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.