Missing Male Voices
Twelve minutes into a Zoom discussion on the intersections of racial and LGBTQ+ issues, Q Rael (‘21) texted the senior grade WhatsApp, “Get on. There are -2 boys on here. Step it up.”
That mid-August afternoon was no anomaly; these conversations consistently lack male representation, and more importantly, male participation. So why do so many boys at our school choose to opt out of these pressing but difficult discussions? And why is the absence of white boys particularly significant?
If we want to shift Packer’s social culture, we are going to need the people with the most social power to get involved. As discussed in the alumni student forums this past summer, it is of paramount importance to normalize activism and to call your friends out. It should be ‘cool’ to advocate for social justice close to home, or push back against what is euphemistically considered ‘edgy humor.’ While Instagram has been a productive platform, it is by no means an accurate and authentic measure of one’s engagement with these topics. We need to trust each other to continue work and discussions on a private, individual level, and it’s hard to trust a group of people that consistently fails to show up.
Undeniably, there has been a shift in what garners respect. Jaden Garrett (‘21) ventures that white boys have had to slightly alter their behavior, but there haven’t been corresponding ideological changes. “There’s real pain and real-life sh*t that happens that will never be really in their world. They’ve kind of just latched onto it to perfect their image, because I guess when you get called out you either adapt or fight against it, and they’ve adapted to it,” he says.
Some might see Packer’s world of activism as a lose-lose situation for white boys. It’s difficult to navigate the natural suspicions surrounding socially privileged cis-gender males. Nolan Casey (‘21) observes, “For white men, there’s an unclear line between what is performative and what isn’t. It is usually assumed that you’re being performative, even when you’re not.”
Prevailing critiques of performative activism are tricky: Even if people speak out for the wrong reasons, isn’t it still good that they’re speaking out? We’re in a weird limbo where there is a glaring disparity between public displays of activism and conversations behind closed doors. In other words, we have made some progress, but everyone has to put in some genuine work to make Packer a better place.
Zamien Allard (‘19), who created the forums for alumni and students to connect, explains why male activism may not seem like it is coming from the most genuine place. “We probably benefit the most from the structures we’re talking about, because we’re probably the ones who set them up in the first place, so we don’t have as much interest in breaking down these systems because that’ll make us uncomfortable,” he argues.
By nature of their identifiers, many boys at Packer have not experienced the exclusion and racism and misogyny that others have. Therefore, it is understandable that they are less able to empathize and fully comprehend the extent and urgency of these issues. It is understandable that they may not even want change, so their hearts are not in their calls for it. This, however, is all the more reason for them to seek new perspectives and listen to their peers.
None of this is to say that I, or white girls in general, are perfect activists – flawlessly navigating these issues and using all of our social power to call for and implement change. We too benefit from Packer’s social hierarchy, and we too have much more work to do: regularly engaging in uncomfortable conversations, actively supporting our peers of color, debunking our internal biases, to name some of it. A lot of us are even guilty of utilizing our oppression as women to fuel a false sense of superiority as activists. But, running the risk of making a huge generalization, I do believe that activism is more encouraged and normalized in primarily female social circles.
In stating this, I am dangerously close to playing into harmful stereotypes and making assumptions about relationships. But, as Olivia Rosas (‘22) elucidates, it’s likely because, “[Girls] kind of just tell each other everything. There’s a sense of helping each other out and almost getting empowered by hearing other girls going through the same thing you’ve gone through.”
Really, we all just need to help each other out. Calling for empathy elicits rolled eyes and instant dissociation at this point, but I am doing it anyways. You can insert whatever synonym you’d like – affinity, understanding, and compassion are just as buzzy anyways – but we really need to take a step back from judgement and social consciousness, and make an effort to be more empathetic. To do that, we need to listen to and process the experiences of others, which is where attending forums comes into play. Twisting a popular analogy, Jaden points out, “You can’t walk in someone else’s shoes if you don’t know the size.”
Albert Einstein once said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Essentially, it seems that certain segments of the Packer community – a microcosm of a greater society – are still struggling to grasp what Einstein understood around 100 years ago. Let’s change that.