Are guys choosing video games over social justice?
Published: Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 7:09am
Walk around Uni at lunch time, peeking your head into various classrooms. If you bop into a social justice club, such as Uni for Uganda, you will see mostly girls. Across the hall in Pokemon club, the guys rule the roost.
Taking a closer look at the make-up of the social justice clubs at Uni, from UFU and Habitat for Humanity to Green Club and S4BW, one thing stands out. There seem to be more girls than guys.
If you flip through last year's yearbook, 71% of the people in social justice club photos are girls. In 2008, 84% were female. Most current social justice club presidents are female.
Similarly, the numbers in the Social Justice (formerly Social Advocacy) class are skewed. Girls have outnumbered guys in the class by a ratio of 48 to 11 in the last five years that the numbers are available.
That's not to say all social action clubs and causes are female dominated. According to club sponsor Bill Sutton, Habitat Club is practically 50/50. He credits boys basketball, which prevents players from going on the annual Agora trip to the Mississippi Delta, as the main reason that since 2003 girls have made up an average of 70% of the applicants.
So while not true in every case, overall there seem to be more girls involved in social action causes at Uni.
Gargoyle reporter Sarah Yockey went out into the halls to find out why this is the case. Some students said it's just the causes at Uni that they don't care about.
"I just don't feel these causes really speak to me," said freshmen Diego Gundersen, "but there's this one bird rescue place and I would volunteer there, but there's no club to help aviators. I would happily do that, or saving puppies."
A group of freshmen offered lots of support toward going out after school and serving at a humane society or doing a similar activity. Freshmen Alice Rietz said she would be more likely to participate in a club "if they do stuff instead of just talk about it."
The desire to do something could explain why some clubs seem to have more balanced numbers. Food Pantry club, which repackages rice for distribution at each meeting, is one club that boasts a fairly even number of guys and girls. Perhaps the physical evidence of Food Pantry club's work could appeal more to guys than the planning and event organizing of other social justice clubs.
Short Uni lunches exacerbate the problem. Uni lunches are notoriously busy with make-up tests, fighting a path to the microwaves, and finishing up homework due in afternoon classes, not to mention talking to friends or eating. Among all the chaos, actually achieving anything in a club meeting could be considered an extraordinary feat!
"I volunteer like outside of school like at church and stuff like that, but I just don't do it really at school because I have a lot of other stuff to do and I want to spend time with my friends and stuff," said freshmen Bill Metcalf.
"I guess I would do it if it was after school, but during lunch - I guess I could go then," added Gunderson.
English teacher Suzanne Linder wonders if peer pressure has a lot to do with guys not participating in social justice clubs at Uni: "Any time there is that gender disparity it makes me wonder if there are guys who would like to be involved but feel like it's not a guy thing to do so they can't be involved."
Senior Buck Walsh, who is very involved with Habitat for Humanity, recalled how his peers responded to his involvement.
"I have this distinct memory, freshmen year, where you know the can drive we used to do for S4BW, we did it on Halloween. And at cross country I was telling [a teammate] about it and he was like "oh, that's lame," said Walsh.
For a very concrete but still plausible explanation, English teacher Elizabeth Majerus suggested that perhaps more guys are spending their time playing video games than participating in social justice causes.
"Guys are more likely to get sucked into playing video games in a sort of obsessive way, and I don't know why that is but I do think that's true," Majerus said.
In fact, according to the Washington Post, only 40% of gamers are female.
Social researchers have also suggested that a deep, psychological reason behind a person's empathy and willingness to work for a cause has to do with "contact."
In the 2001 paper, "White Male Identity Development: The Key Model," David Scott and Tracy Robinson discuss stages of awareness and empathy. They raise the idea of "a precipitating event, positive or negative, that creates dissonance between a person's existing belief system and real-life experiences with women and people of color that contradict this system."
While they focus specifically on white males, the idea seems applicable to any person. Sometimes even nice people don't care about an issue until they experience it firsthand.
The movie Mzungu, screened at the recent Uni For Uganda event, is an example of this. Four white guys travel to Africa, and in meeting the people and seeing the issues firsthand they become passionate about making a difference.
Lisa Spanierman, from the University of Illinois Department of Educational Psychology, suggests that women have more contact with injustice in the form of sexism, therefore they demonstrate more empathy for other oppressed people. Perhaps female Uni students are more involved in clubs because they understand what injustice feels like from their experiences with sexism.
But regardless of how Uni came to have a gender disparity in who participates in social justice causes, getting more guys to participate is important.
"I would rather it were equitable. I would rather that it were spread among men and women. I think because I feel like we all have to do something to make our world a better place, and if there is this perception that's kind of women's work then it's not going to happen. We're really not going to make the world a better place unless everyone feels invested in that and feels like it's their job," Majerus said.
So guys, here is your call to action: put down the controllers and get involved in making the world better.
Uni Club Statistics
Food Pantry Club: 16/25
Green Club: 18/21
Habitat for Humanity 8/12
Letters to Haiti: 1/5
Gay Straight Alliance: 15/22
Students 4 a Better World: 14/14
Sexual Health Awareness Group: 6/13
Uni For Uganda: 15/18
Students 4 a Better World: 11/12
Gay Straight Alliance: 15/18
Uni For Uganda: 8/11
Prejudice Awareness Club: 9/10
*numbers taken from yearbook club photos