by Andrew Gordon
As a lifelong and active liberal, I walked into Dr. Jill Gillespie’s Intro to Women’s Studies class my senior year at Denison University thinking that I knew the gist of what would be taught to me. It’s all about equality, right? Of course women should be treated the same as men. It never occurred to me that the dialogue would have deeper implications, let alone that I would begin to understand some of what drove my own unhappiness within my own heteronormative identity. Up until that class, I’d never used the word “heteronormative” in my life. Dr. Gillespie used “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in conjunction with belle hooks’ “Feminism is for Everyone” and other articles to wondrous effect. The more I read, the more I became fascinated with the composition of the male gender identity, particularly that it is, as hooks’ describes it, premised on domination of other identities and, therefore, without a resting identity of its own. These words were so powerful for me because they spoke to my own unhappiness as a man so profoundly.
I began looking at my classmates and myself through a different lens, watching us “perform” what we thought it meant to be masculine, especially in the context of being a romantic partner to a woman. I can vividly remember a mid-semester phone conversation with one of my close friends back home. He bemoaned the futility of a being in a relationship because it was just impossible to be what women want and that being a “nice guy” wasn’t enough. I responded that perhaps our fundamental premises about relationships were wrong from the start. To assume that it is always our fault when a relationship does not happen or doesn’t work out not only robs a partner of her agency and the validity of her own preferences , but also fails to hold us as men accountable for the behavior that *is* actually problematic. Instead, we just keep striving striving striving under the assumption that the only reason why we are not with someone is that we are doing something “wrong” or unattractive. While subtle, I look back on this moment as something of a personal revelation, even if my friend probably couldn’t appreciate it at the time .
Dr. Gillespie’s use of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” helped deepen our class discussion further and allowed me to build on my own revelation and core takeaways about the masculine identity. More than anything I learned in college, these were ideas that applied directly to my life and my own happiness. As I began to more confidently assert myself as a “feminist,” it was from a much more personal standpoint. For me, feminism was and is the key to unlocking and reshaping masculinity as a non-oppressive force. I came into the class with a bit of arrogance and left with a changed life. “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was big part of that.