I am sadly unsurprised, nor shocked at the number of female friends I see posting the “me too” campaign targeted at letting folks know how pervasive sexual assault and harassment are in our society. Mostly because I am engaged within this work, I know the literature, I’ve heard the stories. But I think any man today, especially within the US, would be remiss to not understand because we have seen, participated, and perpetuated this behavior. Every single one of us. For those of you men who are getting defensive at this point, this obviously doesn’t mean every man has committed sexual assault, or even that every man has harassed a woman at some point in their life (though I do think it is a lot larger number than folks think); what it means is that we live in a culture that thinks this is ok, we live in a rape culture.
What is a rape culture you may be asking, it is a culture where rape and sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to the ways in which our culture decides, creates, and understands gender roles. If you need more clarification, I have made a small list of the things that contribute to what makes our society a rape culture. It is a society where:
- Boys and men are taught it’s ok to take what you want
- We are taught that male violence can be chalked up to “boys will be boys”
- We see violence against women regularly in the media
- Women are blamed for what they wore, said, or did
- Women are valued more for their physical appearance and sexuality than anything else
- Tactics such as coercion and "gaslighting" are used for sexual gratification
- We don't believe whatwomen tell us when it comes to being abused (especially because we know or care about the perpetrator)
- Perpetrators are protected (personally and legally)
- Women are afraid to report the incident out of fear ofre-victimization, retaliation, alienation, or just not being believed
- "Locker room" talk includes the denigration of women
- "Cat-calling" is ok
- Mothers, daughters, and sisters become the fall back response to show that we care about women
- We believe that rape and sexual assault is perpetuated by a mythical other, rather than those we know best.
- Men do not understand consent
I could really go on and on with different reasons why we live in a rape culture. But what is most important is that we talk about these issues, and it is vital for men to be talking to other men about these issues. Anyone who says this is a women's issue is a part of the problem, it is very much a men's issue as we are the one's perpetuating these acts, we are the ones committing them, actively and passively though our inaction. For too long we have remained silent on these issues. We need to speak up when we see our male friends and colleagues saying heinous things behind closed doors, we need to call out those who are perpetuating these acts, but most importantly, we need to examine the ways in which WE ourselves work to enable these things; from our silence to the media we consume. We need to listen, acknowledge, and empathize with those who have been brave enough to say "me too," because the fact of the matter is many women may be afraid to admit these things. We need to admit, as well as hold ourselves and each other accountable for our transgressions, because until we do, the words "me too" will mean nothing.