When keeping it “real” went wrong
As a million romantic comedies and love songs can attest, women and men often have a difficult time communicating. Therefore, when the Gentlemen of Quality club decided to host Real Talk, I was excited to attend an event that was designed to create an open and safe place for men and women to discuss campus issues. Unfortunately, the Real Talk quickly went awry, and despite the good intentions of the hosts, the supposedly safe forum morphed into a tense and upsetting environment.
Heading into the talk, I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting to hear. Obviously, a forum regarding topics such as the hookup culture and drug abuse would not be warm and fuzzy, but the debate moved in a direction far from what I had expected. Perhaps this reflects a bit of naïveté on my part, or maybe just wishful thinking, but I was shocked by many of the opinions shared during the event.
For those who missed the meeting, the discussion followed a “fish bowl” format. During the event, groups of approximately five men sat in the center of the room, surrounded by dozens of onlookers who could suggest questions but had to remain silent. Although a good idea in theory, the fish bowl arrangement silenced female participants on the outside while simultaneously frightening the men in the center who were brave enough to speak in front of such a large crowd. While certainly not intentional, this setup became a physical representation of a sexist hierarchy; as men spoke freely in the center, women were denied the ability to respond from the exterior.
Beyond the general format of the Real Talk, the actual content of the discussion often was disheartening and overwhelming. The Gentlemen of Quality played two videos during the course of the discussion, the second of which depicted a fictionalized account of a rape scene. It was extremely difficult to watch the video, but even more difficult to listen to the ensuing comments. One man claimed that the example in the video—which depicted a woman drinking and dancing with a man in a club prior to him raping her in an alley—was thoroughly “melodramatic” and unrealistic. A second man said that a majority of the time, if a girl came to his room, he would expect her to have sex with him and would be upset if she did not. A third man explained that he enjoyed the “chase” and would get bored of a girl who was too easy. What do these feelings indicate about our culture? That men don’t want a girl who is easy, but will get angry when she says no to sex? That some men on this campus view sexual assault cases as distant and exaggerated situations? Furthermore, the Real Talk discussion avoided any reference to homosexuality on campus. What does that indicate about our culture?
To put it bluntly, sexual harassment and assault occur on a daily basis, even at places like Colby. Just because a girl acts flirtatiously or wears tight clothing does not mean she wants to have sex, and it definitely does not mean it is her fault if she gets drugged or attacked. Blaming the victim is always the wrong course of action. Moreover, the lack of discussion regarding homosexuality, especially in light of recent attacks on campus, indicates a disturbing lack of awareness, understanding and tolerance.
Although it shocked me to hear some of these opinions voiced at Real Talk, I think it may have been just what our campus needed. Too often I feel that we shy away from broad discussions about these sensitive and sometimes painful subjects. We may feel comfortable talking in our small groups of friends, or even in academic settings, but nothing can get accomplished if we secretly speculate and avoid candid conversations with individuals outside of our comfort zones.
Therefore, I greatly admire the intentions of everyone involved, especially as they now take the time to gather feedback and improve the arrangement. By opening a dialogue about these issues on campus, the Gentlemen of Quality have demonstrated the importance of “Real Talk” in our lives, and I hope the discussions continue, no matter how difficult they may seem.