When Will Men StepIn?
Donald Trump. Bill Cosby. Harvey Weinstein. Roy Price. R. Kelly. James Toback. Bill O’Reilly.
These are some of the most recent men who have been accused of sexual violence, all with one important thing in common: power. Sexual violence by men in power is not new. The same as any form of oppression, it has been operating under the fabric of our society for far too long. For every Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, there are thousands of men who are never exposed. There are hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors who never see a perpetrator punished for this heinous act. As great as it is for these powerful and influential men to be held accountable for their actions, there is still great work to be done.
Have we, as a society, finally reached a turning point on addressing sexual violence? The last several months of high profile perpetrators publicly exposed by hundreds of long-silent victims certainly seems to be pointing us in the right direction. That is until we think about this very important fact, this is not the first time victims have come forward. This is not the first time high profile men have been accused of sexual violence and it will not be the last- not until we as men start acknowledging and actively engaging in ways that will lead to a change in culture.
If you’ve been wondering at all why there is a growing focus on men surrounding sexual violence, it’s because women have been fighting this fight for too long. Women are tired. They’re tired of being treated like an object. They’re tired of infringements on their freedom. They’re tired of suggestive comments and demeaning remarks. They’re tired of the privilege we receive simply by being a man.
How can men StepIn and change rape culture?
Rape Culture. When pairing Rape with the term Culture, a word that can be simply defined as behavioral and social norms in society, for some it can often be difficult to understand how these two terms can be linked together. The behavioral and social norms that define Rape Culture are often, but not always, implicit and are seen through the numerous ways in which society excuses and tolerates sexual violence along a continuum. Where sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape is normalized, trivialized, blamed on the victim, and even ignored. Where the collective continues to teach how not to get raped instead of teaching how not to rape. Here are some ways that men can actively StepIn:
Stop saying that we’re shocked. Trust me I get it. You had no idea that so many of your female friends experienced sexual harassment and assault. When #metoo hit the internet a few weeks ago, my newsfeed was flooded with stories from victims and survivors. My assumption is that you were shocked by how many women were coming forward because like myself, you consider yourself a good guy. You want to express your solidarity. But to many women your shock is because you haven’t been paying attention. Women live this every minute of every day. They see it in front of them, from misogynistic jokes to street harassment to women being looked over at work. It’s too late to be surprised about it. We need to be proactive about changing it.
And along the same lines, we need to end the narrative, “As a father of daughters” or “as someone with sisters and a mother” from our vocabulary. We should be repulsed that women are being treated this way because women are human beings, not because we happen to be related to one.
Believe Women. When a woman tells us she was sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to her tell you what happened, and believe her. We all have a narrative that has been fed to us through established cultural and social norms that has supported a biased narrative of victim blaming; “Why were you wearing that short skirt?”, “What did you think would happen when you went back to his room?”, “Why did you get so drunk?”. These beliefs are common. If you have them I would challenge you to ask where those beliefs came from. Did someone sit you down and teach you that a woman who is wearing a skirt, is drunk, or who goes to a guy’s room should be expected to be assaulted and following the assault, be blamed for it? Were you taught that if you encountered any of these scenarios that assault could and should be an option? Recognize the thought and replace the victim blaming with “I Believe You”.
Know that sexual violence takes many different forms and varies widely. There’s a false belief about those who commit rape and what a “real” victim or rape is… We have all heard it before – a rapist is a creepy man who is hiding in the bushes or who lurks in a dark alley and jumps out at an unsuspecting female minding her own business as she walks to her destination. This is extremely rare.
It is estimated that approximately 80-85% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows- a friend, a boyfriend, the boyfriends best friend, the guy that was hanging out with her all day at the tailgate and football game with mutual friends, the guy she met at the party, the guy from Bio-Chem class. Rapists are not all cartoon-like monsters. They are not, what some may perceive to be creepy or strange or even scary looking. Someone who commits an act of rape most often looks like you and me. They are a lot like your friends. They are a lot like you.
It will be uncomfortable. You will not always feel like a hero. Calling someone out for inappropriate behavior at work, in public, or in your personal life is not glamorous. I bet you have images in your head, like those I did when I first joined this movement- telling off a brutally sexist coworker with wit and poise in the work place, greeted by applause and recognition. You, approaching a harasser on the street, telling them to shut the hell up and asking the woman if she’s okay. Hero!
It’s most likely not going to be like that.
You might be laughed at. You might be shunned. You might be threatened. And there will come a time when the offender is your best friend, or your boss, or someone important in your career field. Harvey Weinstein was protected for decades because he was so powerful. Stop it from happening in your industry. It’s not going to be easy, it probably will never be easy. Doing the right thing can be very difficult sometimes.
Men, StepIn. Men, we need to become allies who are actively engaged in changing rape culture for us to work towards ending sexual violence and achieving gender equality. It’s time we put ourselves in the narrative and realize that what society has forever called a “women’s issue” has never been. The sexual violence, sexual harassment, gender inequality, etc. that happen at epidemic rates in this country and in this very state are not theirs to bare. It is time that we, as a collective come together and join all who are working to end sexual violence. Step in, Why wouldn’t you?