roles;
  • Jaclyn Friedman, a sex educator and co-editor of the anthology “Yes Means Yes!”, who spoke about how freedom of sexual expression works against rape culture;

and finally, last Thursday’s speaker,

  • Sarah Johnson (formerly Redlich), an executive producer on the documentary Miss Representation on women’s representation in the media and The Invisible War on sexual violence in the military, who spoke about… um… herself.

The content of Sarah Johnson’s talk, as it turns out, was profoundly disappointing for several reasons—most notably, in my opinion, her disregard of her white privilege and apparent disdain for intersectionality. However, prospective attendees had no way of knowing that in advance, and Johnson’s audience was composed of most of the same people who came out for Katz, Allred, Pozner, and Friedman: women—and particularly, women with a prior interest in feminism.

Anticipating this dynamic, a number of female students made a concerted effort leading up to the event to spread the word about Johnson’s talk and to specifically encourage male students to attend. For the first hour-and-a-half of the talk, unfortunately, men were still conspicuously absent from the room (with a few exceptions). It wasn’t until word spread across social media that Johnson’s friend and colleague Adrian Grenier was in attendance that the men started to file in.

After the talk ended, I suddenly noticed a swarm of my male peers rushing to the front of the room as Johnson walked down from the podium, but it quickly became clear that it was actually Grenier, star of the HBO series “Entourage,” whom they were eager to meet.

That many men—from my observation, at least—from this impressive and intelligent student body couldn’t be bothered to show up for a talk related to feminism if it was about pop culture, federal education policy, sex, the military, or the film industry, but were immediately interested once you throw one of HBO’s most famous bro-characters into the mix. If only we could get Adrian Grenier to come to every talk about feminism; maybe then more men would start to care.

For those few guys out there who do attend these feminist talks at the Ath, thank you. I really appreciate your engagement. That said, I’m honestly at a loss at this point as to how to get more guys to come. It can’t just be the gender of the speakers themselves. Jackson Katz is a man, and besides, women certainly show up in droves for male speakers all the time. The talks aren’t inaccessible to men, nor are they couched in terms that attempt to keep men out. We have plenty of men on this campus who participate in athletics and ROTC; men who want to go to law school or become educators; men who critically engage with pop culture—all subjects related to what these speakers have addressed.

While there are serious issues with the rhetorical tactic of “What if it was your mother/sister/daughter?”—because women should and do have value independent of their value in relation to men—it still begs the question: Do you all not have mothers and sisters and aunts and female friends? Do you not have women that matter to you who are affected by sexual violence, harassment, misogyny, or degradation in the media, even if you don’t personally feel affected by it?

Even if you honestly think these problems have nothing to do with you, though I would argue that isn’t true: Have you no empathy?

These issues are going to keep getting sidelined at CMC if male students continue to perceive feminist discussions as undeserving of the same attention as other causes and as unrelated to their interests and goals. But even more significantly, these issues can’t even be properly solved if they are viewed in isolation, as problems just for women, because they aren’t isolated issues.

Sexual violence isn’t isolated to women; it affects men, women, and non-gender-conforming people, and it affects us all as perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. Nor do gender roles only hold women back—they impose on everyone who wants the freedom to express themselves as an individual. Plus, who wants to work for an employer who creates an unsafe work environment by harassing—sexually or otherwise—their employees? Who wants our military to be destabilized and delegitimized by commanding officers who can assault their soldiers with relative impunity? And who doesn’t want to have the kind of great sex that enthusiastic consent enables?

There’s a reason a lot of women care about feminism, and it’s primarily because this sh*t matters. And it can be intimidating, yes, because the problems are daunting and the solutions are hard to find. But you can still educate yourself. You can educate others. You can build awareness in your community. And here’s one super easy way to start promoting more of these conversations: Show up when they happen—go to the Ath.


  1. Thank you, Shannon, for your honesty and willingness to call out the men on this campus who continue to see these talks and problems as “women’s issues”.

    I’d just like to borrow from Jackson Katz and emphasize that we only frame the discussion of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and media representation as “women’s issues” because of the way we’ve come to talk about them– as something that happens to women, rather than something that men do. I understand that some men may hear of a talk about “violence against women” or “sexual assault” and automatically think either 1. this is a woman’s problem, not mine or 2. I’m already educated about these issues and I’m not the one doing things wrong.

    The truth is that sexual or intimate partner violence is very likely to become a man’s problem. Even beyond the overlooked prevalence of violence against men, every CMC male has a large chance of someday dating or marrying or being a parent to a woman who has been victimized by another man, given that 1 of 5 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

    And for those of you–women included–who think you know all there is to know about these issues and aren’t part of the problem, I ask you to think about the following question: Would you decide not to attend the Ath because the talk is about the foreign policy issue on which you already wrote a paper or the historical figure you’ve already studied? Shouldn’t your prior education on these issues only spur you to want to learn more?

