After spending an hour fuming about the latest news regarding the failure of Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III to bring charges against two MSU basketball players for an alleged sexual assault on MSU’s campus, I was angry. Thankfully, I had the good fortune of reading a much more level headed response to the issue than simply sending off angry tweets and curse-laden emails to my girlfriend about how unjust the world is. So I thought I’d pull on my realm of “expertise”, and talk about how men can be involved in ending sexual assault.
Of course, there’s everything that Elizabeth Battiste suggests. But there are some other things that are more specific to men. Often, men are not included in this dialogue. This is not because we are excluded, but because we don’t realize that there is a role for us, or that we are wanted. Well, as a man who has been involved in ending sexual violence against women for a while now, I can assure you, we are wanted.
So, as men, what can we do?
Don’t place blame. It’s so easy for us to ask questions like, “why didn’t she scream?” “What was she wearing?” and all of those other questions that lift blame from the attackers and onto the victims. As men, it is often easy for us to enter into this dialogue. Don’t. It’s not constructive, and it doesn’t achieve anything. Instead, put someone you love in the shoes of the victim. Would you berade your sister or mother for not screaming? The fact remains that “No means No”, and the only person who can stop a rape from happening is the rapist.
Speak Up. Most likely, you’ll hear your guy friends talking about this case. Quite possibly, they’ll start blaming the victim. Call them out. A simple “dude, not cool. What if that was your sister?” or “ya know, if those guys just hadn’t had sex with her, this all could have been avoided” or “I just don’t think this kind of behavior is very manly – I’m not impressed” can really make a difference. By not calling out other men for this type of language, we’re tacitly approving it.
Put yourself there. What if you were one of the guys in this scenario (not just the two basketball players, but the roommate next door, and the guy who knocked on the door)? What could you have done differently? There are a number of men in this story, and none of them chose to say, “hey guys, this is really not cool.” What could the men in this story have done that might have prevented this tragedy from happening? Why do you think they didn’t? What does this tell us about masculinity?
Unpack your backpack. Think about how being a man has given you plenty of freedoms women may not have. How would the scenario have been different if the gender roles had been reversed? Challenge yourself to reflect on that and what it might mean. What sorts of things do we take for granted that women might not.
Mentor other Men. We have men who look up to us as leaders, as models of what it means to be a “man”, be it our students, our kids, colleagues, employees, coworkers, interns, or friends. Take this opportunity to bring up the subject, and talk about what positive male behavior would have looked like.
Talk to a Woman you Love. Call your sister, your girlfriend, your mother, your friend. Someone you trust and who trusts you. Tell them you’ve read about this story, and it really got you thinking about the world and what it must be like to be a woman in it. Ask them what it’s like being a woman in our world. Don’t interrogate them or argue with them. Let them tell you what their experience is like. What they tell you might surprise you. It might, dare I say it, CHANGE you.
Show Support. We all have women in our lives who matter to us. Be visible with your support of them and their safety. Volunteer (here too). Donate things. Go to a rally. Show up at a show. Buy a book. Watch a movie. Put this flier on your office or dorm room door. Start a men against gender violence student organization. Speak out. Be active. Violence against women won’t end without men telling other men it’s not okay. There are plenty of resources and organizations to be a part of: I’ve put some links below. We have a responsibility to take action.
Please feel free to ask me questions or to point you in the direction of any resources at MSU or elsewhere.