Dr. Christina Perez, director of the Women and Gender program at Dominican University, said that an incident such as the one that took place at OPRF could serve to open the lines of communication about underlying cultural ills that contribute to examples of discrimination.
“Something like this gives us the opportunity to…really reflect on the social context and the environment in which actions like this took place,” she said.
Speaking in terms of broad cultural issues that contribute to sexist incidents like that at the high school, Perez suggested directing attention at our society’s view of masculinity. This could be the key to understanding the underlying gender discrimination that still exists, even decades after the second wave feminist movement prompted women to demand equal treatment.
Perez said narrow definitions of masculinity, embedded in males from an early age, contribute to the mentality that young men should be excused from the confines of certain traditional etiquette.
“This image of masculinity is packaged in our mass media through our video games, through our music videos, through the lyrics in songs, through the television programs that we watch. It’s a very strong message about what it means to be a man. And there aren’t really other messages that boys are getting,” said Perez.
Characterized by traits such as strength, virility and aggression, young men are almost encouraged to participate in the kind of behavior involved in the development of a list that measures young women in terms of looks and sexual reputation.
But Perez said intervention and positive reinforcement can help. “I think something incredibly positive that the high school could do is to bring in experts,” said Perez, citing individuals such as Jackson Katz, who wrote the book “The Macho Paradox” and pioneered movements to promote more positive views of masculinity within large institutions like the U.S. military and the NFL. “The violence in masculinity and this aggression is really something that we’ve been trying to help students understand, and really try and transform them,” said Perez of the experts in her field.
Perez also has firsthand knowledge of behavioral patterns at OPRF, dating back to her enrollment there in the 1980s. She remembers being the victim of male harassment on occasion, though she said she was targeted as much for her political activism as her status as a female. But like so many incidents today, the mistreatment fell under the radar, because she failed to report it.
Perez said that in order to fight back against this differentiation we must accept that we do not live in a post-feminist society. Education, she said, is essential to ensuring that people aren’t limited by their membership in different social groups. Perez, too, was impressed by Levy’s and Rea’s response to the list, but said they shouldn’t feel alone in their quest. “The onus shouldn’t be on girls” to make necessary changes, she said.