Intersectionality & College Men: Complicating The Single Story

Blog Post Author: Danny Zepp

Date: December 2014

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED Talks: The Danger of a Single Story

The single story of today’s college men is the assumption that they are doing just fine, due to their privileged gender identity status and historical dominance in the academy. The foregone conclusion that these factors will ensure success for an overwhelming majority of men is simply untrue and not supported by empirical research. This oversimplification is harmful to all men, particularly those from historically disadvantaged populations who are made up of multiple oppressed identities and groups, and therefore, may experience additional stereotyping due to the multiplicity of their identities.

The single story is often reinforced when scholars and practitioners of higher education focus on men solely as gendered beings, rather than from an intersectional approach. Historically, student development scholars have examined college men in terms of their gender identity, rooted in pro-feminist and anti-sexist aims. This approach had engendered a more robust understanding of the gender identity development of college men, specifically how men come to understand what it means to be a man, how they become socialized as a gendered beings, and contextual influences on this development. As a result, practitioners have appropriately responded with gender-specific programming, resources, and curricula geared towards improving educational access and attainment and behavioral outcomes of college men. This unidimensional approach to identity development, while more complex than previous iterations, is incomplete, as little is known about how gender intersects with race, class, sexuality, religion, and other identities. Therefore, the stories of college men who are made up of multiple oppressed identities and groups have been improperly displaced from larger discourse about college men.

Intersectionality theory, historically rooted in the Black feminist and womanist critique of the feminist movement, has the potential to complicate monolithic assumptions of college men. Intersectionality theory includes a micro level (multiple, intersecting identities) and macro level (intersecting systems of power and oppression) analysis – intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup. Intersectionality theory tells us that college men are made up of multiple, intersecting identities that are simultaneously privileged and oppressed depending on social context and location. Therefore, understanding college men from a solely gendered perspective tends to collapse the salience of other identities such as race, class, sexuality, and religion, which are fluid and dynamic across institutional contexts. To this end, a white-located gendered approach to college men may be especially harmful, as ignoring the experiential realities of those from multiple oppressed identities and groups may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing systems of oppression and inequality in the academy.

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