*Editor's Note: This piece is an opinion piece published by the Michigan in Color section which gives a platform to voices of individuals POC writers to amplify their concerns and perspectives at the University of Michigan. This piece does not reflect the opinions of the Michigan Daily as a paper, or anyone else on the editorial board or staff.
Last week, College Republicans at the University of Michigan, a student organization on campus dedicated to promoting the principles of the Republican Party, posted a tweet making light of various majors and minors offered through LSA. Included on this list were not only areas of study promoting equality, intercultural leadership and interdisciplinary studies but also one dedicated to challenging injustices faced by women for generations — the University’s Department of Women’s Studies.
In doing so, the organization effectively dehumanized all women and reminded many that the University is not exempt from misogyny and sexism on its campus. As a Voluntary Student Organization, College Republicans at the University is a recognized student organization that is directly affiliated with the University yet consistently ignores its mission to foster a community built on “civility, dignity, diversity [and] inclusivity.” What the organization fails to recognize is the same department they are mocking is one of many advancing research, teaching and activism for countless of their own members, friends and family — those who identify as women.
The Department of Women’s Studies, founded in 1973, is built on the bedrock principles of coalition building, social change and feminist theory. Utilizing these principles, many graduates strive to replace outdated information about women, gender and race with new knowledge and challenge unequal distributions of power perpetuated by American systems. The department is one created to counteract centuries of discriminatory practices against women on the basis of gender in order to work to a more equitable community.
The organization’s tweet inadvertently brings attention to an issue that many — primarily men — fail to recognize how women are still not considered equal within our current society. While this tweet was rather overt in its denigration, most acts today are far more subtle and present themselves in the form of microaggressions only caught by women themselves. As a result, men regularly fail to notice obvious insinuations of prejudice right under their noses. I myself am no exception to this phenomenon and have been called out many times when I have unmindingly disregarded gender discrimination due to a lack of attention.
I believe the way boys are raised is an important indicator of the way they will act as men. Many boys at a young age are oftentimes habituated to be strong, to push down all weakness and to relinquish their fears to guard their vulnerabilities. When I was younger, my dad would tell me “you’re the man of the house now” before leaving for work. Although his intentions were sincere, looking back, I remember feeling a false sense of strength for the sole reason of being a male, leading me to bear the burden of traditional gender roles throughout my childhood.
In middle school, these habits transform into a different caliber for many boys, markedly influenced by conversation revolving around girls. At the mere ages of 12 and 13, a locker room culture begins to form normalizing male-dominated humor and prejudice rooted regularly in sexism. After years of downplaying these conversations as nothing more than “jokes,” the normalization of this language leads many now grown men to let inappropriate comments and actions against loved ones and peers slide.
In the words of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Culture does not make people. People make culture.” In this case, many boys grow accustomed to rhetoric which develops within a boys’ club and is left unchecked without any intervention. Consequently, these boys “mature” with little to no understanding for the opposite gender, leaving them unable to effectively speak up for women. This behavior must change with us.
As a 20-year-old man, I appreciate and respect the women who have shaped my life. I respect my mother who has instilled in me values of modesty, honesty and compassion through her hard work for our family everyday. I respect my older sister who has modeled for me what it means to be self-confident, determined and independent while going through college seeking multiple opportunities. I respect my girlfriend who has shown me nothing is impossible as a college student through her activism for social justice on campus. And I respect my colleagues on this staff, all of whom are women who teach me something new every week. Each and every one of these individuals has helped me build empathy, an ability I am unsure whether the College Republicans at the University had while publishing their tweet.
Ironically, the organization has since deleted the above tweet and released a statement arguing, “We must view opposition to our ideas with humility.” What has become abundantly clear is the organization’s hypocrisy as it did not respond to any of the “opposing” viewpoints on the original tweet and thus diverged from the opportunity to have a productive discussion about the topic. It is essential more than ever to not only address conduct which is demeaning, intolerant and disrespectful towards women but also to actively center women — especially trans women — in every pursuit of justice and in everyday life. We must remember that to this day, women consistently earn less than men in the workplace, women are denied positions of power on the basis of gender and women continue to burden the majority of household work, yet it is the ideas of women and the backs of women that have built this nation and its culture.
Unless we as men actively look, these microaggressions will once again be normalized like other behavior already has. It is not the role of women to teach men what is right and wrong but the role of society to teach boys. It all starts at a young age; we must condition boys to think about gender not in terms of biological difference but equality in social, political and economic realms.
Aakash Ray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.