Professor Asserts Men have Multiple Identities

by Brandon Stewart '08

March 29, 2007

What are white male identities?  How many are there?  What is behind the power structure of patriarchy and how is it perpetuated?  These are some the questions that were raised by Dr. Harry Brod’s lecture Tuesday evening entitled, "White Male Identities: Privilege, Pain, and Pride".

Dr. Brod was introduced by Wabash English faculty member Dr. Warren Rosenberg who described Brod’s work as particularly influential in his own scholarship.  Dr. Brod is currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Northern Iowa.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego.  His main scholarly interests surround the topics of gender and Jewish studies.  While at the University of Southern California, he founded the Center for Men and Womens Studies. 

The lecture began with the bold assertion that men have multiple identities.  Other groups, said Brod have already realized this, but white men haven’t had to face this fact because those who are in power have the privilege of not being reflective about themselves.  As he put it, "men have a gender, whites have a race, and starlights have an orientation."  Too often, says Brod, white males tend to "other" everyone who is not like them without including themselves in a category.  Everyone else is defined in their relation to straight white men.  According to Brod, recognizing his own identities as "a child of the 60s and a child of Holocaust survivors" has been influential in helping him analyze himself and his complex identity.  He also stressed that he wanted to make it very clear that white males need to embrace the idea of multiple identities if they want to be healthier people.  He cited statistics that women, on average, live longer than men as proof that men’s inability to deal with the baggage men carry is detrimental.

Turning his attention towards men’s violence, Brod suggested that socialization could help alleviate the problem men have with violence.  Despite the fact that this sort of aggression is attributed to men, Brod was quick to oppose the notion that men are naturally aggressive or violent.  Instead, men have been socially constructed and conditioned towards violence.  Indeed, he went farther than even that, stating that "acceptance becomes encouragement".  Therefore, those who accept men’s aggression and write it off as natural are sending the message to children that violence is acceptable.

Joseph Cooper ’07 was one of the attendees who had asked a question during the abbreviated question and answer period following the lecture.  His questions was in related to white privilege and how that would affect a white male’s ability to interact with people of color in inner-city environments.  His questions was particular personal interest to Cooper because he is headed to Memphis next year to serve in the Teach for America Program.  "My question was about how the possibility of privilege would affect the interaction I have with my students and how my recognition of it could affect my ability to teach," said Cooper.  "It’s all about awareness."

Brandon McKinney ’09 was another student who attended the lecture.  He thought Brod’s comments about tutoring white males about their privilege was particularly illuminating.  Brod had suggested that although it may be helpful for whites to learn about their privilege from persons of color, minorities had no particular responsibility to do so.  As McKinney put it, "I liked that answer because otherwise you have to speak for your whole race."

Brod’s lecture Tuesday was a part of a two day program sponsored by the Gender Issues Committee.  He hosted another lecture on Monday entitled, "The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent" and attended various classes in between the two engagements.



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