SOUTH PORTLAND — Most teenage boys likely wouldn’t jump at an opportunity to join a club aimed at deconstructing gender stereotypes and working to end domestic violence.
South Portland High School senior Drew Abramson, who joined Guys and Pies as a sophomore, recognizes this.
Abramson – eighth in his class and one of 10 top scholars for 2016; captain of the varsity baseball team; a member of the basketball team, Interact Club, Spanish Club and Future Business Leaders of America – said Guys and Pies has been one of the more personal extracurricular activities he has participated in during his four years of high school.
The boys-only club was named for the pizza members eat during weekly lunchtime meetings. The club was founded by students in 2010, in collaboration with SPHS social worker Kara Tierney-Trevor and Matthew Perry, youth prevention specialist for the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program. YAAPP is an arm of Family Crisis Services.
The group is now led by Dan Kipp and Chris Kelleher, both prevention specialists with YAAPP.
In essence, it’s a “peer-run activist group spreading the word on men’s violence against women and how to end it,” Abramson said Tuesday morning.
At the recent annual gala for Family Crisis Services, Tierney-Trevor, in a speech she gave about Guys and Pies, quoted Kipp, who said, “‘All-male spaces are nothing new to our world, from locker rooms, to fraternity houses, to the de-facto male spaces within politics and the economy.
“‘But often that all-male context produces and encourages the most violent and disrespectful thoughts, beliefs and actions. What makes Guys and Pies noteworthy, then, is the uncommon content that occurs in that common context,'” she said.
The understanding among group members is that reducing domestic violence requires nipping the potential for it in the bud at the most basic levels, like dismantling and questioning gender roles, stereotypes and hierarchies.
The solution “needs to come not only from focusing on the victims or survivors, but also on the people who could potentially become perpetrators,” Tierney-Trevor said.
During high school, when young people are arguably the most influenced by gender stereotypes, getting male students to step back and gain perspective is no easy feat, Tierney-Trevor said.
Knowing this, the male-only group thoroughly vets potential members at the end of their freshman year, before selecting them to join – not to be exclusive, but to ensure that those who are chosen will take the duties seriously, because it’s “definitely a serious matter,” Abramson said.
The selected students are primed during their sophomore and juniors years and expected to attend the weekly meetings and participate in the group’s activities. Once they’re seniors, like Abramson, they’re expected to be stronger role models and agents of change in the community and their respective social circles, without necessarily attending weekly meetings.
The members frequently venture out of their closed discussion to engage in activities and prompt discussion with the rest of the student body. Recently Guys and Pies sold fortune cookies for 25 cents with heartening messages inside such as, “Call someone out if they make a sexist joke,” and “Love is not abuse,” Tierney-Trevor said.
Now, as graduation is imminent and Abramson is getting ready to attend Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts this fall, he said being a part of the group has “really opened my eyes to what’s going on around me.”
Especially in male-dominated places, like the locker room, where that type of language is likely to occur, Abramson said he has become acutely aware of even minor comments made in passing. As an example, he cited someone on the athletic field comparing another athlete’s ability to a girl’s, implying weakness.
As captain of the baseball team, “you want to be a role model,” said Abramson, who will be a walk-on player for the Bentley baseball team.
“With any guy group, they’re (most likely) going to be demeaning of women,” he said. “By speaking up, it shows younger kids it’s not OK.”
“I love that South Portland High School has this option,” he said of the group.
Last year, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a self-proclaimed feminist, through his online collaborative production company, HitRECord, posed a video question to people everywhere: “What does the word feminism mean to you?”
Abramson and the other members of Guys and Pies responded with their own video.
“Many men are violent towards women, and that makes us feel angry, guilty and shamed. We can transform those feelings into an awareness and understanding,” Abramson said into the camera.
“We men need to recognize that we were born with certain advantages and privileges that need to be evened out.”