Letters to Genders at UofR
The University of Richmond recently became embroiled in a campus discussion about gender expression. A student opened off the year by writing a Letter to Women. The quintessential line of the piece was: Can you sacrifice fashion in order for me to treat you like a real woman? His article takes on an air of slut shaming, rape victim blaming, and privilege. The article received over 125 comments (A record for the Collegian). In addition there were numerous separate letters written in response. There was a campus forum and slut walk in response.
I wrote my own response, A Letter to Men, where I applied his same logic towards straight men. I got even a response to mine. Interestingly, the response didn’t address the gender issues of the earlier articles but attacked LGBT activism and ideas of equality. It provided great insight as “Both gay and straight people are subject to the same rules in society. A straight man can’t marry a man, just as a gay man can’t” and thus we are all equal because men cant marry men regardless of identity. This response opened my eyes to a central issue in all this ongoing dialogue: gender expression expectations.
The response to my response only addressed the conflicts between gay men and men and erased the female voice. The other response letters were mostly crafted around general notations of genders addressing each other like A letter from a Man, Not an Animal or A letter to Women from the Westhampton College Student Government (for those who don’t know, UR has separate (but equal) student governments based on the binary genders). There was also another interesting response letter that explored rape culture: A Letter from a WILL Woman.
The student body collectively responded to the incident. The students responded in the paper, in-classroom discussions, and organized protests and discussion meetings. It was great to see how the student body collectively responded to this incident and didn’t have to rely on administrators.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
“This year the Q-Summit is putting a more explicit focus on racial justice as it intersects with queer organizing in the south.”March 3, 2016
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