Student exhibit explores stereotypes
The Diamond Building atrium was packed for the premiere of Trading Places, a photography exhibit exploring gender stereotypes that was on display from Nov. 14-16. The students in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class, Girls Making Change: Girlhood, Activism and Popular Culture—taught by Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown—created the exhibit in order to encourage discussion on gender and power at the College.
“Our class started talking about the round tables at Dana,” Kate Laxson ’13, a student in Brown's class, said. Recently, the tables at Dana Dining Hall were rearranged. The tables where some male athletes typically sat were removed from their original locations near the ice cream counter, where students have to bend over in order to scoop their dessert.
“One of the biggest issues that the teams had was that no one talked to them [to tell] them that [the tables] were going to be taken away,” Laxson said. According to Laxson, “many guys were naïve to the fact that some girls think about [being watched] that every time they get a dessert or ice cream.”
After realizing the need for a healthy discourse on gender, Brown’s class brainstormed several ideas to initiate conversations, eventually deciding to adopt an exercise from a different class—Boys to Men—which Professor and Director of Education Mark Tappan teaches. According to a statement [hung in the exhibit] written by the class, “Professor Tappan asks students to imagine the day in the life of another gender. We decided to make this activity our own.”
Class members stationed themselves in Pulver Pavilion for a series of afternoons during which they spoke to many students about “how their life would be different if they were another gender.” They photographed each student holding a sign with his or her statement about gender written on it. They ended up with a collection of almost 200 photographs.
The class found that the answers varied. “Some students wrote about what they would actually do, some spoke about the pressures of the dominant culture and some engaged self-consciously with stereotypes about men and women,” the statement read.
The answers ranged from light-hearted responses about posing for Facebook pictures to more serious answers about safety or the gender wage gap. According to the class statement, “The opinions don’t necessarily represent our views or even the views of the students holding them, but as a collection they begin to reveal how Colby students perceive gender.”
Within the responses, there were several common themes. For example, according to the statement, the class found that “students identified bathrooms, dining halls and the gym as sites where gender became highly charged.” Additionally, “many people wrote about how their sex lives would change, or how they would modify their appearance to fit the norms of contemporary society.”
The exhibit opened immediately following feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman’s lecture, “What You Really Really Want: How to Pursue a Safe, Satisfying Sexuality at Colby and Beyond,” on Nov. 14. “We got great responses,” Laxson said. “We had people coming and looking at the pictures, laughing one minute and getting serious the next as the topics became more serious.”
Because the project was not an official class assignment, the organization of the exhibit was done outside of class. Though the preparation and presentation was time-consuming, “the responses we got were worth it,” Laxson said. “We hoped that it would allow the topic of gender to be introduced to our discourse on campus without anyone feeling attacked, and that’s exactly what it did.”