Men’s Groups Work to Redefine Masculinity
by William Singer

It is no secret that, at Oberlin and elsewhere, women as a group have been more willing than men to confront the ways gender roles shape society, as well as individual behavior. However, at Oberlin, signs are starting to crop up that men too are starting to involve themselves in the issue, working alongside other men. This semester, a male-oriented ExCo course and a new group against sexual violence have emerged in an effort to help men examine the ways in which gender informs their lives.
Paul Gargagliano, a junior and instructor for this semester’s ExCo on Men’s Health, saw the need to educate men on their bodies after becoming concerned about his own physical condition. “I started to have prostate issues recently, and I didn’t know where my prostate was,” he said.
As he planned the course, he expanded its subject to include aspects of men’s social health as well. “It became a men’s issues class in general,” Gargaliano said.
In many instances, social growth and physical health are closely related. For example, the average man can expect a significantly shorter life span than the average woman, a fact that Gargagliano speculates may be partially due to societal pressures on men to prove their manliness by engaging in physically damaging behaviors such as excessive drinking.

Additionally, Gargagliano believes that men can improve the quality of their life by sharing experiences with other men, instead of trying to figure everything out alone. “It’s strange to me that men never talk about their genitals other than [making comments like] ‘I got some action last night,’” he said. “Men would have a lot more sexual pleasure if they talked to each other openly about these things — and women would, too.”
Interested in offering an alternative to the macho socialization of US dominant culture, Gargagliano thinks men need a different kind of environment where they can learn to become more considerate of others and more emotionally self-aware. “There are a lot of all-male spaces [in our society]… but most all of them are sexist,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wild if we put together an all male space that would be positive?”

Such, in part, is the mission of Men Can Stop Rape, a national organization with a new Oberlin chapter that held its first meeting last Tuesday. Benjamin Joffe-Walt, a senior and organizer of the group, sees its emergence as an important step in the campaign against sexual violence.
A previous group on campus of Men Against Sexual Violence was led by a female member of the Sexual Assault Support Team. Joffe-Walt, who is also a member of SAST, believes that the lack of male leadership limited the effectiveness of that organization. “It’s pretty inappropriate to leave the labor of organizing [a group of men against sexual violence] to women,” he said.
Sophomore Gabe Peterson, a member of MCSR, expects that men will more honestly consider their own masculinity through discussions in the all-male environment. “For some people, being in a men’s group makes them feel less attacked,” he said. “It’s people like you, and that makes it more comfortable and accepting.”
“What I would hope [MCSR] would be is an ally to SAST,” Joffe-Walt said. Where SAST is primarily an advocacy group for survivors of sexual violence, Joffe-Walt sees MCSR as dedicated to a different aspect of the problem. “For the most part, the preventative work that can be done to stop sexual violence has to be done by men.”

Peterson believes that there is a need for a new group on campus that is vocally opposed to sexual violence. “I think SAST, by a lot of people on this campus and perhaps by the administration, is perceived as a radical group of mostly women,” he said. “I think having men address some of those same issues… will help.”
With that mission in mind, a primary goal of the group is to create a place for men to talk about what it means to be a man. “A pretty significant reason that sexual violence occurs,” Joffe-Walt said, “is because of the ways in which different forms of social oppression impede upon the way two people communicate in a relationship.
“Most people, if they took a survey of what their male friends perceived to be the definition of sexual consent, would find it is very, if not violently, different from what women would say,” he said. “For example… many men I’ve spoken to consider it perfectly acceptable to have sex for the first time with a woman who is very drunk, provided that a sexual attraction had been implied beforehand.” Joffe-Walt believes that many women reject this view.

Peterson thinks that becoming more aware of their actions is a good starting point for men to combat sexual violence. “It’s important to have men talk about these types of things because a) men are taught not to and b) men and women talk about it in different ways,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot of people out there who are like, ‘Well I would never commit rape,’ and, without exploring sexual assault and without thinking about it, might do something and then say, ‘I didn’t know that could be sexual assault.”

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