    I am not angry at the men on this campus who have failed to show up, nor do I mean to antagonize or be provocative. I am simply disappointed– in the men who engage in these issues in one-on-one conversations, who claim to support women, but who can’t be bothered to put their sympathetic words and “pro-woman” rhetoric into action.

  2. I agree with this opinion. I think having more men in attendance at these events would be a point of pride for our college. However, I’m a big believer in what Jason Katz said: “invite men, don’t indict men” (which it sounds like some people are doing, which is good). After seeing Gloria Allred to speak at the Ath, I can’t say it made me want to attend another in this series. If Gender commentary on campus is going to be “why men are pigs,” don’t expect men to show up.*

    *I’m not saying all of it is, but a lot of it is.

    • I agree with your comment Sammy. Gloria Allred to me spent too much time talking about the sensationalized media coverage of her own high-profile cases, and very little time addressing what systematic changes need to be made on campuses to improve the reporting and punishment of sexual offenses.

  3. I normally never comment on these types of things. I will simply say that when I see a relatively (emphasis on “relatively”) moderate speaker like Sarah Johnson speak and observing all the hardliner feminists insult her for not joining them in continuing the feminist-fueled witch-hunt here at the 5 C’s, I can plainly see that the snarky title “Where them boys at?” frankly answers itself. What place does a moderate, forward-thinking male have in a culture such as this? No place at all. I respected Sarah Johnson and what she had to say for her moderation. Perhaps when the, quite frankly, bloodthirsty feminists (such as certain ones who promote violence) tone down the rhetoric, males may feel like they have something to contribute.

    • If you are going to tone-police a woman describing her experience, you should know that using words like “witch-hunt”, “snarky”, “bloodthirsty” contributes to some pretty gendered, degrading language that shows me that you’re probably sexist, (also probably racist for believing Sarah Johnson is moderate…), and means that you do not actually care about being included in the feminist cause, you care about telling feminists to tell you about their oppression nicely, you care about activism only when it leaves you alone. It is not the job of feminism to make cisgendered men (I assume this is what you meant by males) feel like they have something to contribute. It is cisgendered men’s jobs to be allies and to listen and to educate themselves and to stop trying to make themselves the centers of attention.

      • There’s a lot of assumptions loaded in there. You also gave me a nice reminder as to why I usually abstain from sharing about this sort of thing. I’ll keep it brief, in conclusion. When I look at this page, I don’t see “women describing their experiences.” I see a culture of hate, built on assumptions that do not encompass most of the male population at the 5 C’s. You are absolutely right about one thing: I do NOT want to “be included in the feminist cause” if what you described truly is the “feminist cause”. Why do I use a pseudonym? I don’t want my name added to the proscription lists.

        I fear I’ve already broken my above promise to keep it short, but I feel I must add some positivism to those still paying attention. My feminism is one based upon reason and acceptance, on the simple truth that men and women are truly equal (aside from some obvious differences that a biology class can explain). My activism does not need banners or slogans or aggression. It is simply an individual’s choice to make the right, morally conscious decision when confronted with bigotry. I leave it up to others to search their consciousnesses and decide for themselves what is right.

  4. Dear Pragmatist and Jay Gatsby, Sammy and Jon Proctor,
    As a woman on the 7C campuses, I know more than you about gender oppression. This is fundamentally true because I experience this oppression, sometimes in subtle, systematic ways and sometimes in openly aggressive ways. I go to these Ath talks about feminism because, as McKenzie said, there are still ways for me to educate myself, to be more intersectional and to be more ready to participate in activism, but another reason why:

    They are one of the safest spaces I get to be in on this campus.

    And you really wouldn’t understand that. As a woman, I do not feel safe in many spaces that feel safe for you, and I am not safe in many spaces that are safe for you. Our identities are more multilateral than that of course, and being a queer woman of color I feel even less safe in lots of spaces, but my point is that I have no choice but to care about feminism, because it is the only way I can start feeling safe in other spaces: parties, meetings, classes. And cisgendered men like you both saying that you do not go to these Ath talks because they do not interest you is fundamentally disrespectful to me and every other woman on this earth, because we are not as privileged as you to be able to not care about gender oppression.
    Feminism is one of the only sometimes safe spaces (not always, as in the case of Sarah Johnson and her imperial, classicist talk) for us. Feminism is not about you, it does not disrespect your humanity or your safety, it points out the ways in which the system works in your favor, and if that makes you feel defensive or bad or guilty I really don’t care. I am too busy trying to feel safe, trying to not walk home alone at night and not get oogled on public transportation and trying to not be too quiet in class even though men statistically dominate speaking times in discussions. I am too busy trying to keep existing, so excuse me and the rest of feminism if it makes you feel bad, but it is one thing that is finally about us.

