Earlier this summer writer Jody Allard articulated some of the the reprehensible circumstances surrounding a 2015 Stanford sexual assault in the article “Rape Culture Is A Man Problem. Why Aren’t More Men Speaking Up?” Allard wrote “I realize now that no woman can change how little our lives matter in this system. It’s up to the men who created that system…to create a better system.”
This sentiment resonated with me and my mind went immediately to the case of Relisha Rudd, an 8-year-old girl from Washington, DC who has been missing since March 2014.
When it was clear Relisha Rudd’s case would not be solved, I just thought everyone failed her. Social services, the homeless shelter, schools, teachers, her caretakers, cops, investigators, and all of us for devaluing her life from birth to now. It was a systematic failure, something we only recognize way after the fact.
When I look back at something like the Stanford sexual assault case, I feel similarly. We failed the woman who survived the sexual assault.
But it was not just one failure, on one level.
It seemed to cascade down — from support for the perpetrator being seen as normal and necessary, to the idea that survivors must report their assault to the authorities in order to be considered believable, to the shockingly lenient sentence given for sexual assault.
And these circumstances are common and occur beyond this one case.
All this goes to say that for me the first step is realizing that misogyny, rape culture, and sexism in general are not simply personal shortcomings. They are not character flaws we can un-teach individual “bad people.”
They are the way we live our lives.
Not embedded in our way of life. They are our way of life.
That’s not an easy conclusion to come to. But that means to even begin to deconstruct them in a real and meaningful way, we — men and male identified people — must be open to criticism and examination of everything we do. Nothing is off the table.
Sometimes as men, we may ask, Well, what am I supposed to do? or How do I remedy x situation? Your friend says a wack sexist comment, you find yourself and your partner stuck in the trap of traditional gender roles, you find out someone you know was sexually assaulted, or any revelation that results in you thinking how can I be part of a solution?
I’m really putting this question out there because I don’t have the wisdom or knowledge to say how and when we should act in these situations. What we do need, however, is to get beyond solely looking to address specific incidents of assault and harassment without acknowledging why they are so prevalent and how we can flip this reality.
We need to begin thinking not only about changing how we act at any moment in time, but also our behavior in general. We need to reflect on how our behavior affects other people. Then we resolve to do better the next time. And do even better the time after that.
We must talk to other men, hold them accountable, and not turn the other way or stay silent when we see sexual assault or harassment.
I want to hear other men’s ideas about busting up damaging gender roles in our interpersonal relationships, about things you’ve done to confront sexist ideas and displays in all-male environments, and about alleviating the sentiment that we aren’t participating in rape culture solely because we haven’t sexually assaulted a woman or harassed a woman on the street. It’s just plain deficient to say we’re allies without critiquing ourselves and acknowledging our role in oppressive systems.
Talking with other men about feminism and how we define and end rape culture is imperative. That certainly doesn’t mean we’ll get everything perfect all the time, but gets the machine parts moving, avoiding stagnation.
I believe men can stop rape, sexual assault, and street harassment in the name of eradicating rape culture.
Jody Allard is right. This is a man problem and we need to address it now.