Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How I Came to Work at Men Can Stop Rape, Part 2

by Patrick McGann
Director of Strategy and Planning

Part 2 takes up where Part 1 ended: “Getting friendly with feminism.” It might be more accurate, though, to write: “Getting academic with feminism.” Although initially resistant to the women’s movement, I began to realize that if Abby’s and my relationship was going to last, I might need to learn about more than bra-burnings, which apparently didn’t even occur.

Both Abby and I had finished our M.A. degrees at Texas Tech University and were ready to move onto the Ph.D. phase. We left Lubbock for Chicago, where people wouldn’t say “Howdy” to you as you passed them on the sidewalk but where the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) offered both of us financial aid to pursue our higher degrees – Abby in philosophy and me in composition and rhetoric.

I was on probation at UIC that first year, though. Because my M.A. was in literature studies with a specialization in creative writing, they wanted to know that I was capable of PH.D. work in composition and rhetoric. They told me to enter their M.A. program and then, assuming I had done well, reapply for the Ph.D. program at the end of the year.

That all happened without a hitch; I reapplied and was accepted into the Ph.D. program primarily, I believe, on the strength of my first year seminar paper I submitted as part of the application: “Women and the Dichotomy of Literacy: Public / Private Discourse.” The study highlighted "women’s literacy within the context of America from the Colonial period until the present, in order to illustrate how the uses of literacy can be political, stressing how men have traditionally shaped and controlled who shall be literate and what shall be viewed as literate, not only within the educational system but also outside the educational system. Feminists interpret men’s control of literacy as a result of a public / private dichotomy established by males."

Looking back, it seems I was more capable initially of integrating feminism into my life in an abstract, intellectual way than I was in an intimate, personal way. I had yet to explicitly realize that the politics of masculinity are very much related to feminism, and so the paper dances around that topic without every landing on it. As long as literacy issues weren’t overtly tied to masculinity, I could de-personalize the topic, keep it at a historical distance where it was less about me and more about the actions of other men.

The paper included a quote from Erica Jong about the difficulty of publishing Fear of Flying, the novel I refer to in Part 1 of this series and had so much trouble reading as a high school junior: “The first typesetter would not set type for Fear of Flying. The networks would not run ads for the paperback. I was constantly told that women could only write certain kinds of books, and there was a certain built-in self-censorship of women writers. We were supposed to be shy, schizoid, shrinking and strange. It’s easy to forget how much ground women writers have gained.” Her observations apply to women writers of many kinds; I know that Abby experienced similar struggles as a graduate student writing feminist papers.

While she was fighting for validation in the masculine world of philosophy, I was receiving affirmation left and right. “Women and the Dichotomy of Literacy” received high praise from the female professor who taught the Ethnographies of Literacy seminar. I submitted a proposal to present the paper at the College Composition and Communication Conference and it was accepted. The Education Resources Information Center requested that the paper be added to their database. All the accolades helped my academic life but not my personal life.

I was stuck in my own public / private dichotomy.

To be continued...

Patrick McGann, Ph.D. has been involved with Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) since the organization’s inception in 1997. As Director of Strategy and Planning, Patrick co-authored a sexual assault prevention strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008 and oversaw the development of the HURTS ONE. AFFECTS ALL. public education campaign for DoD in 2010. He regularly gives presentations across the country on engaging men in the prevention of gender-based violence. Share

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