This past week was the first annual Gender Advocacy and Progress Week at Boston University. GAP Week, sponsored by Student Government and the Student Activities Office, is a week-long forum on the inequality between men and women in the BU community and beyond. In addition to what it literally stands for, “GAP” also refers to the gender gap between males and females. Being a feminist, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
My good friend Marian Eiben, an executive coordinator of GAP Week, first told me about the forum over lunch at the beginning of September. At that stage, GAP Week was only an idea she and some other SG officials had recently pitched. Fast forward six months, and I found myself in the middle of Metcalf Hall, Marian running around in her turquoise GAP Week shirt, making sure people got seated, talking to fellow GAP volunteers and SG members and making sure the coffee on the refreshment table was still hot.
It was the second day of GAP Week, and though I could not go to all the GAP events that week, there was one I knew I could not miss. It was called “Mind the Gap: Masculinity and the Gender Divide.” The main speakers for the event included Maxwell Ng, steering committee chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; Daymyen Layne, of Salem State University; and Professor Barbara Gottfried, co-director of undergraduate studies in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. The event was discussion-based, with the 30-odd audience members sitting in a circle around the main speakers and asking questions about inequality.
The forum started with a discussion about the statistic pamphlet given to each audience member on the way into the event. The statistics ranged from the number of men to women on college campuses (4:6) to the percent of women raped in their lifetime (20 percent).
Then the course of the discussion changed to one I had least expected: men. We talked about the prevailing problem of socially constructed masculinities and its effect on feminism. Though the title of the forum did explicitly state “Masculinity and the Gender Divide,” I didn’t expect that the masculinity discussed would reveal to me more about my own personal feminism than another discussion on women and rape culture could. Through masculinity and the way society constructs it, all gender is bound to a norm that truly inhibits the essence of feminism: equality.
Feminism means complete gender equality, and while I have always personally aligned myself with fighting for the female cause, my concentration being on female issues, I overlooked that male issues in fact further my own cause as a women. In the forum, the question of what makes a man a man was asked. Biologically, a man is a man because of his XY chromosomes. Socially, however, a man is often only a man if he adheres to constructed performance masculinity. By “performance masculinity,” I mean the idea that males feel they must act tough or strong in comparison to the constructed feminine characteristic of docility. But by only allowing a man to act one way when juxtaposed with a woman, then we, in turn, only allow women to act one way when juxtaposed with a man. By binding masculine characteristics, we also bind women.
The age old adages “man up,” “grow a pair” and “don’t be such a girl” are often directed at men, and by limiting their social construction, society also limits women’s.
Equality as promoted by feminism doesn’t mean just promoting the breaking of female social norms, but the breaking of male social norms that act transitively to women. In one hour, at one GAP event, I learned to look at my personal feminism from the male perspective, and I came to realize if equality is ever going to be possible, it is only if both men and women are present for the discussion.