Aaron W. Voyles discusses his season’s thanks and his struggles with thank yous.
This week, I didn’t know what to write at first. It’s traditional to write an article giving thanks at this time and reflecting. After all, that’s what many will be doing in their homes over this holiday break. For a writer, it’s the equivalent to when the comics page in a newspaper is filled with cats spelling out “season’s greetings” and the like so that the comic artists don’t really have to work too much for the holidays either. I’ll try not to make this article that much of a wasted opportunity.
I struggle in writing thanks because I think so often that some of things I would be thankful for are tied to my privilege. I am thankful to have a good job, but my quality education set me up for that. I was privileged to have parents who could afford to move into a neighborhood that had a wonderful charter school for me to attend as child.
I am thankful too that I have the ability to write this article, share my thoughts, and engage in discussions with others through my writing. Again, I was privileged to have a mother who could spend the time to read to me every night as a child, even complicated books like Robinson Crusoe.
I am not trying to say that I didn’t work hard or that my parents didn’t ever struggle or prioritize items in their life to help me. I did work hard, and they certainly did take every opportunity to help me progress in life.
At the same time, I was helped by my circumstances. Because my parents had enough money, I didn’t have to work through high school, or even college really unless I wanted to, which led to me better focusing on my studies and set me up for success after college as well. Because I’m now successful, my kids, should I choose to have any, will also have a good foundation from which to work.
And I am thankful for the blessings I’ve had. I’m thankful that I was born into a situation and family that has improved my life. But it does feel weird to talk about this thanks in the context of knowing that there are many people out there who have not had those opportunities despite their hard work and caring parents.
Regardless of my own circumstances and the ongoing conversation on privilege, I am also thankful for a lot that is happening in higher education. The fact that media are now covering sexual assaults and asking questions about schools’ responses is a step in the right direction.
Sexual assaults have been happening on college campuses since their existence, and people are finally taking notice and trying to enact change. When I attended undergraduate, I don’t remember having a single conversation in my orientation or in my residence hall about consent or about gender based violence. Awareness alone will not change the culture, but I am thankful for the conversation because awareness is a necessary condition for action.
I am also thankful for the gendering of men that has happened. I know many men who have felt disengaged in conversations about gender-based violence because they had no concept of their gender. Because being male is considered the default.
Having conversations about what it means to be a man shines a light on men as gendered beings and it shines a light on the privileges and responsibilities that come with being a man. Growing up, I could avoid conversations about gender based violence because I didn’t have to worry about my gender. I am thankful people are taking notice, at least in circles like The Good Men Project, because, again, awareness is needed for action.
So despite my struggles with feeling thankful, there are many things to be positive about. I think the most important part of thanks is not only taking the time to reflect on what we are thankful for, but also to renew our interest in moving forward. Thankfulness can’t mean inaction, and so the big question becomes “what’s next?”
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Ben Tesch/Flickr
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
That Time Snuggleupagus Made Me Uncool
Video Games as a Way to Connect with College Men
Could I Be an Expert on College Men?
Commitments that Compete
Broken Lantern Blues
Speaking with the Language of Responsibility
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat