We frequently use this blog to share the success and achievement of Wabash alums and students. But nothing speaks louder than a Wabash man. Wyatt Lewis is joining fellow student Reed Hepburn and professors Warren Rosenberg and Eric Freeze at a weekend national conference on mens’ studies. The topic is “Guys Read.” The Wabash men hope to dispel some stereotypes. Here is Wyatt’s take on what he hopes to accomplish.
Wyatt Lewis ’13 – Well we’re working together with students and faculty from Hampton-Sidney, one of the other all-male colleges in the nation. So both Wabash and Hampton-Sidney are bringing two professors and two students each, and our presentation is divided into two talks. The first talk will be given by the four professors on Saturday morning, and the students will speak on Sunday morning.
The conference is really open-ended. Basically, we’re responding to the website “Guys Read,” which is concerned with the growing male illiteracy rate. The website lists several titles and ideas to get guys engaged in reading, but it does this by suggesting very stereotypically male texts. The website seems to be targeting adolescents, but it’s sort of symptomatic of a larger cultural perception of how to teach men and what books men should be reading/enjoying. So, our talks have been titled “Guys Read: The Collegiate Edition.” Basically, we’re using the website as a framework for our discussion.
So while the professors (Eric Freeze and Rosenberg are the two going from Wabash) talk about their pedagogical experiences, Reed Hepburn, the two students from Hampton-Sidney, and I will talk about our experiences as readers and students. As I mentioned earlier, the talk should be very open-ended, and hopefully more of a discussion than a presentation. So each of us should be talking about our perception of whether or not there is a male literacy crisis on our campuses, the texts which we have responded well to and those we haven’t, and how our masculinity factors into our reading experiences—and also particularly how our conception of masculinity has changed.
So while I can’t speak for the others, I hope to focus my talk on ways in which readers “resist” texts that they are uncomfortable with and my experiences in the classroom. One of the statements that Guys Read makes is that students should avoid texts that explore emotions; in other words, men to read “manly” texts. But in my experience and from what I’ve witnessed in class, thinking about gender (and by gender I don’t mean biological sex) as a construct proves to be really liberating for students, especially if they can discuss their masculinity in what they feel is a “safe” environment. Many students (and I was one of these students), walk on to campus for the first time with lots of preconceived notions about feminism—that feminists are somehow only concerned with guilt-tripping men for past patriarchal oppression. So of course, this perception poses a few problems—the most notable being that “patriarchal oppression,” though perhaps less severe, is by no means gone.
In the Gender Criticism seminar last semester, we read a passage from Rita Felski’s book Literature after Feminism, which I really resonated with; it was something to the effect that even though collectively men have held the power throughout history, individually men don’t feel like they have some more power, and this explains male antagonism to feminism. I think Felski’s insight explains a lot about male resistance to feminist texts—men feel attacked by feminists and feminist literature, but if they can find ways of embracing it and applying the same ideas and concepts to their own masculinity, then they can find some degree of “ownership.”
This feeling of “ownership,” or realizing that gender studies is just as much about masculinity as femininity (and that men have their own distinct experience that’s worth talking about and studying) usually excites and engages men, and that’s what I hope to talk about at the conference. Reading experiences that explore emotions, gender, and sexuality may be uncomfortable for men at first, but in the end, rather than causing divisions, they create a unifying experience as students gradually realize that all of us, both male and female, are to some degree “trapped” by our gender. And in particular, that being male carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages.