Spotlight: Taj Smith
Phallacies: A Masculine Performance
During the 5 years that he has been on campus Taj Smith, a doctoral student in Social Justice Education, has definitely made a dent in the UMass community.
One of the many things that Smith is heavily involved in is the male performance group Phallacies that is geared towards male issues. Currently a part of the UHS Center or Health Promotion, the program started as a vision from co-facilitator and colleague Tom Schiff who wanted to create a male theater group after participating in “Not Ready for Bedtime Players”. Schiff felt the need to do something for men and Smith conveniently came along looking for an internship while working on his dissertation and “teamed up” with Schiff to create the program.
When Phallacies began they initially worked without a model and were inspired by Body Politics and the Vagina Monologues; but, over the past four semesters it has truly evolved into its own.
The program has two components that consist of having a dialogue where men talk about various topics for four to five weeks with a new topic discussed in each class. Some topics that have been discussed are relationships between sons and their fathers, masculinity within bi-sexual and homosexual relationships, sexual health and risky behaviors.
“ We have the dialogue part to really probe and push people to think about their own stuff before they go out and try to educate other people,” says Smith.
With each topic students are told to write a piece about that topic and once stories are received they are edited and merged to create performance pieces, making the monologues become a reflection of everyone's stories.
Smith also mentioned that, “Some people stay on board with us from semester to semester... So even the stories of the people who have graduated or have left UMass still get represented.”
From this program, Smith feels that students have the opportunity to get an alternate male bonding experience that is outside of the conventional male conversation. They are able to open up about issues that they may not be comfortable talking about with their male friends.
Smith says, “they may feel like they have to act a certain way... that doesn't necessarily agree with who they really are but because of peer pressure or cultural expectations of what a man means they feel like they have to do that outside of the classroom. [Phallacies] allows them to be more of who they want to be, allows them to be freer and be their genuine selves and not have to put up this mask or facade.”
In addition to developing new friendships, Smith also mentioned that students become more aware of their “gendered” behavior. However, Smith says that “we're not saying that we're going to transform these guys in four months, that's not gonna happen.” rather, they are a work in progress.
The learning doesn't just stop with the students, within Phallacies there is a great amount of reciprocity in the student facilitator relationship.
Smith says, “It forces me to look at my own stuff... It makes me really think about my own behavior and my own intimate relationships, and my own language that could be or is sexist or homophobic.”
In addition to his involvement in Phallacies he has also been an instructor of Education 210 a Social Diversity in Education for 3 years. The program has also helped to motivate him in continuing his dissertation work which focuses on college masculinity and pushing for courses on masculinity. Smith also stated that there are not many opportunities for men to talk about masculinity and that when people think of gender studies it’s usually towards women. Smith is currently working towards having men represented as well as women.
Netha Gill – CMASS Editor