The term “feminism” is often associated with women and advocacy for women’s causes. This definition, while not incorrect, is more exclusive than the members of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE), the feminist group on campus, would like to uphold.
“Feminism is popularly conceived both in public and at Whitman as being a female movement and historically there are mainly female feminists. Feminism is for gender equality, not just for the advancement of women,” said senior Ellie Newell, co-president of FACE.
In order to bring a broader definition of feminism to campus, FACE is presenting “FeMENism,” a panel that will discuss the role of men in feminism. The panel, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in the Jewett Hall main lounge, will include the perspectives of several student and professor panelists. It will be moderated by Associate Professor of Religion Melissa Wilcox.
“It’s an inadequately considered question,” said Associate Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar, one of the professor panelists, about the panel’s topic.
Senior Seth Dawson, who has participated in FACE events since his first year at Whitman, has recently become more regularly involved with the group. When asked by the members of FACE to participate in the panel, Dawson saw an opportunity for discussion of the questions he faces as a male feminist.
“I’ve personally struggled to find the place of men in feminism,” said Dawson. “As a man, sometimes I accidentally speak with an authority that’s not mine.”
Dawson remarked that men need to be more self-conscious when discussing issues of discrimination that women face.
“Look, as a man, I will never face these issues . . . Men in feminism should have more of a supporting rather than a deciding role,” he said.
Newell emphasized, however, that discrimination goes both ways.
“There are many things that are discriminatory towards men that outrage me as a woman,” she said.
Junior Joey Gottlieb also voiced the need for a dialogue about equality of genders.
“I see feminism as a continuum, a spectrum in the sense of feminism as a fight for, not for rights of women, but equal rights of genders,” said Gottlieb, who will be a panelist on Thursday.
Gottlieb underscored the potential contribution that men can give to the cause of equality.
“Men are the last demographic considered when looking for feminist voices,” he said. “It would be foolish to write men off as a lost cause.”
For FACE, an exciting development of the event’s planning came when the Interfraternity Council (IFC) expressed its desire to be involved with the panel. Senior John-Henry Heckendorn, a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, will be one of the student panelists.
“We feel that perceptually these two groups exist at opposite ends of the Whitman College spectrum but that in reality there is no basis for this separation,” Heckendorn said about FACE and IFC in an email. “An opportunity to talk about the role of men in feminism provides a unique space for fraternity members to engage with some of the assumptions that many people hold about the ethos and attitude of fraternities in general.”
Heckendorn also mentioned the role that fraternity participation can play in expanding FACE’s reach within the Whitman community.
“Because fraternities represent a significant portion of that community and are integral to the framework through which our community comes together, it makes a lot of sense to me that they should play a prominent role in the effort to make feminism at Whitman more visible and accessible,” he said.
For FACE, IFC’s participation in feMENism is an exciting opportunity to expand perceived limitations of directions that feminist voices can come from.
“We’re really overjoyed that we have a member of Greek life,” said Newell.
According to Newell, FeMENism will be the first event sponsored by FACE in the last five years that specifically addresses men’s place in the feminist movement.
“I would encourage people: even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist: to come. I think it’s going to be a really interesting perspective that isn’t talked about much at Whitman,” Newell said.