It might have been the dancing, the gloomy comments or the good advice, but somehow an American Man from the Midwest ended up studying gender equality in Norway
It is hard to pin down exactly when I became interested in gender equality. While I do have a name which is more commonly a girl’s name in the U.S. (where I grew up), which I was often made fun of for, there is one specific moment that does stand out.
I was fifteen, faced with a large life problem. How would I find a date to the homecoming dance?! I was quite stressed about this, as a fifteen-year-old boy often is, and I started to think about how could I possibly find someone to ask to the dance. As this dilemma was unfolding, I was also registering for classes at my high school, and being the clever person I was, realized that I could sign up for dance class, where there would be forty girls, and no boys. Here was the solution I was looking for! I signed up for the dance class, certain I would find a date to the homecoming dance.
While I did eventually find a date to the dance, I more importantly learned that I really loved dancing. It was a new experience for me, and combined creative parts of my life, with the athletic part. Several months after starting the class, we had our first dance performance for my high school. I was excited and nervous to perform in front of an audience of about 1,000 people. The night of the show is one I still remember clearly; the anxious energy I had and the huge rush of energy I experienced finishing a dance. I was so excited to come to school the next day to hear what my classmates and friends thought of the show.
I walked into my first class the next day, and remember someone calling out, “Hey Kelly! You looked pretty gay in those tights last night.” Then someone else called, “What a fag.” The insults and comments continued to roll in for the rest of the day. I was crushed.
Coming home that day, it was clear to my parents that something was wrong, and I remember speaking with my dad specifically about what was happening. He himself was an actor and theatre teacher, and shared some insights from that day which still influence me now. “There are a lot of people in this world who will try and put you in a box, to tell you what you can and cannot do. Often these are the very types of people who you should ignore, and not be bothered by”.
I took his advice, and I kept dancing. Twelve years later, I am happy to say that I am still dancing (not as often as I’d like!), and this was an important experience for me.
Expectations of Men
This moment helped me to see the ways in which our society has many different expectations and norms for what boys and girls, men and women can and cannot do. While I had just experienced this firsthand as a boy, it also became quite clear to me that many of the boxes and expectations that many of the girls around me were navigating were far more challenging and limiting.
“You’re studying Gender Studies?” As a man who is doing his Masters in Gender Studies, this is a question I hear often, and often with a surprised tone. This surprised tone and reaction is one of the main reasons I ended up in my MA program, and as a writer for SHE Insight. Too often men think of gender studies and gender equality as something not relevant for them. I hope to challenge this idea, and help bring more men into this conversation and the work needed to close the gender economic gap.
At the age of twenty-two, I had the unique opportunity to work for a nonprofit in the U.S. that did presentations and workshops on different social issues. In this role I was able to hold presentations at 170 different schools across the U.S., where I often would talk about gender roles, and how important I thought it was for boys and men to be engaged in gender equality work. It was clear to me that many of the boys I was speaking with were uncomfortable and unfamiliar with this topic, and I started to understand just how pervasive this problem was. This inspired me to want to understand this further, and how I could better engage boys and men on topics around gender equality.
One of the Most Gender Equal Countries
That is how I wound up here in Norway, a country that is recognized around the world as one of the most gender equal places. While it is true that Norway has made a great deal of progress towards gender equality, there are problems here as well. This is a topic which I plan to return to.
So here I am, a Master’s student in Gender Studies, focusing specifically on men’s relationship to ideas of gender equality. You will see me writing about gender and how it relates to many parts of our society, from the business world, to war and conflicts globally, and I am always on the lookout for an interesting piece about how men can be better advocates and actors for gender equality in the world. My hope is that in ten, fifteen years when another boy is doing Gender Studies, people won’t be surprised by this anymore. •