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Culture as context: voicing my Polar Views

December 8, 2017

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

It is easy for a minority student to hate Bowdoin. From the classroom, to College Houses, to student clubs, almost everything is perceived through the perspective of a “traditional-student” population. I was tired of it, so I decided to start writing about my experiences from a different cultural lens. Of course, I understood that my audience was predominately white and that their perspectives could be contrary to mine. There’s a reason why I named my column “Polar Views.” I wanted to provoke thought and reflection, but it came with some resistance.

For the past two weeks, I have endured the uproar from female students in response to my previous article that pertained to hookup culture, specifically the phenomenon of the “fuckboy.” Some of my peers agreed with my opinions but refrained from openly agreeing with my piece because they were cautious about voicing these opinions—and justifiably so. When I voiced an opinion that may or may not have been the dominant one, I was attacked by those who want everybody to look at the world through their specific lenses.

I can’t count the number of glares I’ve recently received from my female peers on campus, but this experience was not a problem for me. The issue was that no one tried to educate me on my supposed wrongdoing. Unlike magazine writers from far away, I am a student writer who is easily accessible on Bowdoin’s campus. Some members of the Bowdoin community approached me to express their appreciation for my piece, but no one approached me who disagreed with it. Since there were students who reacted negatively to my article, I would have appreciated a conversation with them as a teaching moment for both sides. I touched on several topics in my piece, but my friends overheard that the cause of outrage was primarily my anecdote about a friend accusing me of benevolent sexism for opening a door for her. The comments section of my piece was riddled with accusations that I was not only victim-blaming women, but that I was misogynistic.

So I spoke to the women in my life, across various age groups, and they didn’t have the same negative reaction. These are women who appreciate men who treat them like they are special people. Women are special; my mother is special. I spoke with my mother a few days after the uproar from my female peers. My mother, hearing the remorseful tone in my voice on the phone, told me, “Please son, don’t stop opening doors. It’s no longer hip to be a gentleman—I get it—but trust me when I say there are women who do appreciate it.” It was at that moment when I fully realized that I needed to accept my mother’s advice and embrace my culture.

My mother was worried because she raised me to be respectful and kind towards others—women, men, teachers and especially elders. I already compromise part of my culture when I have to address elders on campus, some old enough to be my mother or grandmother, by their first name rather than with an honorific. When she heard that my peers were accusing me of being a misogynist for opening doors, she was utterly appalled. Respect is embedded in my black communal background, my rich Yoruba culture. Perhaps we as Bowdoin students could all learn to respect the cultures of others who are different from us. It is interesting to note that most of the people who were so offended by my piece are not from my culture or background.

If having the door held open is so painful for you, then respectfully, I will specifically not open doors for you. I never learned in childhood that opening doors for women stemmed from a preconceived opinion that they are weak or helpless. Opening doors is an act of kindness and respect in my household and my community. I write as a black man with a Nigerian immigrant family. I respect your views and your culture, so please respect mine.

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6 comments:

  1. Class of 2018 says:

    Hi Osa! “The issue was that no one tried to educate me on my supposed wrongdoing.” Elena Gleed actually published a long and well-written response to your (actual) wrongdoing within the pages of this very newspaper.

    Women don’t want to be treated like they’re “special,” they want to be treated like they’re actual humans. When you say, “I never learned in childhood that opening doors for women stemmed from a preconceived opinion that they are weak or helpless,” you then fail to realize that perhaps the entire point of growing up is to realize that the things we learn in childhood, which are often about people of other races, genders, sexual orientations, or religions, are not infallible. Part of “respect” is that the other person feels respected. If they don’t, as a result of your actions, you’re obligated to examine your own behavior.

    There’s so much more to get into about this piece, but your attitude makes it clear that you’re not at all responsive to constructive criticism. This piece is, at best, a satire of cultural relativism on college campuses and, in probable reality, misogynistic garbage.

  2. Dr. Kimberly Acquaviva says:

    Dear Osa,

    As a faculty member at another university (GW) with personal ties to Maine, I read the Bowdoin Orient regularly. I read your fuckboy/softboy article as well as the subsequent fall-out in the form of comments and rebuttal articles.

    As a white, cisgender lesbian whose professional area of expertise is LGBTQ inclusion, I’m not oblivious to issues of gender, power, and privilege. From my perspective, door holding is an act of kindness, not an act of oppression. I hold doors for everyone, regardless of their gender presentation.

    Instead of defending yourself to those who see your door holding as misogyny, hold doors for everyone as an act of radical inclusion. Women at Bowdoin can do the same: instead of being upset with men who hold doors for them, they can start holding doors for everyone.

    When we spend our time and energy seeing acts of kindness as acts of oppression, we create rifts in the community that keep us from working together to address the real sources of oppression. Hold doors for one another, then get to work making the world a better place. If anyone can do it, the students at Bowdoin can.

    Best regards,
    Kim

  3. Senior PBear says:

    “The issue was that no one tried to educate me on my supposed wrongdoing.”
    This statement is your problem in a nutshell. First of all, it is no one’s responsibility to educate you. It is your responsibility to educate yourself. Second of all, clearly people HAVE educated you through their disdain for article, and their repeated expressions that the way you treat them makes them feel uncomfortable, devalued, and unequal. That IS an education, but one that you are clearly failing to recognize or accept.

  4. Class of 2021 says:

    The issue with the first article had nothing to do with opening doors for women. Maybe that bothered some people, but that act by itself is not the problem. The problem, which you further perpetuate when claiming that women are “special”, is the idea that you should be rewarded for treating women in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. You are working overtime to try and make sure people understand your intentions. I ask you to shift this energy from focusing on your intentions, to focusing on your impact. The articles taking up space in the Orient shouldn’t be about men getting upset that their intentions aren’t being understood. While I appreciate that you mentioned in your first article a desire to end rape culture, instead of proclaiming this goal actually live up to it. Use your column to condemn the subtle, everyday sexism on campus. Talk to your female friends about their experiences. I promise you that most of them have suffered from negative male attention. Don’t worry about how you are perceived, actually try to make a change.

  5. Woman in Class of 2019 says:

    As someone who’s known you, I’m disappointed. You’re on a crusade against feminism these last two op-eds, and in your Instagram post, where you said you’re oppressed because of your male identity. You’re also the BSG multicultural representative. As a woman who holds several identities, I don’t feel like you’re representing me.

    Stop denigrating Bowdoin women who feel hurt by your article, and contemplate the efforts that women like Elena Gleed and other commenters have made to educate you already. Stop using your mom as a token woman who supports your misogyny, and think about the many women who feel hurt by you.

    When you tokenize women, claim to be oppressed in your male identity, and put the burden of education on the oppressed, you are perpetuating the same toxic cultures on this campus that I have seen you try to deconstruct. Your claim to male-based oppression is insensitive to the real oppression faced by Bowdoin women.

    I suggest that you step down from your position as multicultural representative while you educate yourself (instead of making others educate you). Bowdoin deserves someone who can actually contribute to intersectional feminism and who doesn’t hinder the important cultural revolution we are in.

  6. ModerateDose79 says:

    While I do think you are being unfairly criticized, I think this form of a response isn’t the best way to get your message across. Own what you believe, but maintain composure when criticized. Unfortunately, many people who do not accept your views are not going to criticize your rhetoric or points specifically, but more generally what they think/are convinced you represent. It isn’t a great place to be, but as long as you are being respectful and aware of why people might not agree, keep writing.


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