Oh Really? “Real” Men?

I found Tipper’s article interesting in that it highlighted and examined a pretty real phenomenon that we tend to see in Writing Centers these days: writing tutors and tutees are usually female. She voices her concern that “there are many obvious and subtle ways in which we create and reinforce the ‘feminizing’ of our writing centers,” which is partly due to the trend that Writing Centers’ “selection of tutors is influenced by a preference for tutoring approaches which are more stereotypically feminine” (34).

Tipper goes on to explain that, as one might expect, this often dissuades male writers from seeking help from Writing Centers. After all, “reading, writing, sitting down and talking: these activities probably would not appear on most guys’ list of top ten ways to spend an afternoon” (34). Moreover, Tipper is keen to note that male students tend to seek less help since, to them, it often feels like a sign of weakness.

I was particularly impressed with the action-oriented plan implemented at Gilman in hopes of bridging the gender gap. For instance, Tipper explains that tutor training begins with outdoor challenges and team-building activities focused on the the dynamics of help, and tutors also began tending to supervised writing time during one-on-one conferences with students in order to give “more concrete ‘help,’ even though [the students] have made the revisions themselves” (37). These, I think, are tangible steps in the right direction — but I also think they have their limits.

While tutor training sessions with obstacle courses create a fresh and cooperative environment for tutors to internalize what they learn about giving and receiving help (among other great training topics, of course), these same sessions don’t bring the same level of awareness to (usually male) tutees. Sure, it’s great for tutors to better understand gender and power dynamics, but if the students to which the WC caters are still entrenched in their help-resisting attitudes, they still won’t come and seek it. I do think, however, that additional community-building activities open to the community on campus could add to the conversation and reel in everyday student writers — of any gender, really — who tend to resist seeking help.

Regarding the second point, Tipper explains that “rather than letting the client walk away with the advice to ‘smooth out the transitions,’ the client will actually spend time in the conference room or at a computer, writing transitions for his paper and running them by the consultant” (37). With this method, the student is able to see the immediate results, or the “action,” so to speak. But Tipper’s example seems almost too easy, especially since the main things writing partners dwell on do not necessarily consist of smoothing out the transition. We talk about ideas, the bigger picture, how the pieces of one’s argument fit together. Sure, we can talk about transitions too, but what happens when we sit there as the student re-writes his whole intro paragraph, shows it to us, and asks, “So is it correct now?”

And there’s one last thing. Although I understand that Tipper’s acknowledgement of masculine stereotypes better emphasizes the contrast between men’s versus women’s approaches to writing and the resulting gap in the Writing Center (as well as in attitudes toward the Writing Center), I do notice that the way in which she phrases her ideas tends to reinforce these same stereotypes. For instance, Tipper presents the following with a factual, absolute tone: “Guys like action. They can relate to it. They understand how it works” (36). Hmm… could this potentially imply that girls, on the other hand, don’t understand or don’t like “action”? As if girls and women are more wishy-washy? Also, in asking, “Is it too obvious to say that boys are competitive?”, Tipper gives us the impression that this statement is almost too factual, too “obvious” that perhaps it doesn’t even need mentioning. But there are competitive women as well, and laid-back, uncompetitive guys who would rather go with the flow. Perhaps my questioning Tipper’s word choice is besides the point of her argument, but in any case, I believe that tangents on perceptions of gender still warrant consideration.

All in all, I think there’s a lot of insight in the types of trends that Tipper brings up, especially since much of it comes from her experiences at Gilman. I also think there are some promising ideas here, but it’s nevertheless important to look at them with a critical eye. In my opinion, Tipper hasn’t reached a spark with pieces of flint despite her efforts — or at least she hasn’t done so just yet — but she has at least added some logs to what could eventually become a promising fire.

2 thoughts on “Oh Really? “Real” Men?

  1. Hi Tiffany! Thanks for your post, I think it really hit upon a lot of things I found compelling about the article, as well as places I found it kind of problematic.
    To start with the first, I agree that there is definitely a true phenomenon of the Writing Center as a female-dominated place. I disagree with her assessment that “reading, writing, sitting down and talking: these activities probably would not appear on most guys’ list of top ten ways to spend an afternoon” because actually most of my male friends at Pomona love to do all these things, and we often do them together (34). I actually think the problem lies more in the next point you noticed, which is that seeking help can be seen as a sign of weakness, and we are currently living in a society with rampant toxic masculinity. I’m not even saying that this is intentional on anyone’s part, I just think it is similar to the ways in which students from certain backgrounds may resist coming to the writing center because they feel they have to “prove” themselves, some men may resist coming to the writing center because they want to do their work “on their own.” I actually kind of felt this way at the beginning of my first year, when I similarly felt like I had to “prove myself” by doing everyone “on my own.” This came from a place other than toxic masculinity (I identify as female) however I am familiar with the feeling of “I don’t need any help.”
    Another compelling aspect of Tipper I thought was her anecdote about her husband, how he always took a directive approach. I don’t think the directive approach is restricted to men–I actually think my mom is a very directive person, whenever I tell her about something that is bothering me, she will always try to “solve” it rather than simply comfort me (but I think this tendency comes from her life experiences of growing up in a culture that treats women in a certain way and having to work twice as hard for her education as a foreign graduate in America than other people). However, I do think that many men can have tendencies toward directive approaches. When I asked my male friends why they don’t often come to writing center, the answer is usually along the lines of “I didn’t really find it helpful.” Is this because of the non-directive approach? What were their expectations coming into the writing center? Are males of some identities more likely to come to the writing center? I think these are some compelling questions raised by Tipper’s article.

  2. I have an unpleasant thought at the back of my mind, which is this: if most tutors are female, maybe fewer men come into the Writing Center because they don’t take women’s advice seriously.

    Maybe it’s just me – I’ve recently had a few sessions where male students made remarks implying that my femaleness wouldn’t allow me to understand their paper, or where they wouldn’t take my advice but would take advice from my male shift partner.

    I think we need to seriously consider the possibility that sexism is at play here, in addition to the other factors Tipper brings up.

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