Abbot Inkwell, brace fellows, Events

Brace Student Fellow: Koki Kapoor ’21 on ‘Queer Identity in Pre- and Post-Colonial India’

By Koki Kapoor ’21

This summer, because of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, I had the opportunity to research and analyze queer identity in Pre and Post-colonial India and look at how the British Colonial Regime worked to colonize sexuality and enforce heteronormative ideals through legal instruments such as Section 377 of the British-introduced Indian Penal Code as well as a reconstructed education curriculum. Throughout the research process that took place during the end of Spring term and the start of summer, I was intent on creating a bibliography that centered South-Asian voices.

Alongside reading gender theory by Western academics such as Michael Foucault and Judith Butler, I read theory by South-Asian Post-Colonial scholars such as Gayatri Spivak. However, finding and accessing the works of South-Asian academics was not the easiest task. But with the help of OWHL, specifically Ms. Goss, as well as Dr. Vidal and Ms. Driscoll, I was able to scourge through the depths of JSTOR, Internet Archive, Amazon, Hathi Trust, etc. to find books and articles that emphasized the South Asian voices that have been trampled over by the world of Western academia and colonization and highlight them in my bibliography. Though this process was difficult, I never once had to worry about being unable to access any resource and I’m so grateful to everyone at the Brace Center for making me feel seen as a South Asian woman of color in academia.

Abbot Inkwell, Commentary, Events, Speakers

Intergenerational Trauma and Trust

By Sakina Cotton ’24

(pre-pandemic photo)

What goes around comes around.

Think back to the ASMs of fall term which highlighted people of the past who endured oppression or people of the present making history. The idea of historical pain being carried through generations emphasizes the need for conscience minds and allyship. When we heard from ASM guests Dr. Bettina Love and Dr. Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, we were given examples of youth’s potential to help in this way of learning about and then changing our society.

Dr. Love supplied historical analysis on the effect of music on the Black community. The Black community traditionally uses music as a way to escape pain, to convey morals, and to call for action. A prime example is the evolution of blues from the emotional spiritual songs of enslaved or oppressed Black people. In “Hearing the Blues: An Essay in the Sociology of Music”, authors D.J Hatch and D.R Watson explain that improvisation as well as certain chord progressions played fundamental roles in historical country-blues (Hatch and Watson, 168). The blues genre along with hip hop, as Dr. Love explained, have roots in West African musical styles. Their use of improvisation, leading and chorus stanzas, drums, and proverbial lyrics demonstrates this connection. It is a style which a group of people propagated through multiple generations to help cope with outside struggle; but, sometimes a community alone can not fully heal itself from the intergenerational trauma inflicted upon it. 

Dr. Megan Red Shirt-Shaw gave insight into how the government employed racism to neglect funding for Indian Health Services, to break treaties, to increase factory production in predominantly BIPOC communities, and to establish harmful residential schools for Native people. From the 1870s until the 1970s, young children were stolen from their families and forced to attend these boarding schools where most faced abuse, torture, cultural shaming, and unforgettable dehumanization. (NPR; Northern Indians Relief Council). People are still healing  wounds from this intergenerational trauma. The persistence of these schools throughout a century calls for a stronger front of allies working to prevent another system like this. Allies, including myself, must utilize their privilege and hold one another accountable in order to effectively create positive change.

Outside and historical factors take a toll on the youth’s mental health. That is why, as the next generation, we must do our own work in perpetuating positive, inclusive ideals that will transcend our generation. Are we not tired of accumulating intergenerational trauma? Let’s build intergenerational trust. I think it is possible to accomplish this by accepting people for who they are, not how we expect them to be. We are able to shape our rules and regulations. We can listen to and learn from each other’s pasts to create a better future. We have to talk about the hardships of everyone in our community to understand each other. That means start talking about our different traits, keep talking about the fluidity of spectrums, and never stop talking about people’s humanity.

Works cited can be found in our Suggested Reading List

Abbot Inkwell, Events, Events

Reflections on virtual hours

Gender and STEM: A Collaboration with Gender Minorities in STEM

The discussion about gender in STEM really highlighted the importance of intersectionality. We ended up discussing how colonialism has destroyed and stolen valuable medicinal and technological knowledge from the Global South. Many incredible discoveries were made by women of these communities and were overlooked. We also discussed how race and gender intersect to cause the mistreatment of BIPOC women in the healthcare system, and how women are discouraged from entering STEM fields because of the patriarchy. – Aleisha Roberts ’22

“Some takeaways I had from the virtual hours’ discussion are the dangers of explaining how there are fewer women in STEM due to something innate and biological rather than it being a result of cultural and social structures, the importance of recognizing the exploitation of marginalized groups when learning about certain medical discoveries, and how it is important for STEM teachers and spaces to be intentional with uplifting students of gender and racial minorities. Virtual hours are just an amazing way to connect with people as well—The Tik Tok conversation in particular was very casual and it was hilarious sharing Tik Toks and bonding over certain niche subgroups of it!” -Josephine Banson ’22

Peggy Orenstein’s ASM- Femininities Affinity Space

Peggy Orenstein’s ASM focused on some of the harmful approaches to heterosexual relationships taken by cisgender men and how rigid masculinity can be at the root of many problems. Following the ASM, the participants in the femininities zoom space discussed the experiences of female-identifying people on the receiving end of toxic masculinity and the expectations created by the patriarchy that are thrust onto women. The group observed how there is often an imbalance of agency in heterosexual intercourse as the media and culture normalize male dominance in sex while suppressing women’s desires and eroticism. The group emphasized the importance of consent as a baseline for ethical sex and mutual enjoyment. Furthermore, we explored consent in other aspects such as giving a hug or even asking for emotional consent when ranting to a friend. – Evalyn Lee ’23

“When talking about toxic masculinity, we should also reflect on how toxic masculinity affects women, how we can bring folx who do not identify within the gender binaries into the conversation, and how society places pressures on women as well.” -Emily Turnbull ’24

Feminist theatre 

The topic of my Brace Virtual Hours was Feminist Theatre, and with the help of Mx. Thayer, we covered everything from A Doll’s House to modern experimental theatre, whatever each person had read. Our hours were very laid back— since only a few people came and went, we didn’t maintain a firm structure, but fortunately we instead got to know each other individually very well. I’d like to shoutout Huda, Karsten, Lesley, and Leo, who all brought such great energy to the group and whose faces I really appreciated seeing in the midst of a very busy week. – Emiliano C ’22

Abbot Inkwell, Events, Events

Juniors Explore Masculinity by Discussing 2015 Documentary The Mask You Live In

By Aleisha Roberts ’22

On October 20th, the Brace Center for Gender Studies hosted discussions with the class of ’24 centered around The Mask You Live In. The 2015 documentary highlighted the harmful effect of society’s narrow definition of masculinity on people who identify as male as well as on their relationships with each other and people who do not identify as male. Juniors were expected to watch the film with their dorm pods before attending the program and student leaders from the classes of ’23 ’22, and ’21 facilitated discussions. Agnes Agosto ’24 expressed that she had never discussed masculinity as a potentially harmful construct before the programming. 

“After watching the film, my first feeling was this deep sympathy for boys. I wasn’t aware of the majority of the issues mentioned in the film. When I was in middle school, my grade watched a documentary on female relationships and friendships. However, I never had seen something that focused on the struggles of boys rather than girls in our society and it was really eye-opening,” said Agosto.

The facilitators, most of whom watched the film in their own freshman years, rewatched the film to prepare for the discussion. Facilitator Sophie Glaser ’22 explained that the statistics shown regarding the prevalence of mental health issues and destructive behaviors caused by harmful masculinities shocked her each time she watched the film. She further expressed that her later encounters with the film were different as she was better able to connect the behavior on the screen to her male-identifying peers at Andover.  

“Every time I’ve watched it, all the statistics that they show are still pretty shocking and I think in freshman year I was just starting to learn about toxic masculinity and what institutional sexism and rape culture and locker room culture were… I definitely think that now being a bit older and having experienced a highschool in America a bit more, I think I was able to understand a bit more of it. I’ve definitely, unfortunately, seen a lot of the behavior that it would talk about in The Mask You Live In in my peers and I was able to connect it more to my own life rather than just looking at abstract terms,” Glaser said.

Many facilitators expressed that they were impressed by the nuance the juniors brought to the discussion. Most were able to discuss the patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and gender identity through an intersectional lens. Some groups were even able to advance to criticisms of the film for an absence of queer narratives and an excessively heteronormative perspective. Glaser shared a hope that freshmen would continue the discussion beyond the programming.

Glaser said, “I definitely saw the freshmen that I was talking to in my leadership group and in my dorm engaging in conversations that they weren’t before. I hope that they will be able to take the lessons they learned from the film into their own lives and take the ideas into their own lives, but only time will tell. Hopefully, the rest of the grade engaged with the film as well, keeping an open mind.”

