The recent formation of the Brotherhood, Recreation and Outreach Society (BroSoc) at Sydney University is not novel. In the UK, an official Masculinity Exploring Networking and Support (MENS) society exists under Manchester University’s student union. Oxford is home to Man Collective (MC), as a “response to the current state of masculinity”.
According to the BroSoc constitution, the society was born out of a genuine desire to encourage young men in finding a sense of their own identities, and to promote and sustain good mental and physical health. As such, the society’s aims do not functionally violate any of the objects under the Union’s Clubs and Societies Program.
And yet, it comes as no surprise that across the left there has been an eruption of mockery and outrage at the formation of these societies. Those who criticize BroSoc see the existence of men’s groups as undermining women’s or feminist groups; a conclusion often reached by assuming that men’s oppression is not equivalent to those who are directly oppressed by male privilege. In a complex sphere of gender relations, the struggle for women’s, trans’ or other non-cismale groups continues. They beg the question: are men’s issues valid in this space, and can they coexist?
Gendered expectations permeate our society in many apparent ways. A few months ago, Honi Soit released a survey with an extensive list of gender options, which was met with some shock and outrage. It seems that some people were simply unwilling to accept that gender is indeed a non-binary construct. Gendered behaviour, often founded on the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’, is taught to us at a very young age, and builds up over time to define our many personal experiences, identities and expectations.
Presumably, the men in BroSoc feel conflicted about these very expectations. For example, British gender historian John Tosh recalls that in history, masculinity has often been a tool through which the men of the ruling classes could coerce the men of the lower orders. Today, cis-men suffer from modern notions of masculinity through assumptions that, for example, men should toughen up in the face of personal hardships and not “cry” about their feelings. Exercising masculinity is assumed to be an innate quality that is expected of men. This is something worth talking about, because everyone deserves to be in an inclusive and safe environment free from societal pressures or coercions.
However, my attendance at the BroSoc Inaugural General Meeting as a woman of colour also made something very clear. I was walking into a room that was predominantly filled with cis-males who were interested in connecting with, and promoting the views of each other. Fundamentally, they are built on a white-centric, heteronormative idea of a ‘man’. And while they are seemingly open to engaging with other groups, the reality remains that any meaningful engagement with issues of oppression can only occur when those groups go out of their way to educate BroSoc. For many oppressed groups, however, acting as educators is neither desirable nor easy. I would certainly prefer not to have to explain to a group of white men the way in which our society prioritises their interests above those of white women, men of colour, and women of colour.
Therein lies BroSoc’s problem. Their discussion of masculinity, and how it affects identities, will be an insular, self-directed one.
Image: Ross (voxphoto), via Flickr.