Echoing national trends, gender equality at Tufts continues to evolve
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 05:04
Gordon acknowledges that feminism and acceptance of female sexuality still have a fair amount of progress left to make, but she feels that VOX has already had a significant, positive impact on campus with widely attended events like Oh Megan! and the March Sex Fair.
“People are like, ‘Of course the events are well−attended. You’re talking about sex and giving out condoms.’ But that’s what the goal is — sex positivity,” she said.
Even if the events do nothing more than help people become more comfortable with sexuality as a topic, Gordon will be satisfied.
“You’re not going to be able to talk about sexual health if you can’t say the word vagina. You just have to start somewhere,” she said.
SAGE also gathers at the Women’s Center to discuss pertinent gender−related issues with the goal of understanding and analyzing gender discrimination.
Senior Garrett Gilmore joined SAGE in his freshman year after taking a class with a teaching assistant who was a graduate assistant at the Women’s Center. Though the primarily female group initially daunted him, he soon settled in, especially after a smattering of fellow male students began to come more regularly. When asked why he is interested in gender equality despite being a member of a well−represented, dominant gender, Gilmore had a ready reply.
“It feels right for me politically,” he said. “I care a lot about politics, but I don’t like party politics and the governing side of it. I’m much more interested in activist politics.”
He also noted that being a student at Tufts presents him with an opportunity to engage directly with both community and large−scale political issues.
In terms of gender politics, Gilmore argued that most inequality results from the fact that people are rarely made to question the way they were raised. His sensitivity to the subject, he believes, is a result of his growing up in an unusual family. After his biological parents divorced when he was a child, his mother moved in with another woman, which quickly became a new “normal” for him.
“For me, I think having my world shaken like that was a good thing. If you’re not going to have that at college, then you’re wasting an opportunity,” he said. “We’re in an opportunity where you’re supported for your four years to do something. I think that part of that should be thinking critically about how you got here and why you’re interested in what you’re interested in.”
Sophomore Grainne Griffiths, another SAGE member and a member of the TCU’s CECA Committee, echoed Garrett’s thoughts with the assertion that modern men are mostly by−products of a pre−established, patriarchal society.
“It’s not individual men [that cause gender discrimination], by any means. That’s a common misconception,” she said. “Every opportunity [that puts women at a disadvantage] was created by a system that has long privileged men. Men went to universities when women couldn’t, so men had high positions, and they got to create this structure that privileged them.”
It is because of these conflicts between genders that Griffiths believes representation by both genders at SAGE meetings is so valuable in promoting equality.
“It’s gender equality, it’s not just girl talk at all. It’s academic and activist−focused. Guys bring a lot to that,” she said.
Though SAGE is arguably not as well known on campus as VOX or the Women’s Center, the group has succeeded in implementing changes felt across the Tufts campus. Gender−neutral housing, for example, was virtually all SAGE’s doing. This housing option has been offered in apartment−style suites but will now be available in a variety of rooms in Bush Hall and Latin Way dormitory starting next year. SAGE also helps ensure that the Tufts University Police Department receives student feedback, especially for its escort service, according to Gilmore.
“We do things that I think a lot of people take for granted, and we’re fine doing that,” he said.
The question still remains why gender inequality is so prevalent to begin with. Feminist philosophy professor Nancy Bauer believes that gender roles probably arose as a result of basic physiological differences between males and females.
“When surviving and technology depend on physical strength, then men may have an advantage,” she said. “Also, the biological ability to bear children is something that can sideline women from other activities. Right before and right after you have a baby, it’s very difficult to do a whole lot of physical, manual labor.”
A belief that men are dominant over females probably developed out of these initial conditions and was passed down over generations, even though technology has ensured that humans’ survival is not dependent on a division between the sexes. Still, Bauer is sympathetic to the large percentage of the population that aligns itself with “traditional” gender roles.
“We grow up with [these roles], and they strike us as normal and natural,” she said. “It’s hard to separate them from our own identities, so we just keep replicating them over and over again.”
According to Bauer, as soon as we are born, we are “gendered” by society and through smaller factors like our parents’ choice in our name, our toys and our clothes. For better or worse, we grow up with an intimate understanding of society’s gender divisions.
Bauer believes it would theoretically be possible to maintain some gender distinctions while treating people as perfect equals, but she acknowledges that our society is far from that point. Women — as well as those who do not conform to traditional gender roles — are marginalized in the process. College campuses and the professional world remain relatively hostile environments for women, she said, even if they do not outwardly appear that way.
“You’re always around these ideas of what a woman is supposed to do, or what it means to be a woman,” Sasanow said. “There are all these social ideas about what it means to be a woman instead of it being, ‘You’re a person, let me get to know you.’ It gets very complicated.”