by Rachel Chu
On January 23, freshmen received an email informing pledging freshman women of the mandatory FEED program. The program was described as discussion-based meetings in which Sewanee freshman women would address “body image and self-esteem, positive sexuality and assertiveness, the hook-up and drinking cultures of this campus, and healthy relationships.” The first meeting involved body image and the sexual objectification of women in the media. It led to deep conversations about sexual assault and sexual culture for college students.
Let me begin by saying that, so far, this program has encouraged me to speak out in small groups, evaluate my own self worth, and ponder our campus’ sexual culture. This program addresses vital issues in modern society that need to be discussed. To be clear, FEED is currently being implemented in order to assist Dr. Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier in bettering her program. However, I have a lot of problems with Sewanee’s choice to offer this program to exclusively freshman to need education and counseling on body image? And sending the wrong message to Sewanee about these topics and possibly perpetuating sexism in Sewanee.
I believe that FEED is vital to changing the dynamics of relationships in Sewanee. Therefore, I believe that targeting one group of students is detrimental to the progress of gender equality on our campus. Most guys claim that men don’t have body image issues and wouldn’t want to attend. However, I have heard men say that they have body image issues and would like to attend the program. In addition, there are many women who do not have body image issues and do not want to attend the program. While society and media have convinced us that primarily women experience body image insecurity, there are many, many women required to take this program that do not think they have body image issues. Perhaps excluding men would be suggesting that men should not have body image insecurities, alienating those who do. In addition, why do only pledging sorority members have to take the program? Are we suggesting that freshmen women are most likely because it is sorority pledges, not fraternity pledges, is it only a woman’s problem? While I understand that supporters of FEED are in no way suggesting that these issues are women’s problems, I believe that requiring sorority rushees to participate this year, with no men’s program, is perpetuating the problem.
For years, I’ve been taught how to avoid sexual assault, to be aware that sexual objectification exists, and to be knowledgeable about eating disorders. In terms of sexual assault, are we teaching women how to be victims? Are we teaching women that only we can be victims? Although sexual violence is not a problem specific to gender, rarely have I heard of men going through similar education. When will this change? Men and women both experience and commit sexual violence. Therefore, men’s education of these subjects is vital. Without it, we are encouraging the double standards: that sexual assault is a woman’s problem, that sexual objectification is a woman’s problem, that body image is a woman’s problem.
In discussing unrealistic body images and sexual objectification of women, our group leaders asked us what we could do to change the body expectations that people held for women. Dumbfounded, I realized that there is not much that we can do individually. I can say “no” to sexual assault and speak out against unrealistic physical expectations for women, but we cannot change these expectations with only one gender.
I honestly believe that the format for FEED’s surveys and discussion are not exclusive to women. I’m aware that Noffsinger-Frazier designed the program for women, but I believe that most of the program can be directly implemented into a men’s program as well. There is talk of creating a men’s program, and I urge Sewanee to follow through. We cannot wait a year or longer. Now is the time to change gender inequality for the better by implementing similar programs for men. It is my belief that because women have been learning about these topics for years, our primary goal should be educating men and creating an environment where these issues are everyone’s problems. Even now, we might be encouraging students, primarily men, that this kind of education is only important for women.