Masculinity and Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 21st, 2009  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments

This is a first draft of an op-ed for a group called ManUp! that I’m working with in Bloomington.  I’d appreciate any comments or feedback:

April, sexual assault awareness month makes me tired.  I am tired of seeing women that I respect and care about exhausted as they do the challenging, important, but also extremely difficult work of supporting survivors of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence and working to raise consciousness which might prevent future violence.  Many of these remarkable friends have experienced violence in their lives and started doing the work that they do because of the lack of support that they experienced.  Their efforts are remarkable and brave yet ultimately they shoulder the weight of their pasts as well as the weight of the survivors that they support and the confused, indifferent, or even hostile voices they encounter doing prevention work.

I am tired of feeling trapped in the same tired discussion in the rare cases that men’s violence and men’s violence against women comes to the surface, whether it is in the lives of celebrities such as Chris Brown or the lives of men in my social circles.  I can try to excuse the violence, weakly dismissing it as stress or substance abuse or as an isolated incident.  Or, I can pat myself on the back, satisfied that at least I am not one of “those men” who chooses to be violent, to harass and intimidate those passing by on the street, who touches someone’s body without their permission, who pressures someone to consume too much alcohol or drugs in the hope of getting lucky, or who seeks to belittle and control intimate partners. In either case, I can’t find the imagination to think of a world where perpetrating and experiencing violence is not a part of manhood – mine, my friends, or Chris Brown’s.

I am tired of a man’s strength being defined by his ability to suppress painful experiences and to downplay the experiences of others rather than crying out and reaching out and working in the hopes that others might be spared those painful experiences.   I am tired of the gentleman’s agreement that we will not speak of our fear of violence from other men or the fear of the violence we have committed or might commit.

Finally, I am tired of the myth that violence against women doesn’t matter to men and that it is not men’s work to end this violence.  It is a myth that I have found comfort in because it excuses my own inaction.  If this myth rings true to me or other men, I fear it is only because we have spent so much energy convincing ourselves that it is true.   When I think of all the effort spent changing the subject to avoid seeming vulnerable, laughing along or remaining silent when a friend tells a cruel, demeaning joke, or convincing myself that it’s not my place to say or do something when I witness or hear about violence it seems like such a waste.  All that energy could have gone into dealing with the violence that men have witnessed or experienced in our lives to make sure that we don’t repeat it.  It could go to defining manhood by our best, most noble qualities instead of the worst of our choices.  It could go towards working earnestly as allies with women to prevent violence that hurts us all.  Sexual assault awareness month is not just a chance to be aware that violence is terrible, that it happens too frequently, or even that it hurts both women and men.  It is also an opportunity to be aware that we can make a different, less violent world.

  • Heard your piece on WFHB recently. I was very impressed with it. I think your ManUp! group is a very worthwhile and (unfortunately) necessary thing. I look forward to hearing more. Glad there are more guys around who care.

  • Dave

    Great article. I completely agree that men need to be more involved in ending violence against women (and children). I think that far too often, men make light of domestic violence, alcoholism, and drinking and driving. It seems to be a cross between machismo and the Abilene Paradox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox). I don’t know that most men would privately endorse a lot of these things, but it seems when they get together their attitudes change. It’s good to see that you’re trying to change things!

  • Melissa Harward from National Geographic

    I need to speak with you about a copyright matter. Please respond to my email address. melissa.harward@natgeochannel.com

    Thank you,
    Melissa