Gender discrimination can be directed towards someone women, men, homosexuals, or drag queens alike. In Susan Faludi’s “The Naked Citadel,” the men of the citadel are naughtily taught to discriminate against women and homosexuals. The men see women as unequal subjects and believe that they should never be granted the opportunity to attend The Citadel. Similarly, homosexuality is looked upon as being abnormal and wrong and anyone who is homosexual is not considered a “real man.” Likewise, in Beth Loffreda’s “Losing Matt Shepard,” the gay men and women are fiercely ostracized. Group mentality plays a huge role in the reason why different groups of people are discriminated against. Large groups have the ability to influence and persuade people into mimicking the way the group thinks and acts. Some individuals oppress their opinions to fit in with a group while others simply abandon their old opinions and adopt new ones as a result of being heavily influenced. Either way, gender discrimination occurs. When one joins a group one understands that he or she has to conform to the group in order to be accepted. The need to be accepted causes one to either oppress one’s opinions or change them altogether. However, when one chooses to oppress his or her opinions, eventually one will act out against the group.
Some individuals oppress their true opinions for safety reasons and in order to fit in with a group of people. The Citadel practices an extremely misogynistic way of life. Once men enter The Citadel, they are taught from day one to hate women and homosexuals. If one does not obey by this rule and does not practice The Citadel’s views on women and homosexuals, one will be debased and will not be treated as a “real man.” If one does not oppress one’s own opinion and replace it with The Citadel’s opinion and if one does not adopt the violent way of life at The Citadel, one will be endlessly tortured and beaten. In order for an individual to be safe and fit in with the rest of the group, one must at least act as if he or she shares the group’s opinions. The institution of The Citadel creates the conception that in order to be a cadet, behaving aggressively and violently is imperative. Even if one is brave enough to outwardly support the rights of women and homosexuals, he or she must suffer the consequences.
Therefore, the cadets are solely bound to each other by that factor. As Faludi states, “The military stage set offers a false front and a welcome trapdoor—an escape hatch from the social burdens of traditional masculinity” (Faludi 210). The Citadel is an institution that seems to welcome the men into their community, but upon their entrance, they are essentially trapped and have no way out. The cadets come to discover that The Citadel manipulates them and thrusts them into a world of exaggerated masculinity where they are forced to put up a front that adheres to the institution’s masculine status. It is nearly impossible for the cadets to be accepted within The Citadel’s community without at least oppressing their opinions. All men that attend The Citadel want to be safe and accepted. By oppressing one’s opinion and joining the group, it gives one a sense of unity and relief. “I know it sounds trivial, but all of us in one shower, it’s like we’re all one, we’re all the same, and—I don’t know—you feel like you’re exposed, but you feel safe” (Faludi 182). All aspects of the men’s lives are performed as a unit. If a cadet is not a part of this unit, he will not be a part of The Citadel family. Being in a group and fitting in with the group mentality is far easier for most individuals because they feel protected and united. Ultimately, the people who oppressed their feelings at The Citadel started to discriminate against women and homosexuals and conducted themselves in a violent manner did so to act like the masses.
As some men at The Citadel oppress their opinions, the gays in “Losing Matt Shepard” also oppress their feelings. Some gays experience “The anxiety some gay or questioning students might feel attending a public meeting” (Loffreda 369). In order for a gay man or woman to keep his or her safety and fit in with the majority, one must hide the fact that he or she is gay. To the majority, being homosexual is considered wrong and frowned upon. Homosexuality causes an unjust connotation of abnormality and disgust. Many people take it to an extreme and publicly humiliate and torment any person suspected of being gay. For this reason, the vast majority of homosexuals take it upon themselves to hide their sexuality and refuse to expose themselves as a means of protection and safety. It takes extreme courage for a homosexual to publicly reveal his or her sexual orientation. If a man at The Citadel went against the group, he would suffer the consequences of being shunned and excluded. Likewise, if a homosexual person went against the majority, he or she would have to suffer the same consequence of being ostracized. Thus, the easy way out for both the cadets and the homosexuals is to oppress their true opinions and feelings and go along with the group mentality.
Although some men at The Citadel only oppress their opinions, some conclusively change their opinions all together. Once some individuals are placed in The Citadel, with such a misogynistic community that is constantly mocking women and homosexuals, they will eventually start to adapt to that way of thinking. Consequently, these individuals will start following the group and will engage in discriminating against women and homosexuals. Institutions like The Citadel have strong beliefs and sets of rules that the men are expected to follow. The people that attend The Citadel abide by these rules because that is what they are expected and ordered to do. Moreover, The Citadel follows certain traditions along with these rules that have been in practice since the institution was established. The administration is expected to uphold these traditions. The administration heavily influences and shapes the student’s opinions, and thus persuades them to take part in following their traditions. These traditions, in return, badger with the cadets’ minds and toy with their ability to think for themselves. Faludi states, “This “system” is a nine-month regimen of small and large indignities intended to “strip” each young recruit of his original identity and remold him into the “Whole man” (Faludi 182).
