Three weeks ago, as my house project for the House of Peace and Justice, junior Women’s House resident Gus Wood and I put on the V-Men Workshop, a component of the V-Day movement designed to start a conversation in a male space about the role men play in the problem of violence against women and girls.
The workshop asked a lot of tough, insightful questions about masculinity, manhood, gender, sex and relationships to women. There was a wonderful amount of productive discussion about how we can be active male allies to the movement for ending violence against women and girls.
Despite the quantity of good conversation and how much everyone got out of it, turnout was disheartening.
All my male housemates were required to be there —they accounted for seven of the attendants. Only eight others showed up.
On a campus of roughly 835 men, 15 cared enough to sacrifice even an hour of their time on a Saturday afternoon to talk about themselves, the women in their lives and what they can do to end the abhorrent violence that affects women worldwide on a daily basis.
Granted, it was a Saturday afternoon, and a busy one at that—Delta Gamma’s Anchor Splash, the first round of the Division III NCAA basketball tournament and OWU’s Got Talent all happened that day.
But 820 men on this campus couldn’t bother to dedicate a second of their busy day to unpack the culture that shapes their hearts, minds and actions as men, and how that same culture affects women in much less favorable ways.
Rape, sexual assault and other insidious forms of violence against women and girls are problems men must have a hand in solving. Men are the perpetrators of 95 percent of sexual crimes. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, overwhelmingly at the hands of a man. RAINN statistics also show that someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes. It is impossible to see these statistics and deny that men don’t have a role to play in dismantling this system of violence.
On top of the sheer number of sexual crimes committed in this country, we live in a culture that condones rape and other sexual violence, both through its silence and overt misogynist bias. RAINN says 54 percent of rapes go unreported—not because rape isn’t a big deal, but because survivors are so often stigmatized, attacked and shamed for what happens to them.
Only in a rape culture is a woman interrogated with a stock list of questions to determine whether a rape was her fault: what was she wearing? How drunk was she? Who was she with? Did she lead him on? This convention of victim blaming upholds not only our society’s system of misogyny, but also its system of racism, heterosexism and cissexism. If someone doesn’t have white, male, heterosexual cisgender privilege, they are always at fault. Think Trayvon Martin and CeCe McDonald. Think Steubenville.
Steubenville was not the young woman’s fault. The perpetrators’ lives are not being ruined. What happened and continues to unfold in Steubenville is the result of a destructive, harmful, violent cultural system that’s reinforced by individual action.
This culture of shaming the victim—this rape culture—made it okay for the case to be ignored for months, for it to be laughed at, for its media coverage to be grossly unfair.
But Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond participated in rape culture by doing what they did. They violated the unconscious young woman and dragged her from house to house. They were unrepentant for their actions. They plan to appeal the conviction and continue to claim they did no wrong.
Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond are men. They are who rape culture privileges. But while men support and benefit from rape culture, they have the power to dismantle it.
At OWU, the responsibility falls on the 820 men I did not see on March 2 to be aware of the power they have. It is our responsibility as men to create a safer world for the women in our lives. If we don’t, the situation will only grow more dire.
We cannot do this through silence. We must do it through our words and actions—so speak up.