  5. Everyone listen up. This here is ‘MURICA!!!! A land of freedom and the ability to make one’s own choices. So if the guys at CMC are more interested in seeing an actor from Entourage rather than being indoctrinated by feminist propaganda, so be it. Jay Gatsby….you are a true patriot. God Bless you.

  6. I’d just like to point out one more thing that’s wrong with the attitudes of men regarding feminist speakers.

    Although Sarah Johnson’s speech was disappointing, she has is a very successful movie producer, philanthropist, and advocate for a large variety of causes, of which feminism is only one. During her speech, she showed us the trailer’s for the movies she produced that she’s most proud of – one was Miss Interpretation, which is about women in Western cultures and the feminist movement. The others were The Invisible War (which was about rape culture in the army; which is NOT a women’s, as men suffer from being raped as well), Born into Brothels (about children, both male and female, growing up in brothels in Songachi), and the Sqaure (about the revolution in Egypt) had other messages entirely. But because she is a woman and self-identifies as a feminist, her other work is marginalized, and only women come to hear her talk about women’s issues. If there had been a male producer who had produced the same movies, minus Miss Interpretation, I’m sure the talk would have filled up just as quickly, with equal amounts of male and female students.

    Boys, just because it’s a woman speaker doesn’t mean the topic is “just for girls”.

    • Sarah Johnson’s talk was advertised as such on the Athenaeum’s website:

      “Sarah Johnson Redlich, executive producer, forthcoming The Mask You Live In, Miss Representation (2011) and The Invisible War (2012); “The Significance of Women in the Professions””

      She’s done films on other topics than women’s issues, but her talk was titled “The Significance of Women in the Professions.” Born Into Brothels and The Square are not even listed. It’s not because she is female or a self-identified feminist, but because this specific talk was about a topic specific to women. I am not saying that men should not attend talks about the significance of women in the professions, they most certainly should. However, the call to men made in this article does not seem to apply to the Sarah Johnson talk as much as to the other ones mentioned.

      • FYI, Sarah Johnson’s talk was NOT a good example of a “feminist” talk at the Ath because it was extremely disappointing and all over the place. Personally, I believe the administration would have done better with a showing of Miss Representation then a question-and-answer session with Ms. Johnson. However, from the way the talk was advertised, many students assumed there would be discussions of gender roles in society and sexual violence (because of the subject matter of her documentaries).

    • I’m glad to see you are engaging with people who share their thoughts on an article, most of which criticize not the topic of conversation (feminism) but the effectiveness of employing a certain tone in reaching your goals.

      I highly doubt I disagree with any of you about what should happen to society as a whole. I agree that women face way too many problems, and it sickens me to hear that anyone feels unsafe (on our campus or elsewhere). I also strongly believe that the role models and portrayal of men AND women in the media are terrible, for different reasons. My only points have been about how I believe one could more effectively spread the message we want to spread. I am glad that so many people are passionate about this topic, but you need to look past your first rage and try to understand what people are saying.

  7. What I like about this article: it points out a flaw in men’s appreciation of the feminist movement… the bad men simply don’t care and the good men blame it on the bad ones and don’t see it as their problem. So yes, more men should be attending these talks!

    What I don’t like: it’s taking a big issue and acting like that’s only true in regards to feminism. People are sort of shallow, and they tend to care about things that affect them personally. In an ath talk about racial discrimination against a single group, I bet you’d see an especially high representation of that group. In an ath talk about water shortages and the effect on agriculture, you’ll probably get more people with personal ties to farming, not a high concentration of those wasting water or contributing to climate change.

    Your intentions are awesome, and I really like the article, but I do think its unfair to talk like this self-serving nature of humanity is specific men’s ambivalence to feminist issues.

    • I agree with Tim’s point. Ath attendance is largely based off of interest. I experienced the same effect Shannon discusses at a talk last year on “The Business of Baseball.” The talk was nearly full but had attracted only two female attendees, one being myself. So the self-serving argument is definitely valid.

      That being said, this article was not intended to address why people don’t attend the Ath. In fact, I don’t think Miller would deny the self-serving nature of humanity’s role in determining Ath attendance. The point of this article is to point out this lack of attendance and call on men to attend these talks because they actually are relevant to men, contrary to what a male’s initial self-serving bias may indicate. I would also add that calling on more men to care about feminism isn’t mutually exclusive with calling on people to pay attention to other causes. Those are just different topics to be addressed in different articles.

      I am glad you addressed this point, though. It is something we should all consider when signing up for talks at the Ath, regardless of the topic.

  8. Going off of that point, I’d agree the final season of Entourage felt a little rushed, but I’d attribute that to the show attempting to leave the audience with a feeling of finality. I do, however, contend that the chemistry between the actors, the snappy dialogue, combined with the pervasive sense bro-ness of the prior seasons made up for it. What do you guys think?

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