Performers bravely discussed the wretched consequences of destructive masculinity in U.S. culture at the event Speak Easy: A Spoken Word Open Mic in Support of Men’s Health on Nov. 9 in the Common Grounds Cafe in Hamilton Hall. For nearly two hours, students — the majority of whom had never performed their poetry for an audience before — revealed their struggles with identity, sexuality, divorce and rape.
The University of Oregon Counseling Center organized the event in accordance with “Movember,” which is global campaign to raise awareness and promote dialogue about men’s health. Spencer Atkinson, the Hamilton Hall community director who organized the event, said the events hold particular significance this year. Recently Americans have seen of a spike in powerful men being accused of sexual assault — from Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Many people associate these crimes with masculinity according to Atkinson.
Fifteen minutes before the event started in the dimly lit cafe, which smelled of french fries, burgers and coffee, students who had not intended to watch slam poetry ate and chatted amongst themselves. Songs like “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown and “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles played in the background. By the time the event started at 8 p.m., the room was filled with about 50 people.
Atkinson started the show by sharing memories about the ways in which people shaped his childhood ideas about masculinity. When he was a kid, he told his mom’s boyfriend he wanted to be an interior designer. His mom’s boyfriend replied by saying, “Interior design isn’t a guy thing.” Then, in the sixth grade, Atkinson won a drag show at a summer camp. When he told his friends they replied, “That’s kind of gay.”
“We don’t have a good way to hold men accountable for their actions right now,” Atkinson told the Emerald after the show.
He says that destructive ideas about masculinity are woven into the power structure of our society and as a result, dialogue about those ideas is suppressed. Events like these give people the opportunity to creatively express the role masculinity plays in their lives in a supportive setting.
Atkinson acknowledged that if someone attends an event like the open mic, they are probably already savvy to the ways in which some forms of masculinity can cause people harm. But he still says the event serves a crucial role on the UO campus.
“We might be preaching to the choir,” Atkinson said. “But it’s important that everyone here develops the vocabulary and the tools necessary to go out and talk about this to people who didn’t come.”
Halfway through the show, Atkinson went up to the mic and said, “I’ve noticed how few men have been taking the stage, which is deeply ironic given the topic of the event.”
One performer, Andreas Neves, a Hamilton Hall resident assistant and junior Family and Human Services major, said he hopes male first-year students encounter an environment in which they can be open with other men about their emotions. Neves said American culture bars men from sharing their feelings with each other.
Neves’ poem detailed how men’s cultural imperative to hide emotion leads to a form of misogyny in which men use women to dump all of their vulnerability.
“That situation hurts both parties involved,” Neves said. “I want to be the person who encourages my residents to be vulnerable with people whom they aren’t having romantic relationships.”
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