(WOMENSENEWS)--In a world where too many men stay silent in the face of discrimination against women--from sexual harassment to domestic and sexual violence--the public statement of two dozen Massachusetts male student athletes not long before Father's Day last year offered a sliver of new hope.
Twenty-two graduating senior athletes from the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., signed a letter to the editor of the school newspaper on May 30 that explicitly endorsed feminism.
Saying it was "time to speak out" about the campus male athletic environment that fosters an "imbalanced hook-up culture, classroom dynamics and even defining the gender roles of females on campus that younger students emulate and eventually internalize," Tyler Olkowski, captain of the crew team, was lead author of the letter. He said he and his cosigners--the captains and leaders of every sport on campus--"realize our athlete culture has a problem."
The poignant letter underscores that the male athletes' "collective character has been tainted by the objectification and sexism that pervade athlete culture. This culture may not be our fault, but it is our problem to fix . . . It is time for Andover's athletes to find new, constructive ways to bond and develop team camaraderie that aren't based on conquering [at] dances and competitively targeting females; not by prodding teammates to 'hook up'" and teasing those who don't. The definition of 'cool' doesn't have to be a traditionally masculine figure who objectifies [his] sexual partners or who climbs [his] respective social ladders through hook-ups."
A Hopeful Indicator
The letter, which circulated among profeminist men's organizations and on gender justice websites, is a hopeful indicator that another generation of men is learning at a younger age to be allies to women. Since the signers included the captains of the football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, track, cross-country, golf, volleyball, water polo and squash teams, there's every reason to believe these young athlete-leaders will arrive at college and university campuses primed to take their commitment to challenge sexism and male (athlete) privilege to a new level. Their bold stand is inspiring, and allies and leaders on their new campuses will surely be ready to embrace them.
All of us should join these young athletes to keep the momentum building from their courageous statement. The door to gender equality is open wider because of these young men, and their bold statement should be on the agenda at athletic departments around the country.
After reading the letter by the Phillips Academy 22, can there be any question that male awareness of gender inequality is growing? In its wake, won't it be more difficult to ignore voices advocating for a culture shift away from male domination and toward gender equality? Those of us who have been working for decades on this shift proudly stand with these young men. Their voices embolden us to continue our work.
It is time to amplify those voices by encouraging colleges and universities to convene teach-ins and trainings on transforming student-athletes into student leaders for gender justice. Phillips Academy, which in 1996 established the Brace Center for Gender Studies, might play a leading role in organizing or hosting such a gathering. It's the right moment for athletic directors and school administrators in the United States to consider inviting Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) to conduct trainings on their campuses.
The last sentence of the Andover letter asks next year's senior class athletes to make a decision--whether to "silently perpetuate the culture we inherited, or choose the culture our teams and community deserve." They ask the rest of us to choose, too.
Let's work to ensure more of us stand with schools such as the Phillips Academy 22.
Excerpted from "VOICE MALE - The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men's Movement," edited by Rob Okun, published by and copyright Interlink Books, 2014. This book serves as an educator's resource and an activist's tool.
Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine, the former executive director of one of the earliest profeminist men's centers in the U.S., a member of the steering committees of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and North America MenEngage and is on the board of directors of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition. He speaks about men and masculinities at campuses across the country and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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