Sexual violence against women and children continues to be an epidemic in American society and around the world.
This problem is almost exclusively considered a women’s issue that some men help with but I would argue that sexual violence is just as much of a men’s issue, even if it isn’t discussed as often.
I don’t mean to diminish the significance of sexual violence as a women’s issue, but this is a conversation that is deeply about men and the behavior of men that can only be resolved when men stop thinking that it’s not their problem.
We as a society are acculturated to put the emphasis of sexual assault on the victims it’s something that happens to them and something they are responsible for; whether it is prevention or accountability. The conversation focuses on questions like: why was she with those men?” “What was she wearing?” “What was she drinking?” etc.
These questions prevent us from asking a broader and more important question which is: Why do so many men commit acts of sexual violence? Why do so many commit rape and sexual assault? Why do we keep reading about sexual scandals like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts?
Approximately 320,000 women, 60,000 children, 80,000 inmates, and 19,000 military personnel are sexually assaulted every year, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, making sexual assault four times more common than all gun violence And, while at least some of this is due to repeat offenders, it still means hundreds of thousands more men commit sexual assault every year.
Why do many men think sexual assault is okay?
Society has made a lot of progress in recent decades in expanding the roles of women and other minorities in mass media, but a genuinely under examined area is that of the traditional alpha male. These characters are rugged, stoic, meets aggression with aggression and always gets the girl.
In this model if the male hero does all the right things they are inevitably rewarded with sex and praise, but reality is more complicated. Sex is not a reward for good behavior and too many men discover that too late in life which creates a conflict that the model dictates must be met by aggression.
Moreover, the model excludes other forms of healthy masculinity that teach boys not to pursue sex, but healthy consenting relationships and teaches them to take personal responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. This is probably closer to what most people expect, but it is not really seen on TV.
Media also perpetuates a “bro” culture where having sex is extremely important, but the act itself has no special meaning and therefore doing terrible things in the name of having sex is tolerable.
This is how culture affects the way that men think about women and subsequently what is permissible and socially acceptable.
However, this is only part of the problem and the real capacity for change along with the real power lies in the silence of the majority.
Men have a special responsibility to police ourselves and to call out sexism whenever we hear it. For better or worse men are the power holders in this situation, we have the capacity to speak out without being criticized, shamed or ridiculed.
Just like it has become acceptable to call out someone for making racist comments it should be acceptable to do the same for sexism and misogyny. Men need to take a stand in the places where only they go, when it’s just the boys whether it’s the locker room, a poker game or hallway conversation.
If your buddy says something that is overtly sexist or demeaning don’t just laugh along say something. Don’t be rude, but make your feelings known that that kind of language makes you uncomfortable. If someone is joking in a demeaning way and participating in “locker room talk” say “you could be talking about my sister or my best friend or my mother, it’s not cool, it makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like it. Joke about something else.”
When men speak out against against sexism, misogyny and sexual violence it makes it clear what the social standards are and what we expects of ourselves rather than allowing toxic ideas to fester in darkness. The day that men lose status rather than gain status by participating in sexist behavior is the day that sexual assault ends.