Men's Group Controversy
“When I floated the idea of the men’s group…the leaders were very protective over what is to be defined as an affinity space” Jacob Rivers, a Co-Director of Equity and Inclusion, explains when asked about the controversy surrounding Stevenson’s new group.
A junior affinity group leader describes their issue with the men’s group: they believe these groups’ purpose should be “a mix of regaining power, strengthening an aspect of your own identity, and feeling safe.” They comment on how affinity groups have become a safe haven for them: “You're able to ally with people who are similar to you…”
The junior analyzes how the men’s group contradicts the school’s definition of affinity spaces: “[When] the idea was first brought up to a group of us affinity leaders, we were all taken aback by the thought of it just because an affinity group is something that we find a safe space for members of minority groups and men already have, per se, the entire world.”
Martin Wong, a junior Asian American and Pacific Islander Affinity Group member, offers an alternate explanation for the purpose of groups like these on campus: “So there's an AAPI group, right, and we talk about problems that bother Asian Americans. My question is, why should there not be a space for people to talk about men's issues?… Talking about Asian issues: we're not faced with issues because we're an oppressed group, we're faced with issues because they're issues that affect us specifically.” He believes that the root of a group’s problems lies in human differences: “There are issues men face, there are issues that Asian people face, there are issues that African American people face, there are issues that white people face, you know, I'm not gonna deny it. And those issues, the root of that is not oppression: the root of that is because you are what you are and you can change that you should have a space and talk about the issues that affect you.”
While Rivers hopes that this group serves a different purpose than affinity groups, he hopes they can still have a similar positive impact: “It serves our broader community to have each subsection of our community functioning as best as we can…in order to be functioning at your fullest potential…you need a group that you can communicate with in an open and vulnerable way. And I think people feel most comfortable and [can] be open and vulnerable with people that they identify with.”
However, he understands the reason for the controversy. He says the same reason people oppose this group is the reason they should support it. It can be hypocritical and tone-deaf to discuss men’s issues in spaces shared with women; thus, men need space to grow outside of communal spaces: “There are certain things that you need to process and … you can't in public spaces, in shared spaces, right? … You don't really want to talk about a bunch of men's problems in a shared space with women because we live in a patriarchy –it's built around men and male issues and male prioritization.”
The reality is, there are already men’s spaces on campus. Sports teams and clubs can often unintentionally create male-only spaces. Rivers explains that a Men’s Group could allow for a healthy and regulated male-only space: “...The males on this campus already exist, and they are already doing some of the things that we're afraid of them doing. Creating the space…is fabulous for a number of reasons: it's almost like a washing machine for that culture, in that it can clean out some of and filter out some of the negativeness and some of the toxicity that we're afraid of. It allows for the development of a masculine identity in a space where other people are trying to figure that same thing out and who are coming from a similar perspective. [It is] an opportunity to be vulnerable in a space with people who understand that unique experience.”
Rivers outlines the questions that he hopes his men’s group will be able to discuss and find solutions to:
"Where does masculinity come from? What does it mean to us? Where do we get it from?
Who are we looking at as our role models of masculinity?
What are the healthy ways to be a man that doesn't fall into that line of toxic masculinity?
How do we emote in proper ways?
How do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable?
How do we allow men to embrace their feminine side in a way that allows us to be the fullest version of ourselves?”
Wong comments on his reaction to the controversy: “I think that when people hear about men's clubs they inherently think they are against women. But it's not such a binary. I think when they immediately associate a men's group with being toxic…that's a massive assumption based on this big generalization of men.”