A few days ago a man assaulted two young women close to where I live. This is not an isolated incident, nor is it isolated to a few “bad apples” in our society. A few weeks ago I witnessed employees of the business across the way from my house walk to their cars while ignoring a man assaulting a woman literally a few feet away from them. When my partner goes out running she gets assaulted in one form or another — all the time, nearly every time. She endures cat-calls and other verbal assaults. Men slow their vehicles down and stalk her for a few blocks — as long as they aren’t holding up traffic. They aren’t subtle about it, either — they make sure she knows with an unwavering gaze and explicit language or lewd gestures. My partner fears for her safety — she doesn’t know whether this guy will be the one to stop the car, get out and confront her for ignoring his come-ons. She steels herself against the assault every time she goes out.
I know of no woman in my life who does not deal with an onslaught from men. Not one. So I’m not surprised when I hear more stories from others, such as Estelle Tang’s wonderful Open Letter to All My Male Friends, or the viral #Yesallwomen on Twitter, or one of my partner’s friends recently sharing on Facebook about how she comes under regular assault when she goes running, or when several other women reply to her post to share yet more stories. I’m not surprised when one of my best friends comments while reviewing this draft,
“I’ve had so many incidents where terrible things have happened — I just don’t think about it anymore.”
Men do this stuff to all women, every day, sometimes several times a day. I admire the strength of women and girls who face this onslaught and refuse to allow it to dictate the parameters of their lives. I admire the courage of women who speak out against it. Their stories spark organization and action against this public health crisis.
Let’s be clear where the blame lies: most men don’t do these things. Relatively few men make the world unsafe for women and destroy the trust between all men and women. There’s a difference between rape jokes, cat calls, stalking, groping and rape, but *all* these activities assault women and send a positive signal to the worst offenders justifying the worst of their actions and escalations. And men who remain silent around these assaults — that’s most of us — send the same signal of compliance to sexual assault offenders and survivors alike. Our collective compliance not only empowers violence against women, it boxes in and isolates most men so we start to think we’re abnormal for feeling bad when some men openly mistreat other people.
Rape culture bullies everyone in our society, albeit in different ways. Fortunately, most men despise bullies and bullying behavior. So we have an obligation to speak out whenever and wherever we hear or see others — especially friends, family or acquaintances — assaulting women. Our lives and relationships depend on it. By questioning or challenging such behavior and showing clear concern for victims and survivors, we hold offenders accountable, protect the trust necessary for healthy relationships and begin to change the rules of the game to create peaceful communities.
All sorts of questions come up in the moments we realize we might need to act: What do I do? Do I say something? What do I say? Who do I say it to? Such situations can seem complex or daunting, and often times there are no clear or correct answers. Local rape or domestic violence crisis services often offer training and other resources for allies on topics such as effective advocacy and bystander intervention. For online resources, XYonline.net provides a wonderful compendium of accessible information and analysis for men, masculinities and gender politics, including a full section dedicated to the subject of working with boys and men. Want something with pictures? (I usually do!) Check out Robot Hugs’ comic primer on harassment and what men can do about it: http://www.robot-hugs.com/harassment/
More than ever aspects of rape culture appear as common topics of discussion in the public sphere. Even the Daily Show had a wonderful bit recently about the web of sexual violence that women navigate (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/26/daily-show-sexual-assault-college_n_5533371.html). Rape culture won’t go away without a fight, and the more we talk about it, the more visible and easier it becomes for us to identify, talk about, and change. That should give us hope: with increasing clarity, courage and critical mass, we are well on the cusp of something wonderful: the liberation of the human species from its oldest form of oppression.