How MASC is taking on toxic masculinity at Pitzer

By Julia S.

It’s relatively common knowledge that at Pitzer, we hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to social issues. While this can be beneficial, it means that there are an excess of behaviors that are deemed unacceptable. The typical community wide response is to “cancel” people who act in manners regarded as “toxic.”

This may seem to be a valid initial response – it removes the victim from harm – but it fails to fully address the underlying issues. If you’re like me, you might find yourself asking “where do cancelled people go?” Cancel culture is an incomplete system which is not transformative, and punishes the individual rather than deconstructing the systems of oppression that precede their behavior. It should never be the responsibility of a victim to educate their perpetrator, but if we are a community that believes in reformative justice, we at least need a space that can open this conversation and begin the education. 

I believe that a new group on campus – MASC – can be that space. MASC is a discussion based group that meets weekly to talk through different aspects of masculinity.

Kaleo Grant ‘20, who has taken on a leadership role in the club, informed me that his hopes for the future of the club include seeing MASC operate as a space where people can go if community members are concerned about their behavior. With community wide support, the group can operate as a space that cultivates a culture of accountability, targets systems of oppression, and stops toxic masculinity in its tracks.

I recently attended a MASC meeting. At the beginning, Grant reviewed the origins of the club. He told the 10 or so members in attendance that the club was born from the Pitzer Constructions of Masculinity class, taught by Pitzer Dean of Campus Life, Dan Hirsch. 

Grant said that the goal of the club is to work on creating a better culture of masculinity and to break down aspects of privilege within a group of peers. He hopes the participants can work together to better model productive and healthy masculinity by practicing honesty and empathy with each other. 

He added that cisgender straight men are the highest demographic of bystander at Pitzer, because many don’t feel welcomed or (rightly) assume that their voice is not the most necessary in conversations about identity, oppression, or social justice. 

“At Pitzer we hold ourselves to a higher standard, but the levels of knowledge vary. Dominant culture should be just as, or even more aware. Avoiding these conversations only perpetuates the problem.” said Grant.

On November 30th, I attended a panel hosted by The Prison Abolition Club on the connection between cancel culture and reformative justice. The panelists Ivette Alé, Aimee Bahng, and German M Gallardo touched on a wide range of topics, but I was most struck but comments made about the origin of cancel culture. Alé introduced the idea that cancel culture, which is prevalent in the queer community, removes the labor of education from the object of harm. However, all three panelists agreed that it is ultimately a culture of deniability, not accountability. 

I asked Grant what, if any, role cancel culture plays in relation to the creation of this group. He told me that “In some ways, cancel culture is a vehicle for understanding where the major problems lie. Being cancelled creates a social vacuum: cancel culture can’t speak to every nuance in the world. One of the key questions driving the creation of the group will be what sort of behaviors are cancelled and why. The answer to the why will be found in intersectional feminist theory. The group will hope to connect theory with its application, we want to take experiences and see how theory interacts with them.”

If the group is functioning as Grant intended, they will end up discussing difficult topics. The group leadership is currently working on a protocol for discussing sensitive topics and sharing personal information. This group, like all projects of accountability, is a work in progress. It is a process of constant checking in, requiring members to frequently ask themselves, “are we heading in the right direction?”  There might not be an immediate or simple solution to the problems uncovered, but they will at least talk through them. 

Grant told me that for him, success looks like normalization of these conversations on campus. 

“I am imagining that at one point there will be a cultural normalcy and expectation of this participation in conversation. It will take a point from ‘Pitzer boys go to this?’ To ‘Pitzer boys need this.’ Success will also be when MASC is filled with as many versions of masculinity as fucking possible. The more diverse MASC is, the better.” 

The group is inclusive of all identities, but is designed to be a space to discuss topics of masculinity. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join if you feel you have something to contribute to the conversation. 
If you want to join in the conversation, MASC meets at 8pm on Mondays in Skandera hall. If you have possible topics for discussion, questions, or want to keep the group from participating in performative activism, there is a form where you can submit your thoughts to Grant.

Julia Szabo PZ ‘21 is from Boston, MA (yes, the actual city). She is majoring in Gender Studies & Media Studies enjoys spending her free time talking about masculinity on campus and color coordinating her outfits.

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