By Fleming Smith
On Tuesday, April 19, the Bairnwick Women’s Center hosted a Pinnacle Luncheon featuring five male panelists who discussed their experiences with feminism. Chris Riddleberger (C’16), John Mark Lampley (C’16), Audrey Tchoukoua (C’16), Hunter Woolwine (C’16), and Alonso Munoz (C’17) spoke about how their years at Sewanee informed their perspectives on feminism and what men can gain by becoming feminists themselves.
Paul Naumann (C’16) statred off the luncheon and introduced the panelists. “Feminism has always been a very helpful tool for me,” said Naumann. “It’s put into words the things I can see but not exactly describe…most importantly, feminism has helped me recognize other people with different identities to help me better understand them and, in turn, help me better understand myself.”
Riddleberger said on feminism, “People act like feminism is some sort of assault on masculinity, but it’s really not. It’s all about gender equality, and honestly, there’s a lot of stuff that we guys can gain from feminism.” He specifically mentioned the way men are expected to be masculine and therefore not vulnerable. “As many of you know, and as many of you can probably tell, I am missing a limb,” joked Riddleberger. “Since losing that arm, I have openly been vulnerable and cried about it twice, to the same person,” he continued, feeling that as a man, he could not show how much the loss affected him. “That’s a thing that feminism can help us with, those gender roles…it’s incredibly integral that the male community gets involved with feminism.”
Lampley detailed his difficulties in growing up as a bisexual man, both in North Carolina and at Sewanee. “I suffered more than I should have and I hated myself much longer than I should have,” he said on the subject. When hanging out with other guys as a kid, Lampley explained, “I decided to be a ‘man’ in the fullest sense of that word and so thorough was my resolve that I couldn’t consciously admit what I was feeling.”
Growing up in the South, Lampley believed that any amount of “gayness” disqualified someone from being a man. “I was a wreck. Completely and morbidly depressed, completely and totally alone,” he admitted. “I called myself every thing that every ignorant asshole could or will ever call me. I believed in my heart that I wasn’t a man.” However, Lampley said that his definition of manhood changed over his years at Sewanee. He concluded, “Don’t forget that strength doesn’t belong to men, it doesn’t belong to women; it belongs to anyone who will stand up and take it…I’ll make that stand with Sewanee. I trust Sewanee. And now I’m ready to be myself.”
“Feminism is a new word in my vocabulary, just like all the other English words,” joked Tchoukoua about his experience moving from Cameroon to the United States seven years ago. “My whole life, I’ve been brought up in a different society, with a different culture and norms. Gender equality never even crossed my mind,” he explained. “We came here, and things were different. I saw women do things I’d never seen women do before,” Tchoukoua said, mentioning the first time he saw a female bus driver. “So it started out me thinking that feminism was all about women overpowering men, but it’s not that. As Chris said, it’s about equality. If the woman can drive the bus, why should the man be paid more?”
Woolwine discussed the way an all-male high school shaped his adolescence. “When you were upset about something, there was really no one you could talk to about it,” he admitted. He explained that even physical pain didn’t merit tears. “Men are taught to suppress, to the point where—I realized this the other day—I haven’t cried in five years,” Woolwine said. His involvement in theater helps him to overcome this stigma of showing emotion. Throughout his talk, Woolwine connected his ideas of feminism to his love for videogames such as Super Smash Bros., where powerful female characters could easily handle their own.
“Sewanee has really introduced me to new ideas and new concepts that have shaped the way that I think,” said Munoz to begin his part of the discussion. On the subject of being a man, Munoz joked, “I do a lot of things that aren’t manly. I listen to Justin Bieber, my favorite movie is The Notebook, I’ve watched every season of America’s Top Model.” Munoz explained that his view on feminism has changed dramatically in the past few years. “When I was in high school, I don’t think I would have called myself a feminist,” he said. Munoz mentioned Greek life as a stumbling block, where “you can’t really talk to girls if you’re sober.” However, he explained that Sewanee encourages him to grow as a person.
Each panelist looked at feminism from a different angle, but all agreed that feminism plays a necessary role in their lives, as well as on Sewanee’s campus.