Two weeks ago the IGM of BroSoc (Brotherhood, Recreation, and Outreach Society) was held in the Isabel Fidler room in Manning, to no small amount of protest. The society was to be, according to its (later deleted) event description, “a safe space for men on campus”.
I know what you’re thinking – a space for cis men is just what I was after at university! And it gets better: next week will see the formation of HetSoc (Husbandry, Empathy, and Tradition Society), a group raising awareness about the struggles of straight life. The week after, CisSoc (Creativity, Inclusion, and Sorry But Are You A Girl Or A Boy? Society), who will make it their mission to ensure cisgender individuals can “finally be themselves”. Once a month the three will assemble for a “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That!” Party to drink beer (white wine for the ladies!) and discuss how hard it is to feel so guilty all the time.
It’s somewhat difficult to be mindful of any serious issues a “bro” society may present when the notion of it existing in the first place is so ridiculous. The founders of BroSoc want a forum at uni to be able to talk about men’s views on stuff – have they not been to, you know, almost any lecture on campus? Does BroSoc realise their full name sounds like a camping trip for Bears? How do I find out if I qualify as a “Bro”?
However, this does not mean that BroSoc does not represent some incredibly problematic views regarding gender to which society has clung.
Indeed it’s highly probable that BroSoc is not just a front for MRAs to whine about “““reverse sexism”””. BroSoc’s main goal, stated in its (again, deleted for “broccountability”) mission statement, is to start a campus Men’s Shed. Men’s Sheds are intended to be safe spaces for men to engage in discussions about their mental health.
The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) has said: “Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Probably because of this many men are less healthy than women.” According to them, the activities one can hope to see in a Men’s Shed include: “…restoring furniture, perhaps restoring bicycles for a local school, maybe making Mynah bird traps or fixing lawn mowers or making a kids cubby house for Camp Quality to raffle.”
For one thing, there is already a society on campus for mental health—MAHSoc. To create a distinct society “just for men!” on this issue typifies the way we as a society deal with most problems: it’s only worth giving a shit about once The Men are involved.
What’s more, there is very little about Men’s Sheds that endeavours to break down heteropatriarchal standards of masculinity – in fact, this emphasis on “building stuff” only reinforces ideas about what a man should be. As a result, there are masses of male-identified people who are excluded from this kind of space. Men’s Sheds do nothing to address the problems queer men, trans and intersex men, men of colour, or differently-abled men face in the intersections of oppression. Instead, it says to those men that there is not a space in which they can get help.
This brings us to the most important point, the crux of what makes BroSoc a problematic mess: the founding members of the society claimed they are fostering a space that will be safe and comfortable for non-hegemonic masculinities, non-male identified people, and gender non-conforming identities. They then proceeded to not listen to a single complaint by the many non-heteromasculine and non-cis male individuals who explained that the society made them feel unsafe and uncomfortable. In its quest to uphold diversity, BroSoc implicitly supported a culture where it’s fine to say a being a man means “well, biologically a man…”. I had never been so concerned for my safety on campus, but that’s okay, because The Men get what they want out of it.
It comes back to this inexplicable notion that, in a conversation about oppression, the privileged party has as much right as the oppressed to an opinion. This is simply not true. There is very little meaningful that cis, heterosexual males can offer in a discussion about gendered oppression that is not vehement agreement with wom*n, trans and gender-non confirming voices. The idea that because sexism sometimes affects men, men have the right to speak to the issues of sexism, is so very disturbing, because it allows cis, heterosexual men once again to speak over and drown out other identities.
When BroSoc chose not to listen to the voices of the non-cis males who objected to the society’s problematic gender politics, they said all they needed to say on how they feel about other identities. It remains to be seen whether or not Clubs and Societies and the Board will allow this clusterfuck of an attempt to uphold heteropatriarchy to be legitimised.