"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
In world history, it has been women’s leadership that has pushed social change, established historical events, and continuously run offices of support for survivors of violence. Thank goodness, women’s leadership has not stopped providing these educational and supportive institutions. I have had the opportunity to work with violence prevention and support groups, as well as attending the Washington State Conference of Assault Prevention. What I have found is that men are psychologically distant from these issues, primarily because we are socialized differently. Unsurprisingly, when we see things like Take Back the Night, most men do not participate or they wave it off. They feel that it is necessary for them to have a girlfriend or sister who has been affected to even participate, because it is a different world than they are used to. It is time we had more men entering the conversation surrounding sexual and domestic assault.
Two weeks ago I was handing out fliers for "Take Back the Night", a unity march against all forms of sexual assault and domestic violence. Yes, I was one of those individuals that you look at your phone to avoid the discomfort of being handed a flier.
When a man walked by and accepted my flier, I said, “Take Back the Night next Thursday!”
“What?” he asked.
I explained that there would be spoken word and then a unity march against sexual assault. Without hesitation, he replied, “but I don’t even have a girlfriend.” I almost blew up on the guy at the irrelevance, but still, I understood the naïve reasoning behind his reply.
First, understand that sexual assault and domestic violence, regardless of sex, gender, race, or socioeconomic status, affects everyone and anyone. Twenty-five percent of women and 6.2 percent of men will experience sexual assault during their college career. "Rape" seems like another word until it happens to you, your mom, dad, sister, brother, cousins, grandparents, friends, or partner. People don't care until you have a reason to make it personal. Yet, is that the only time that it becomes relevant to you? When it happens? When it is too late? And why is it that men feel that sexual assault is not their issue when in fact, it is?
When it comes to “gender-based” violence, many men excuse or separate themselves from the conversation. As men, we see sexual and domestic assault as a “women’s” issue. We leave them alone to march the streets and yell “no means no,” while only some men participate. We distance ourselves from an issue that incredibly has to do with us. In a culture that hypersexualizes women, ultimately for men’s pleasure, and pushes men to adopt hyper-masculine qualities, there is an imbalance of power in our society. This imbalance consequently puts women at men’s disposal.
Along with notion of “manliness” and the “gender box”, we create waves of boys that grow up unable to exercise the array of emotions and understand what a healthy relationship is. In addition, there is the massive influence that various media, pornography culture, institutions, and policing by other men have that forces men to stay the course of “male thought” play.
Unsurprisingly, men who are being sexually and physically abused are also being abused by other men. Let that sink in. On a 2012 TEDxFiDiWomen Talk titled “Violence Against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue,” expert on violence, media, masculinity, and gender violence educator, Jackson Katz, shares that “the same system that produces men that abuse women also produces men that abuse other men."
Both men and women are victims of pervasive men’s violence, and to add complacency and ignorance on top of that is problematic. We will see more women, boys, girls, and men being hurt unless more men begin to challenge other men who assault women, girls, boys, and other men. Again, understand that violence happens to anyone, but what we see most is that violence disproportionally comes from the male population.
On an issue that has primarily been women and women’s leadership, participation of sexual and domestic assault are waved off by a significant portion of our society that has an incredible, and necessary, voice in changing the tides of our culture. When we hear men taking a stand against sexual assault and domestic violence, it is profound. Why? It isn't common to see populations of men to take responsibility of an issue that largely has to do with them.
This year, men in the country of Turkey marched around the streets wearing miniskirts to make it clear that rape is not caused by a woman’s choice of clothing, after a 20-year-old woman was murdered fighting off a man trying to sexually assault her. In Mumbai, a women was stabbed by her husband and sent to the hospital, leaving her children with him. Police did not make it a priority, but an organization called Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD) did. The women was reunited with her three children and police began tracking her husband.
Image: Emrah Gurel/Associated Press
As a man myself, I invite more men to join the conversation about domestic and sexual assault. Become aware of the culture we live in, and that it is not as clear cut as you would perceive. There are many women, boys, girls, and other men who are hurting. Men, with your education, it is not about choice; it is about a responsibility to help other people. Is that not why you are in school?