When I first heard about, then subsequently read the letter, written by Dr. Robert Franklin, president of Morehouse College, to his alumni about the forthcoming Mean Girls of Morehouse story, featured in this month’s Vibe Magazine, I kind of understood where he was coming from.
A story centered on the year-old Appropriate Attire Policy, instituted by the 143-year old all male institution, seemed likely to fan the flames of the gay rights movement. After reading the actual article, and then Dr. Franklin’s letter again, I am definitely convinced that there is something more happening, which needs to be addressed.
If you haven’t read the piece, the article highlighted a few Morehouse students, known sort of affectionately as the Plastics (hence the Mean Girls reference), who represent the small gay and gender-bending group on the University’s campus. These students’ preference for heels, makeup and expensive handbags has put them at odds with the recently instituted dress policy, which among other things, bans the wearing of feminine clothing like dresses, tunics, purses and high heeled pumps.
After much public outcry, Dr. Franklin and his staff defended the policy with claims that it was intended to produce leaders like Martin Luther King, Samuel Jackson and Spike Lee. Interesting considering that the only three things the they have in common are that they are male, graduates of Morehouse and apparently straight. However, Morehouse College is a private educational institution and it reserves the right to set the kind of standards that it feels is proper for the students in attendance.
Yet I still can’t help but think that Dr. Franklin, the staff and some of the student body are totally missing out on what could be a valuable teachable moment. As an institution of higher learning, which prides itself on building leaders, I find it odd that the College is pushing for a dress policy, which only seeks to reinforce the strict and narrow definitions of manhood.
As the University’s vice president of student affairs believed that the issue centers exclusively around “five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” the message is clear: it is more important that men adhere to hyper-masculine representations of manhood, without giving credence to the overall character development of these young men on the inside.
Instead of focusing on how we could get these gender-bending men to follow the pack, a more appropriate approach could have been to have open campus-wide dialog on the strict codes of masculinity and show these future leaders that there are many ways to be a man. The rules of masculinity are not only tough on young men, who are gay, but also young men, including the non-athletic, the creative and the financial challenged, who simply don’t fit the traditional mold of manhood.
Much like all-women colleges and universities, which encourages women to explore and challenge all aspects of femininity, all-men colleges and universities, should also be providing the same safe environment for all of its young student body. Whether its gender bending or some other shallow reference to manhood (such as baggy jeans and doo-rags, which the University has also banned), I think that it is important that young men feel supported, acknowledged and valued, without criticism, or insecurity.
Perhaps this change of approach could have spared Gregory Love, a Morehouse man, who was savagely beaten with an aluminum baseball bat by fellow student Aaron Price, who didn’t take too kindly to the apparent sexual attention from Love. Perhaps if Price would have been properly guided by the elders on campus to not feel threatened or emasculated by attention from the same sex, Price would have been prepared to deal with the countless other “differences” in this grand universe.
As my mother – and father – used to tell me, it’s not so much about what you wear, but the person that resides underneath. And while I strongly believe that manhood and womanhood are both social constructs, I do believe that a real man can be defined as being responsible, having good character and showing kindness and compassion to others, which are ironically all the markers of a good human being – regardless of gender.