by Olivia Neary-Hatton, YPT Co-op Student
As one of the only 16-year-olds around the office here at YPT, I tend to see things from a different perspective. I am not always aware of this age gap, but it became more apparent when I attended the Boys With Cars Forum where I was the only teenager present among a group of adults. The event was intended for parents, educators, college and university students, administrators, artists and arts workers interested in discussing three key themes brought to light in the play: cultural appropriation, female empowerment and male privilege.
I was enlisted to be a scribe for the first part of event: small group discussion. This entailed listening in on one of the discussions and taking note of what seemed to spark special interest or attention. I would then, along with the other scribes, relay these ideas to the panelists Anita Majumdar (playwright, performer and choreographer of Boys With Cars), Allen MacInnis (YPT Artistic Director), and Dr. Lance McCready, so that they could focus on what those attending really wanted to talk about. I scribed for the discussion on male privilege, led by Andrew Townsend from Planned Parenthood Toronto, and was intrigued by what I learned.
Of course it was interesting to hear these adults wonder quizzically about what was going on in the minds of teenagers today. I had more than a vague idea. I felt slightly intimidated being the youngest in that room and many things were mentioned that sparked my interest and pulled at my opinionated side. However, I kept these ideas to myself – not because I was scared, but because I was interested in letting the adults discuss things on their own and see their uninterrupted thought process. Furthermore, I was there as a scribe to assist and take notes, not to heatedly correct and rebut. But despite my silence at the forum, I have many ideas and opinions, and I’m writing this to share them with you.
Prior to the forum, male privilege was not something that I had heard a lot about, although I was surprised when the adults in the room with far more life experience and familiarity with many of the topics at hand were also at a loss for ideas when the concept was introduced. The conversation started to drift off into a different direction when they started discussing the difficulties of communication between growing teenagers and parents or other trusted adults – specifically, how conversations about sex or gender can become awkward or feel unnatural. We continued to skirt around the subject and, I felt, never actually talked much about male privilege.
It wasn’t until we got into the actual panel discussion that I realized what was happening. YPT sets up the panel as a responsive discussion to the small group conversations that happen prior. So, before the panel, all of the scribes and panelists meet and the scribes report on the sticking points or hot topics that took hold in their respective groups. I was nervous to present what I felt were minimal notes. Each scribe presented a hearty platter of juicy topics that everyone seemed passionate about, so I became more nervous, as it seemed to me that it was only the topic that was lacking. Did I not take proper notes? Was I missing something? I struggled to feel confident presenting, but it felt to me that the groups never properly discussed the subject. It turns out it wasn’t me! After I shared my notes, panelist Lance McCready pointed out that this topic is not something that we talk about in the way we do feminism or female power.
The panel discussion revisits each of these three themes. Just as had happened in the small group discussions, when it came to male privilege, it felt like rolling conversation suddenly stalled. Lance took this opportunity to further discuss the ghost-like chatter we hear when it comes to this topic. He introduced the idea that we aren’t even versed in the vocabulary to discuss it. Many don’t understand exactly what male privilege is or struggle to find the language to talk about it without placing blame on young men. Though there are many examples we see in our everyday lives, in the media and politics, it’s not a conversation we have. I think that makes discussing this topic that much more important.
I don’t claim to have extensive knowledge on the implications and realities of male privilege, but the discussion about this discussion (or lack of it) got me thinking. I began turning over in my mind certain social situations that presented themselves at school, things that even my mother would say as I was growing up or certain news stories on TV or in the paper. Male privilege is there; I promise if you look, you’ll find it. Of course, we all can’t start blaming males as soon as they come out of the womb for a flaw in society that they can’t control. But it’s vital that we start the conversation about male privilege, start finding the words to discuss it, and not just let ourselves be intimidated into letting it go unnoticed.