Opinion by Diego Zubieta, UWCM.
March 31st, 2018
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Gender Blender was one of various events that UWC Maastricht hosted this year. It lasted from February 6th to 8th, and during the three days, the school featured events not only to bring awareness but to celebrate gender and sexuality. A play, a movie and even a group for conversation. But, was it really effective?
Judging by the first day of Gender Blender it is easy to conclude that it was a success. The Vagina Monologues, the event which the most people attended, undoubtedly received a lot of support. The atrium was filled with both men and women who all were impressed and moved by the play presented to us by Ellora Adam. The audience was pushed out of their comfort zone, and meaningful reflection from the play appeared throughout conversations on campus and residences many hours after. Indeed, the first day, a huge crowd cheered for the play. Unfortunately, the following two days just a fraction of that gathered for the events.
[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]On the second day, UWCM’s extracurricular club Spectrum took charge. They showed the movie Moonlight, featuring a real-life story about a man and the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity while growing up, and on the third day an ode to the school’s classic, the Global Cafe, was held.
The participation in these events, however, had clearly dwindled a lot in comparison to the first day. Only about 20 people attended the movie, and about 30 people took part in the conversations at the Global Cafe. Furthermore, the participation was mostly of people who were both familiar and supportive of these topics. And even if there were a few exceptions to the former, being supportive seemed the norm. In the case of the Global Cafe, the intention was to be a place open for discussion, yet the lack of participation of people with more conservative approaches ended up undermining the purpose of the last events of Gender Blender. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the discussions at Global Café touched some critical points. The group talked about the situation of gay rights throughout students’ native countries, and how for some students gay rights are not even a reality. Discussions also revealed that in even what some consider to be very liberal countries, taboos persist and they may not be as accepting as we believe. Towards the end, the group also discussed the situation at UWCM and it became clear that not all students feel comfortable at on campus or, perhaps, have set themselves with too high expectations of the school’s liberal culture.
“Our school is able to discuss politics, the environment, etc. Yet, sexuality, which is an important part of our identity, is still difficult for us” expressed one of the organizers of the event.
It seems that students and staff seem to attend only events to which they somehow feel connected. Most students attended the play because friends and school had pushed for attendance for weeks up to the play. Teachers mentioned it in class, residence mentors reminded residential students and leadership hoped that it could be a positive response to the backlash received from the Brie Mather’s presentation last semester. It worked and the Vagina Monologues was a success. But why did we not see the same support for the other events of Gender Blender? The Vagina Monologues delved into consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, sex work, and several other topics through the eyes of women with various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences, and by doing so, aligned with a feminist stride towards gender equality. This is to be praised, but feminism is merely one aspect of the LGBTQA+ community that Gender Blender hoped to empower. Hopefully, in the weeks up to next year’s Gender Blender we can work to support and advance all sections of the LGBTQA+ community.
The last topic discussed in the Global Cafe was “Should events like Gender Blender be enforced on us?” Many students agreed with this idea, arguing that students and staff often avoid talking about gender issues, and that gender and sexuality are topics that must be discussed as a part of our education. If we neglect to attend events Gender Blender as a UWC community, events to empower diverse identities start to lose purpose. Indeed, when we neglect to discus these topics on the necessary scale, our community remains passive and fail to have a more positive impact on student’s self-confidence and gender-related identity. Perhaps, it’s time to ask ourselves if it is really necessary for the school to enforce us to attend these events for us to be involved.
Diego Zubieta is a first year student at United World College Maastricht. Diego has been a part of the Flying Dutchman as a writer since January 2018.