As I’m sure many of you and your inboxes have noticed, there has been an increased number of Timely Warnings sent out recently. I am thankful that these women feel comfortable enough to report the actions of these men. In turn, it angers me that these actions are occurring in the first place.
I understand why we want to believe that our campus is omitted from these types of crimes. Being an alumnus of West Chester University of Pennsylvania Class of 2012, I am proud to be a Golden Ram. This has been my home for a long time and I see these e-mails and think to myself, what is happening to my home? And then I think, should I be asking this question? Or should I be asking, what is happening to our culture?
I was having a discussing with a man the other day about the timely warnings. Our original topic led to a discussion about football. Now, you might be asking what football has to do with sexual assault and rape culture. I’ll give you some insight. Think for a moment what a coach or player might say to another player in order to “motivate” them to play better, harder, score more. They call them a “girl”.
From a young age football, and I’m sure other sports as well, are molding the minds of young boys to think that to be a girl, is to be weak, and being weak means being of lesser value; A human, being of lesser value, in 2014?
These comments, hopefully, are not said to provoke this kind of thinking, but essentially that is what’s happening here. But we cannot just blame sports teams. In fact, I’m not sure pointing a finger is going to be helpful at all. However; yes, people need to take responsibility for their own actions, and I’m not talking about what a woman chooses to wear on a night out with her friends, I’m talking about what a perpetrator chooses to do with their hands or other body parts. The length of a dress, neckline of a shirt, or color of her shoes is not an invitation for rape.
Furthermore, we need to be looking to see what we can do to change this idea that women are disposable and that men are inherently uncontrollable in regards to sex and it’s just the way they are “wired.” Biologically, men and women are different in some ways, but when it comes to the ability to control one’s sexual desires men and women are exactly the same. It is social construction that instills and reinforces the notion that “boys will be boys.” We are taught these things. They are not biological.
So now that you’ve received your sociology of gender lesson in one paragraph, what should we do now? First, we need to expand the dialogue box. If we restrict ourselves to surface level conversations we will never be able fight this epidemic we are facing. After having these meaningful discussions we need to make concrete action plans. What can we do to help prevent future occurrences from happening? What steps need to be taken to move forward, not backward in terms of viewing sexual assault and rape as a real issue? And the last point I’d like to make is the “we” I keep mentioning, needs to include men.
When women fight for issues that involve women, men often think it’s not about them, or not their place to get involved, or feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. Or most often, in this case men view rape and sexual assault as a “woman’s issue.” I think Jackson Katz explains it best in his TED Talk entitled, Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue.
He discusses how men are directly affected by violence done by other men. They have mothers, sisters, best friends who are survivors of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence. There are boys who are survivors of sexual assault, child molestation, rape and domestic violence. He emphasizes the fact that they as men have the power to be heard louder than women. He understands making that statement is sexist, but he also understands the statement is true. Men will listen to other men. He speaks about how the same system that produces men who abuse women, produce men who abuse other men.
The system needs to be stopped and the best way to intervene is to no longer be a bystander. A bystander is anyone not directly involved in the occurring situation. I’m not suggesting putting yourself in danger, but I am suggesting making an effort to help the person in danger find safety. Katz explains bystander behavior very clearly. The line can appear blurry sometimes, but it is clear. He uses the example of bystander behavior in reference to racism and heterosexism. If a person says a racist comment and no one says “Hey, that’s not cool, don’t say that.” It is giving that person and everyone else around who heard the comment permission to continue to degrade and dehumanize the ethnicity in which the comment was about. If no one says anything at all, it is giving permission. Silence is a form of consent.
If we are not willing to stand together; both men and women alike to end violence against women both here on campus and in our lives, then I’m not really sure what we are doing. I’m not asking you to be a warrior. I’m asking you to be a change agent, to not sit silent anymore. I think this one simple sentence said by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is so profound and power and it is the last thing I want to leave you with, “In the end what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”