The statement had barely come out of my male classmate’s mouth when I turned my head to look at him, incredulous that he could have said something so offensive and potentially triggering at a program specifically called Lower Mentors Against Violence. Silence fell over the classroom as he, suddenly aware of his mistake, shifted uncomfortably in his chair. A female student corrected him, cutting him off abruptly when he tried to apologize for his lack of sensitivity. Instead of correcting the mistake or discussing a different way of thinking about the issue, the class attacked my male peer’s ideas, exposing his ignorance and making it clear that his voice was no longer welcome in the conversation.
This moment is a familiar narrative for Andover students, especially regarding discussions on feminism and gender equality. Conscious of their privilege in the system of gender oppression, male students are often reluctant to share their opinions, afraid that their perspective is invalid in such conversations. When they do manage to gather the courage to speak, if what they say is deemed offensive by peers, they are quickly shut down instead of being corrected. In the discussion of gender equality, the male viewpoint is often absent.
This reaction of “shutting down” comments is not exclusive to Andover. I have seen it on and off campus. There are eye rolls, exasperated sighs and phrases such as “you don’t understand,” usually followed by a correction, but rarely an explanation. As opinionated individuals, we are so eager to correct others that we think calling out offensive behavior is an adequate solution to ignorance. Sometimes dissenting voices contradict ideas and opinions that, after several years at Andover, we know to be true. Sometimes they threaten our own rights, or ignore our experiences, or deny evidence and history. But when we meet such ideas with harsh responses we divide our community and exclude valuable voices.
When male voices are excluded from conversations about feminism and gender equality, the notion that males have no place in the dialogue is perpetuated. Instead of encouraging males to join the conversation, refusing their contributions reinforces their misconception that feminism is only for women, when, in fact, feminism is for everyone. Instead of calling out and shutting down, errors should be corrected and explained. To all feminists: try to eliminate those exasperated sighs, stop that malicious giggling, don’t roll those eyes. Offer a correction, and then try to explain and redirect. Those who are already comfortable with their opinions must encourage others to voice their own, correcting and explaining, instead of shutting down or attacking an offensive or harmful statement.