Last Fri. afternoon at 2 p.m., 11 students and professors gathered in Brandywine Hall’s lecture room for a Men vs. Women Conference focused on sexual assault and its effects on women.
The conference, which was interactive and conversation-based, was led by three male students from the Women’s Center on the second floor of Lawrence Hall. Josh Bills, Malik Muhammad, and Nick Silveri-Hiller have all taken classes in women and gender studies, and are working with the MIA (Men in Action) Project to lead this and other conferences like it.
The conference, which lasted for just over an hour, centered on how American culture accepts and, in ways, encourages rape through gender roles and norms.
Men think they should be tougher, while for women, “the beauty standards are smaller, thinner, and so on,” said Silveri-Hiller, a senior undergraduate student studying women and gender studies.
Professor Rujuta Mandelia, who teaches women and gender studies at West Chester, agreed. “If I want to show that I’m a man, I’m going to carry a gun, or punch somebody, or rape somebody,” she said.
The students and professors debated over why men seem to dominate over women and why it is that women do so much to protect themselves from sexual assault while men do nearly nothing.
Listing the different prevention techniques they employ daily, men were able to come up with only four, while the women in the room listed over 20 things they do on a regular basis to avoid being assaulted.
While many of the ideas seemed to come naturally to everyone in the room, men in attendance were shocked by others, such as “don’t be too friendly or overly flirty.”
“I can’t imagine having to change my personality to stay safe,” said one male student in attendance.
“We’re always taught that men will be bigger,” said Laura Geiszler, a chemistry and biology student, explaining why individuals are taught prevention on the side of the victims rather than from the attackers, and why women are more concerned than men.
While everyone in the room concluded that it was not an excuse, other students agreed with Geiszler that we are taught from a young age simply to expect it and prepare accordingly. “It’s in our biology textbooks [that men are inherently bigger],” said one student.
While the conversation ultimately centered on biological versus psychological ideas such as Geiszler’s, ultimately the group decided that victim blaming and rape culture, not biology or natural psychology, are the reasons behind the alarming statistics (every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted according to rainn.org).
“We need to put the responsibility back on the men,” said Muhammad, rather than simply warning women of what to do when they are out alone or with friends.
And part of that, said Josh Bills, is to “redefine masculinity” not just to include “muscular” and “strong” as pre-requisites.
The MIA Project will be working with the Women’s Center on a number of other events throughout the semester including an event called “Dude, Get Your Weight Up” geared towards discussing societal pressure on men to look and act a certain way. The discussion will take place on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Women’s Center.
For a list of other events hosted by MIA or by the Women’s Center, check http://www.wcupa.edu/_services/stu.wce/calendar.asp.
Kiersten McMonagle is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at KM745613@wcupa.edu.