Manhood and gender stereotypes were the topics of discussion on Tuesday at “Boys To Men,” the first event of the Male Development Series hosted by the Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Iota Alpha fraternities and the Men Of Color At Hopkins Alliance (MOCHA).
The discussion, held in Charles Commons, was based around audience-generated questions that sparked debate about the definition of masculinity and the pressures that men face in the personal and professional spheres.
“Manhood is not one way of thinking or one role that we play,” Joseph Colón, the assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), said. “It gets complicated for men on many spectrums.”
“The event was a great success,” Demetrius Edwards, president of the University’s chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said. “It was a good forum to come together and understand what manhood truly is,” Edwards said. “There’s no set definition [of manhood] so it was good to get people’s opinions.”
Despite the event’s masculine theme, the number of women who attended the event was about equal to the number of men present, driving the discussion to include issues and stereotypes about masculinity that affect both genders.
“Women play a vital role in manhood today, so it’s great to get their feedback and come to a collective understanding,” Edwards said.
“The discussion was pretty enlightening,” senior Mani Keita said. “I’m happy that we were able to escape the rigid framework of manhood and to really think of it in a theoretical aspect.”
Audience members, who submitted questions to the event organizers on index cards at the start of the event, debated many aspects of the role of men in society today.
Some of the discussion questions focused on recent shifts in gender roles, including the reasons why some men feel inferior if their female partner earns more money than they do as well as the discomfort some men have with being stay-at-home dads.
“Manhood is a socio-cultural construct,” Keita said. “As soon as people realize that they can make manhood whatever they want it to be, perhaps they’ll feel more comfortable doing certain activities that they might see as feminine or weak. It doesn’t really reflect on you as a man if you’re cooking dinner.”
Because the discussion was sponsored by several multicultural student groups — Alpha Phi Alpha is an African-American fraternity, while the brothers of Phi Iota Alpha are all Latino — much of the debate focused on issues and stereotypes within the respective cultural communities.
The cultural issues that were discussed included the concept of machismo in traditional heterosexual relationships, the lasting effects of slavery on African-American cultural norms and the stresses caused by endemic poverty in modern-day society.
“Here at Hopkins, there’s a low number of [students who are] males of color,” Eduardo Alvarado, president of Phi Iota Alpha and vice president of the Latino student group OLÉ, said. “We need to bond together to talk about issues like masculinity, gender roles and our place in society.”
The audience also spent time discussing gender stereotypes regarding sexuality, specifically the discrepancies between societal views of men and women who have had many sexual partners and men who continue to flirt with women despite being in a committed relationship.
Additionally, audience members shared their ideas about when a boy becomes a man and about the evolving role of religion and education in manhood.
“This [discussion] was well needed because everyone had these questions in mind,” Chantel Fletcher, a senior and the president of the Black Student Union, said.
Despite the joint sponsorship between African-American and Latino student groups, the audience was primarily African-American.
“Being a Latino and only having about six Latinos here, I definitely want to get my people involved,” junior Paul Markakis said.
While this event was based on the broad theme of manhood, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Iota Alpha and MOCHA are planning more events with more specific themes regarding manhood, including chivalry, personal finance and professional appearances.
“[This event] was a really good starting point,” Markakis said. “We got a lot of the main issues out there, so people know that now when they want to have these in-depth discussions about masculinity, femininity and what it means to be a man in today’s society, [we can] really start to be that catalyzing organization.”
“We want to develop the man here on Hopkins campus so that we can be greater men,” Edwards said. “We’re going to open up [our events] campus-wide so we can have a lot of different cultures there and hear different views on what manhood is.”
Event organizers and audience members alike expressed a desire to continue the conversation on the topics discussed at the meeting in a constructive and meaningful way.
“The people you meet at these events could be potential lunch buddies, just to keep the conversation going,” junior Dolapo Demuren said.
“The respectful atmosphere that took place was very refreshing,” Ed Jackson, an Alpha Phi Alpha member and Morgan State graduate student, said. “It was very sophisticated [and] very intellectual.”