Jason Young ’15 first understood why feminism is necessary during his Junior year. Andover was a new environment for the Michigan native, who was quick to embrace Andover’s inclusivity.
“I know that there are things that aren’t perfect about me, and I’ve certainly come a long way,” said Young. “I think as a Junior, I was that kid who did have a couple sexist and homophobic views, but then [was] able to learn from those and grow so that I can understand my role within all of it and go in the opposite direction.”
John Gorton ’15 understood the importance of feminism in his classroom while teaching a Personal and Community Education (PACE) class to a group of Lowers. The class was discussing the gender expectations that society forces upon people, a nuanced topic often paired with an impersonal conversation. But the brutally honest confessions and stories he heard regarding the oppression of females were more than enough to pull at Gorton’s heartstrings.
Cem Vardar ’15 understood when he first stepped onto Andover’s campus as a new Upper. Born and raised halfway across the world in Turkey, his first year at Andover introduced him to the true meaning behind feminism’s goals. Thinking consciously about what the idea of equality for all genders meant, Vardar’s exposure to students’ individual activism—by way of clubs, forums and speakers—helped him to understand the nuances and complexities of the movement, adopting and enacting feminism wholeheartedly.
Tom Burnett ’15 understood all throughout his childhood. Describing himself as not being especially masculine while growing up, Burnett first became cognizant of gender issues and the intricacies of identity at a young age. Entering Andover as a new Lower, Burnett said he was exposed to an unhealthy culture surrounding masculinity that manifested itself in the form of late-night conversations in the dorm, sexist talk in the locker room and slurs on male sports teams. It was then in his Upper year that Burnett saw the breadth of the inclusivity and equity that the feminist movement was fighting for.
For these four Seniors and many other male students on Andover’s campus, the role of men within feminism is built upon a sense of duality. Acting as both voices of support and insatiable listeners, men who identify as feminists support the movement by being outspoken activists and also are aware of when to take a step back from encroaching, all four said. After first acknowledging the privilege that comes with being male, men can effectively act as allies to the movement, engaging in the conversation to develop practical solutions aimed at achieving gender equality.
Feminism, Gorton said, is the movement to deconstruct or eliminate misogyny, patriarchy, sexism and sexist oppression. More commonly, feminism is referred to as the fight for equality for all genders. This notion of total inclusivity raises and debunks its greatest misconception: feminism is limited to women. Rather, the movement welcomes everyone to share their opinions and to engage in the promotion of global gender equality.
“I would like to think that the best way to be mindful of gender inequality on campus and to be a feminist in social circles here is to bring feminism into the conversation in everyday life and to point out places where misogyny or patriarchy are coming into play,” said Gorton.
Burnett recounted his own experience with feminism, describing how he felt pressured to conform to what he perceived as a culture of hypermasculinity at Andover.
“The way I entered the feminist movement as a Lower, I thought, ‘This is something that’s saying only women have problems, but I feel like I have problems, too.’ … But, I didn’t realize that feminism actually serves to solve problems that men have as well as problems that women have,” said Burnett.
Safe spaces with the intent of instilling comfort within allies failed to effectively exist this past year, they say, as there were no means to monitor them.
As knowledge and awareness form the cornerstone of every feminist, having a proper education about gender issues and an acute sense of empathy are fundamental attributes of male allies, they said.
“[Feminism] is about listening and making sure that you’re always learning. I think, because there’s so much about social activism in general — not just feminist activism — it’s about lived experiences, hearing people’s stories and seeing how they can speak to larger things that are going on in society,” said Kory Stuer ’15, another male feminist.
“It’s my responsibility to educate myself and become an active listener and discusser with other people. I believe that systems can change; they are human made and therefore can change,” said Vardar.
But, in terms of Andover’s gender and feminism education, one of the issues raised by Young, Gorton, Vardar and Burnett was Andover’s failure to provide a properly structured feminist curriculum, confusing students with a mismatch of varying information.
“Right now, the way people are getting educated about gender, about feminism, about patriarchy, about privilege in lots of different ways is completely disjointed,” said Gorton. “There’s CAMD stuff, which is either clubs or CAMD speakers; there’s occasional [All-School Meetings]; there’s sometimes Proctor/Prefect training; there’s PACE Senior meetings and PACE classes; there’s dorm talks—but none of this stuff is unified in any sort of way.”