MARS launch dinner receives attention & scrutiny from Lawrence community

On Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the first Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) dinner, Lecturer of Gender and Freshman Studies Helen Boyd Kramer opened with, “This is fucking stupid.”

The ‘this’ she was referring to was multifaceted and struck a chord with many of the women in the room. The video that followed, showing rituals women have for trivial actions like getting into a car to keep them safe, continued to highlight the discrepancies between the realities of masculine and feminine people.

Despite this, senior, Chair of Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SAASHA) board member of MARS Hannah Shryer admits that the event had a different focus.

“Just sitting through the program was hard for me because it wasn’t targeted for people like me, it wasn’t targeted toward women, people who have as much knowledge [on this issue],” began Shryer.

Naturally, others found the dinner informative.

“I think the event was successful in describing the fundamental aspects of the issue. Those being: what is sexual assault, harassment and rape; what is consent; what are Lawrence’s policies regarding these; and that these are issues that affect everybody,” said senior Galen Dods.

Shryer continued to stress that the attendees were “responsive and good listeners and felt that most of them could take [her] seriously.” Shryer was also surprised with the massive turn out.

“Honestly, the event received too much publicity, too much recognition. It was just a launch event, which was really pivotal, but at the same time, it was a little too much, especially when people like me, people in SAASHA, people in Downer Feminist Council [DFC], people who have graduated have been working on this sort of thing for a very long time and these people have always been women and never gotten that recognition,” said Shryer.

Joe Samalin, one of the speakers at the event, addressed this issue highlighting that he could say, “Men! Don’t rape! It is bad!” and receive a standing ovation, yet “the women who taught [him] everything [he] knows and continue to teach [him] say the same thing, but eloquently, instead get rape or death threats.”

However, although this recognition was present, many students felt that the three hour dinner left much to be desired. Mainly, this criticism rests on the lack of female voices and general confusion about the creation of the MARS chapter at Lawrence.

“Why does there have to be a separation if we are talking about a topic that affects all genders? It should be a dialogue,” questioned sophomore Mia Bowens.

“If I want to learn about biology, I am going to go to a biologist, not a journalist who wrote about a biological discovery. I don’t see how this is any different,” began sophomore Sabrina Conteh.

Conteh continued to emphasize that while the dinner was well intentioned, it was misguided.

“[In the future, MARS] should consider doing a series of workshops that would more effectively relay this information and allow for discussion,” said Conteh. “This was way too much information at once without addressing topics like rape that happens to men, how rape happens on campus, etc. It just felt like a lot of coddling.”

Shryer agrees that she envisions changes in the future.

“We could have been more intersectional and inclusive of people of different identities. [This event] was definitely targeted for stereotypical ideas of what masculine people are and identify as and the groups they’re in, so that realm of heteronormative gendered cultured,” said Shryer.

Through this, the general reaction seemed to call for a better way to meet the goals of this organization.

“Based on this initial event, I think that MARS has the potential to galvanize significant change with their future initiatives,” said Dods.

“[In the future,] there should be more discussion about masculinity, because we were reiterating over and over that you should be able to talk about your feelings if you’re a masculine person, but we never gave [the audience] the opportunity to do that or even digest it beyond hearing people present on it,” continued Shryer.

In spite of the numerous changes requested by the Lawrence community, Shryer is ultimately pleased with the event.

“Even if it was seemingly kind of basic, it was still important,” concludes Shryer.

MARS plans on participating in future events throughout the year, for instance, a Concert for Consent occurring this spring.