Unfortunately, some juniors were left disappointed with their group’s engagement. Agosto said that her class was not yet connected well enough to discuss these themes comfortably and that the discussion space was dominated by a handful of girls. In debriefing sessions, freshmen also pointed out that the majority of the facilitators were female-identifying, showing a need for persons identifying as male to engage with these discussions. 

Agosto said, “While I think the idea of the discussion space was a good one, I didn’t think it exactly worked… In order for us to share our thoughts with others, we need to have a certain amount of trust that we are safe sharing these opinions with them… I also just especially felt that those who most needed the things said in the film were the ones who seemed not to care. In the discussion space, the main people who spoke were girls, and the majority of the boys remained silent.”

Abbot Inkwell, Events, Events, Speakers

The Conversation Following Peggy Orenstein’s ASM

By Evalyn Lee ’23

This October, Peggy Orenstein, author of the New York Times bestsellers Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex spoke at our virtual All-School Meeting (ASM) about the influence of unhealthy masculinities on sex. A panel of students involved with Brace Center programming had the opportunity to ask Orenstein questions regarding her work, research, and the relevance of discussions about masculinities on campus. Orenstein made the point that unhealthy masculinity still exists despite improvements in gender equity as she observed patterns of aggression, dominance, and emotional suppression in adolescent boys. 

Following the ASM, the Brace Center hosted affinity virtual hours to continue the conversation on campus. Each virtual hour was hosted by a Brace Student Advisory Board member partnered with EBI (Equity, Balance, and Inclusion) seniors. As a member of the Brace board, Holt Bitler ’21 hosted the virtual hour for students identifying with the masculinities. Despite the intentions of the ASM to address the boys on campus, according to Bitler, not many people attended the meeting.

“I see a part of toxic masculinity leads guys not wanting to listen to talks on social justice […] It’s kinda funny that no one ended up showing up because it pretty much states exactly what needs to be solved here,” said Bitler.

Bitler expressed the challenges in trying to engage a larger group of students with masculinities. He observed indifference and resistance towards the topic of ASM from his peers on campus. 

Bitler observed, “When some people saw the ASM, they reacted kind of negatively, saying like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe people would say this about guys and stuff.’”

Jane Park ’22 also noted the challenges in engaging male students in conversations surrounding masculinity. As a board member of YES+, Park believes that the language in these conversations is important to destigmatize topics on sexuality and masculinity while also holding people with toxically-masculine traits accountable. In the ASM, Orenstein introduced additional terms to the familiar “toxic-masculinity”: rigid and fragile masculinity. 

Park said, “I think with fragile masculinity, I do have my concerns because when something is fragile, it almost makes it seem easily disrupted. See when you say fragile masculinity it’s almost like brownie points or it’s trying to sugarcoat what it actually is when especially toxic masculinity isn’t fragile. By calling it fragile, I think we’re almost taking away meaning from what it should be, like you’re softening the blow […] Rigid has connotations that it harms both masculine-identifying individuals and individuals who do not identify so.”

Orenstein’s ASM mainly centered on heterosexual relationships between cisgender boys and girls. Orenstein briefly compared gay vs. straight power dynamics during sex. Avivit Ashman ’22, a Brace Student Advisory Board member, hosted the queer/nonconforming/questioning affinity space for the brace virtual hours. She said that her group felt the ASM was very binary, and the speaker’s short comment reminding us that queer sex also exists was not enough. Ashman also felt that Orenstein glazed over the realities of queer sex by idealizing it when comparing it to straight sex.

Ashman said, “[In] queer relationships, especially gay relationships, power dynamics do exist. Not every gay relationship is based in consent and a lot of these issues, like [in] queer relationships, don’t exist in a bubble away from all of these societal norms and expectations around sex, like queer relationships aren’t removed from that. I guess it kind of felt a little othering to kind of reduce all of the diversity of queer relationships into that one thing.”

Ashman also said her virtual hour group spoke about the lack of sex-education for queer people.

“We just talked in general about how sex-ed and education around sex and relationships, in Andover and outside of Andover everywhere, it just has really kind of failed us as queer people, and how can we make conversations about Andover specifically more expansive,” Ashman said.

Peggy Orenstein’s ASM inspired students to reflect on the inclusivity of sex-education and the culture of toxic-masculinity in various parts of campus life. As more students begin to evaluate our institution and their own identities, we hope that Andover continues to make strides to cultivate healthy and inclusive sexuality and masculinity.