There are a lot of things you’ll notice within your first few minutes at Naropa—there’s nothing weird about wearing yoga pants for any activity here, hugs tend to go on for potentially uncomfortable lengths of time, and the school has its own vocabulary that is baffling to non-Naropans (including atypical definitions for “contemplative,” “container,” and “space,” just to name a few). But probably the first thing that you’ll notice, particularly if you’re male, is that Naropa is dominated by women.
In fact, according to Naropa’s facts at a glance page, 61% of first year students are female, compared with the 39% who are male. And while I couldn’t find any percentages for the TCP specifically, I suspect that the numbers are even more skewed. Admittedly, these statistics don’t take into account individuals who do not identify as “male” or “female,” but no matter how you look at it, there are a lot of women here. I’m sure that these figures won’t surprise anyone who’s wandered the halls for more than five minutes, but to the unknowing applicant, this may be somewhat surprising.
Furthermore, the men at Naropa seem to have a different sort of affect than many American guys. While I don’t have any stats to back this up, my own personal observation has been that many of the men here are decidedly more connected with their emotions, more ready to engage in dialogue, and less inclined to assert the stereotypically qualities that are often associated with masculinity.
Which should be great, right? Well, it depends who you are. If you’re a woman, having this many other women around is probably pretty nice. You can express your feelings with the knowledge that if someone complains about you being “too emotional,” that person is probably in the minority and will likely be socially castigated. Plus, in the classroom, the discussions tend to be very accepting of women’s struggles in a largely patriarchal society, and acknowledgement of sexism is expected.
But what about the men?
I’ve brought up this topic to a few men outside of Naropa, and their responses have been invariably the same: “awesome.” Yes, most non-Naropan men that I’ve talked to don’t seem to mind the idea of having two women for every man in every class (if not more). However, the reality is not necessarily so cheery. Because after a while, it gets tiring.
Think about it this way. Women tend to have a sense of community. We gravitate toward each other for support. If a woman is crying in the bathroom, many other women will stop to see if she’s okay, and offer her a tissue. Women chat with each other at bus stops. When we’re clothes shopping, we can probably go up to almost any other woman and ask for her opinion about the dresses we’ve tried on, without worrying about it. Women complement each other, help each other out, and generally look out for each other. And when there are this many women in one place, we tend to form a pretty tight knit community.
But what about the guys? What happens when you’re one of three men in a class of twenty five? What happens when that class starts discussing sexism, and suddenly all of these hurt, frustrated women who have never been able to express this stuff in a safe setting let loose their stories of injustice?
Not sure? Well, what would it feel like to be the one of three women in a class of twenty five men who are discussing how angry they are at women?
No matter how you look at it, there’s bound to be some discomfort. And this entire program is mostly women. That means that men spend several days per week, for three to four years in a setting where they are bound to feel like an outsider at least part of the time, if not more often. That alone would be enough to make a person’s life more difficult.
But as I said, women tend to have a sense of community that men often don’t have. Of course, men have friends and colleagues that they get along with, and many men have female friends. But it’s not quite the same in some ways. Men aren’t used to looking to each other for emotional support. Men who show vulnerability in dominant U.S. culture are often insulted and ridiculed, and sometimes just showing emotionality is considered grounds for physical violence.
I have spoken to a few men in this program, and while most of them don’t feel exactly unwelcome here, many do feel a certain degree of isolation. This is particularly true for men who were raised in families or cultures where the “stiff upper-lip” mentality was prevalent.
Alright, so why did I choose to write a lengthy blog post about it? Well, for two reasons.
The first reason is for the men at Naropa. I can’t understand your experience, necessarily, but I do acknowledge it. And I want you to know that I am choosing to be consciously aware of it as often as possible. Please know that your presence here is important, and that I value your opinions as much as those of the women in this program. I know it might be harder to speak up in class on gender-related issues, but I for one will always be interested in what you have to say.
The second reason is for the women here. We need to be aware of this. I know that we’re used to not having the privilege that men have, and that suddenly being in an institution where our sex is well-represented, both in the student body and in the faculty, can be incredibly comforting. But please remember that not everyone here is comforted by this, and as the majority, we have a certain degree of power here. We must use it responsibly. I believe that it is our responsibility to keep ourselves from crowding out the men at Naropa. So I’m asking you to let the men in your classes know that you value their opinions and their presence here.
Finally, I am interested to know more about the experiences of men here at Naropa. Can you identify with this, or has your experience been different? Please post your thoughts, if you feel comfortable doing so. I am eager to hear your voice.