Both genders can support Center
Monica VanBladel | Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Every year for the past three years, Siegfried Hall’s “Day of Man” has really frustrated me. Certainly, the all-male dorm’s signature charitable event is generous and directs important attention and funds to the South Bend Center for the Homeless.
Raising awareness about the realities faced by those without reliable access to shelter, and supporting an organization which assists them, is admirable.
What I don’t support, however, is the association of this action with the vague ideal of “manliness.” The slogan “be a man for the homeless” implies that the male person, specifically, the man who is too tough to feel or express discomfort, is uniquely suited to, and best capable of, supporting the patrons of the Center for the Homeless.
Obviously, both men and women of the ND community can support the Center by donating to today’s Siegfried Hall collection; of course, the men of Siegfried wearing shorts and tees in winter are highlighting the realities of our neighbors whom they are helping us to support.
But let’s not exalt restrictive, gender essentialist ideas in the process. There are two potential rationales behind this act of dressing down, because it’s the truth of what many homeless men and women experience. This solidarity in itself is not uniquely manly.
To identify and commemorate Siegfried’s collective action as an entire “Day of Man” is to “genderize” the act, thus introducing the second possible rationale: that a “real” man can handle, even thrive in, potentially unhealthy and (frankly) painful conditions.
If the “manliness” of wearing shorts in the cold is based on the notion that “real” men don’t experience (or at least show) pain or weakness, this is further evidence of the need for dialogue on gender in the Notre Dame community. And if the “manliness” of this act is that it highlights the needs of an often-overlooked population and brings people together to help others, then the slogan is misleading and unnecessary.
This sort of help and solidarity comes from a place beyond gender: it comes from the universal human capacity for compassion, which I hope to see acted upon generously today.