Perception is Reality

The Vagina Monologues, coming soon to an iniquitous gender center near you.

Well folks, it’s almost upon us; V-Week is right around the corner. Although the official kick-off is not until Sunday, the perennially ridiculed event might as well have just begun. True to form, the twelve-day-long “celebration” has already proved controversial, setting the campus abuzz with disdainful anticipation. As an administrator, you know that you have a problem when you have to publically justify your programming before it has even started. This is precisely the position in which the Center for Women and Gender (CWG) has found itself. In an inane little piece entitled “Addressing the Gender Divide,” director of the CWG, Jennifer Jennrich, took to the pages of The Dartmouth to defend the event against popular ridicule. Providing a series of excuses, Ms. Jennrich attempted to address the charge that V-Week is nothing but an institutionalized bout of corrective sexism. However, where a careful defense of her office’s efforts was warranted, she chose to go on the offensive in an ugly and ineffectual way. Reacting to “annual calls” for the creation of a male focused event, she produced a tactless mass of bureaucratic hot-potato, blaming the men of Dartmouth for the absence of P-Week initiatives. Running through a catalogue of failed events that includes the Men’s Project and V-Men-related programming, she reasoned that “there has never been a large group of Dartmouth men interested in creating a performance devoted to understanding men’s sexuality in a similar way…” While she is not entirely wrong in expressing such a sentiment, never does she ask what has led the male community to shy away from such initiatives. Unbeknownst to her, her op-ed contains the answer, but for all of the wrong reasons.  

Buried within her criticism of the lack of male initiative lies a particularly telling declaration. Mid-way through her first column, Ms. Jennrich asserts that, “Nothing would excite me more than for the students on this campus to work with the Center for Women and Gender to create a similar performance piece and week of diverse events related to understanding the complexity of masculinity and men’s sexuality.” The significance of this statement cannot be overlooked, for within this textbook case of antithesis lies the reason for the relative absence of male participation.

 Try as I may, I cannot think of a single Dartmouth man who would willingly work with the Center for Women and Gender in support of masculinity-related events. This is not a matter of misplaced bravado, as some would contend, but one of bad marketing. If the intent of the Center for Women and Gender is really to promote the equality of sexes in a non-preferential way, why on earth would it institutionalize a finite link between women and gender-related issues within its title? This is a self-defeating moniker if there ever was one. By adopting such a name, the Center for Women and Gender has drawn a distinct gender line that men dare not cross. While we all have sexual identities, their insistence on associating women and gender has created the unmistakable sense that male-related issues should not be the focal point of campus discussions. In so naming themselves, the CWG has placed gender roles firmly in the realm of the female, a territory into which most males will not stray. This reality easily explains the absence of an organized P-Week, much of the negativity directed toward V-Week, and the failure of the Men’s Project. As laudable as the goals of “empowerment, personal narrative, sexual positivity, and demand for the end of violence” are, they are also associated with an iniquitous preference for women and their sexual identity largely because they are propagated by a blatantly iniquitous organization.

Criticism of V-Week does not come from male aversion to celebrating the female gender; it comes from the absence of a similar celebration about masculinity. While Ms. Jennrich and her colleagues at the CWG can blame the community for the failure of their limited male-oriented initiatives, the fact is that such events will never find success when men think that gender is a female-dominated issue. As is so often the case, perception is reality, and when the College supports female-oriented gender projects and ordains female-oriented offices, a perception that the interests of women are to be unfairly elevated in the gender discussion becomes inevitable. With this as the prevailing impression, is it any wonder that men feel alienated from efforts like V-Week?

 If the intent of this week’s programs and the efforts of the CWG are really to promote gender equality, then preferential titles and policies must go. These serve only to do damage by building more barriers between the sexes. Until the powers at be change their strategy, individuals like Ms. Jennrich will continue to answer the “annual question” of why is there no P-Week as ineffectively as ever. Maybe next year…

 

— Nicholas P. Desatnick