The Citadel believes that a “Whole man” is one without any fear, one that is violent, aggressive, and has misogynistic beliefs. They believe that men should not act like what they would consider “woman-like” or act like a homosexual, or even be homosexual. Those two traits are considered areas of weakness, and being taunted with phrases that scorn women and homosexuals punishes any man who shows weakness. It is easy for some to adapt to this life-style effortlessly because of the continual pressure the institution implements on its cadets to act this way. People feel as though the “group’s” way of thinking is the proper way of thinking because it is that of the majority. Groups hold a lot of power, so people will easily take on the group’s mentality rather than being an individualist. As these individuals do not question the rules of The Citadel and follow their discriminatory behavior, religious individuals in “Losing Matt Shepard” do not question their religious beliefs. An individual with strong religious beliefs is taught from day one that homosexuality is in the wrong. It is not accepted, and people who are religious are fully aware of this. They do not question this belief because it is what they have always been taught through the practice of their religion.
Loffreda affirms, “Religious justifications were everywhere, of course, in the attacks on homosexuality” (Loffreda 384). As a result, when Matt Shepard was murdered, religious citizens did not take into account that Matt was an innocent man or take the time to get to know the kind of person Matt was. They went by what they were taught all their lives, and therefore showed no empathy towards homosexuals. Since Matt Shepard was a homosexual, this drastically changed religious individuals’ opinion on the murder. They only took into account that he was gay, and since gays are discriminated against in the religious community, the murder had no affect on them. Thus, it is common for many people to abandon their own views and individuality for a group’s view instead, because it requires a great deal of strength to break away from the masses.
While group mentality impels the cadets to oppress or abandon their opinions, those who simply oppress their opinions will eventually act out. Acting out always has repercussions and can turn out to be a dangerous situation for the person who in fact took a stand and went against the group or majority. Group mentality, whether one oppresses his or her opinion or completely abandons those opinions for new ones, makes one act the way the group acts. However, individuals who decide only to oppress their opinions eventually act out or separate themselves from the group in one way or another. When the cadets and homosexuals are forced to oppress their feelings for too long, they develop a need to express their own opinions and separate oneself from the group. By the conclusion of Faludi’s essay, some men were caught at a gay bar in the company of drag queens. From this, one could infer that some of the men were gay, despite the fact that they practiced hating homosexuals at The Citadel.
As Faludi articulates, “There are thousands of cadets, presumably, who have not dated drag queens, but in two visits to the Treehouse I could find only two drag queens, out of maybe a dozen, who did not tell me of dating a cadet” (Faludi 209). The men who were dating the drag queens were forced to conceal it from the rest of the group. One was forced to do this because the understood group mentality at The Citadel is that a “real man” is not gay. If the rest of the men at The Citadel found out one were gay, he would be beaten and run out of the institution. Similarly, Matt Shepard acting out and admitting his sexuality turned out to be fatal for him. The sole reason McKinney and Henderson murdered Matt Shepard was because “Matt’s sexuality was woven through all of it” (Loffreda 368). Groups have more power, so they are more likely to engage in violent behavior or implement some kind of change.
The men at The Citadel who engage in gender discrimination are the dominating majority. They have the power and authority to influence everyone else that enters The Citadel to act the way they do. This is the reason why all of the men at The Citadel succumb to the institution’s unwavering opinions and beliefs. In Loffreda’s essay, the majority of people are not homosexual, so individuals like McKinney and Henderson are fully aware of the fact that no one can stop them because of the power they have being in a large group. Therefore, by Matt Shepard taking a stand and coming to terms with his sexuality, the torture and ridicule was almost inevitable.
Large groups have a vast influence on the way one acts. Moreover, groups have the ability to influence one to gender discriminate. Through the readings of “Losing Matt Shepard” and “The Naked Citadel,” one comes to realize the power group mentality has on individuals and how tough it is to maintain individuality. Acceptance is something everyone wants in his or her life, and so this requires one to succumb to whatever the group mentality may be. This may require one to oppress his or her feelings just to gain that acceptance, or it may come easier for some who completely abandon their old beliefs for the group’s beliefs. The person who stands out and follows his or her own beliefs runs the risk of suffering the consequences for that decision. Likewise, someone who oppresses his or her opinion in order for acceptance from the group is likely to act out. In this instance, the people who oppress their opinions also run the risk of that decision. Ultimately, the group or majority will always have the power over any individuals and will always influence and shape the way each and every person acts in reaction to that.
Courtney from Study Moose
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