Women’s issues have been discussed much more prominently in our society lately.
We recently saw the #metoo movement take place, followed by the #timesup movement. Celebrities have been showing their support for these issues, while many other celebrities have been discussing their own issues surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape culture, and the wage gap.
And that’s all great; we should be talking about this. But there is another side to all this that we should be talking about as well.
For the most part, this discussion has been focusing on the women’s side of the matter (or, at the very least, the victims of sexual abuse and harassment). And though we’ve outed a few of the perpetrators and punished them (minimally), we haven’t really been discussing the perpetrators all that much.
And, on the one hand, I get it; women need to know that they aren’t alone. We as a society need to understand that these issues are prevalent, that they still exist, that there are battles that need to be fought. We need to know that we aren’t alone.
And at the same time, we need to stop this from happening ever again. And giving women a voice and the confidence to speak up when it does happen is a beautiful thing that should not be underestimated, but that won’t stop it from happening in the first place. And if we are ever going to reach a place of equality, we need to stop this from happening in the first place.
And how are we going to do that?
Well, to begin, we are going to have to talk about who the perpetrators in these issues are.
Sexual assault and harassment is typically discussed as a gendered issue, although there are some who have taken offence to that. After all, despite this pervasive myth in our society that men cannot be raped, it does happen, and it happens more frequently than you might think. Approximately 3% of American men will be the victim of either an attempted or a completed rape at some point in their life, and when men are raped, they face very different problems from female rape survivors.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this remains a gendered issue.
Although men are raped, women are eleven times more likely to be the victims of sexual offences than men are. Women make up 92% of victims of police-reported sexual offences, and when they are assaulted, they are more like to sustain injuries than men are (25% of women compared to 15% of men).
And, I know, I know, half of my readership just tuned out. Nobody likes to feel accused of something that they feel that they are innocent of. I am not trying to say that all men are rapists. But I don’t think that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of rapists are men. I think that this is something that we should discuss if we are going to get to the root of why this issue exists in our society.
And I’m not the only one who has suggested this before.
Scholar Jackson Katz, for example, has gone forward and said that gender-related violence should not be treated as a women’s issue, but rather, as an issue that involves us all, in one way or another. “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem,” argues Katz. “It gives a lot of men an excuse not to pay attention.”
In other words, if we discuss sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any type of gender-related violence as a women’s issue, then it gives men an excuse for ignore their part in all of it. And men have a part in this.
But why are the majority of rapists men? Why are there not more female rapists? What can this possibly mean?
Are men just naturally more predatory than women? Is a man’s natural state to be a rapist?
Well, no. I don’t believe this, and neither does Jackson Katz.
Katz argues that the reason why men become violent toward women – the reason why men objectify women, overly sexualize women, catcall women, and so on and so forth – is because we live in a society that normalizes all of this.
We live in a society that encourages men toward violence to prove their masculinity. We live in a society where many of our most iconic male fictional characters solve their problems by punching people and forcing things to go their way through brute strength. We live in a society where romantic comedies argue that when a woman says “no”, what she really means is, “keep harassing me until I change my mind”. We live in a society where men are not allowed to be emotional, or talk about their feelings, or come forward when they’re dealing with aggression or mental health issues, meaning that there are many men who do not know how to deal with their emotions or the emotions of others in a healthy manner.
And when all of this is normalized to us and we are not encouraged to think critically about it, then we just accept it. And not only do we accept it; we enforce it.
And if we are going to end this issues – truly end them, not just talk about them and raise awareness about them – then men are going to need to get involved. Men are going to have to look at their own role in this issue, and ask themselves whether or not they have ever harassed or assaulted a woman (or a man). Men are going to have to challenge their ideas of violence and assertiveness being connected to masculinity, as well as this idea that having emotions is natural weakness. Men are going to have to be an active agent in this discussion, and work alongside of feminists, preferably as feminists themselves, in order to end this problem.
And there are men who have discussed this already. I mention Jackson Katz in this article for many reasons, one of them being that he is considered the founder of the ‘bystander approach’ to ending gendered violence – which essentially means that, if you see it happening or suspect that it might be happening, then it is your responsibility to speak up. If you do not, then you are communicating the message that this is normal, and you allow the problem to continue.
Right now, we have many women who are speaking out – many survivors, but too few bystanders. That needs to change.
But if you want to help that change, then one resource that I can point you toward is called the White Ribbon Campaign – a group of men and boys who, according to their website, “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” They seek to spread awareness, create discussion, and create a more compassionate vision of masculinity.
It is wonderful that we are talking about these issues in our society, but I want to take this opportunity to invite more discussion. More specifically, I invite men to become part of this discussion, because we need men to be on board with this. We need men to commit to becoming part of the solution, to thinking critically about these matters. We need men to help us in this issue – because as much as women are amazing and fully capable, we cannot change the world single-handedly when we make up only 50% of it.