Male privilege and the SGA: How we’ve been overrun by ‘megaphone guys’

By Josh Odam

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian
Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

Author’s note: This column has been reviewed by members of the Student Government Association’s Women’s Caucus, the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy and other stakeholders with a vested interest in ending misogynist language and sexist behavior within the SGA. My intent was not to speak on behalf of my female colleagues. It was merely to unpack the destructive nature of masculinity and discuss how I have seen it negatively affect the SGA.

In “The Braindead Megaphone,” George Saunders defines the phrase “megaphone guy” as follows:

“… His main characteristic is his dominance. He crowds the other voices out. His rhetoric becomes the central rhetoric because of its unavoidability. In time, Megaphone Guy will ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy … They’ll become passive, stop believing in the value of their own impressions …What’s important to him will come to seem important to them … He has, in effect, put an intelligence-ceiling on the party.”

Think about that passage for a moment. It is my hope the consciousness-ceiling can be raised by the end of this piece.

I speak not as the Secretary of Diversity, but as Josh, a male student who wants to spell out the behavior I have borne witness to.

I have observed several of my female colleagues, whether they are new or returning SGA member, expressing anxiety about bringing up issues such as sexual misconduct, Title IX or rape culture in the senate. Many fear that they will be targeted, misinterpreted, drowned out or blatantly disregarded by male voices.

On a daily basis, I am reminded of some of my male colleagues’ inability to take “no” for an answer. Whether it is an already rejected romantic advance being re-proposed or forcing her to remain in a conversation when she has said three times she cannot speak right now, the blatant disregard for her space is glaring. It has created a hostile work environment where I see the discomfort and trepidation some women have while in the SGA office.

I am certain there will be those who ask why we did not try to settle these matters internally. However, when legitimate concerns by female-bodied individuals, some of which one could classify as harassment, are being repeatedly ignored, one has to seek alternative venues to bring light to these issues.

I had my reservations out of concern that I would indirectly perpetuate a form of male privilege – a male voice talking about sexism because men are more likely to listen to other men.

However, to put it simply, we as men need to do better – executive branch members, senators, area government and house council officials need to increase our efforts to ensure that these kinds of inequities do not continue within the SGA and on this campus as a whole. We need to pressure ourselves, use our privilege, our “megaphones,” to call attention to the sexism which persists in these various arenas.

As men, we possess many privileges simply due to our physical makeup. We have the luxury to convey our opinions and not think about voices which are being suppressed and/or smothered by our presence. We must also be cognizant that women holding leadership positions typically occupied by men are forced to make significant sacrifices to do so, and they are harshly critiqued while in these positions. As men, especially in leadership positions inside and outside of the SGA, we must recognize the figurative and literal space we occupy, take a step back and work with our female colleagues to provide a safe, gender-inclusive environment.

Again, I speak not to some backwards theory in which women need salvation and protection from a male figure. I speak only as a man bearing witness to the destructive, overbearing and domineering ideals of masculinity, and how we are allowing it to permeate all levels of the SGA.

Josh Odam is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]