Monday, March 18, 2013

How Men Can Take an Active Role in Dismantling Rape Culture

One of the happy hazards of writing weekly op-eds is that sometimes, someone says exactly what you wanted to say, better than you could have said it. There’s been a lot of quality writing about the importance of dismantling rape culture lately, from Jessica Valenti at the Nation, Elizabeth Plank at PolicyMic, Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing, and others.

But this piece from Zerlina Maxwell at Ebony called “5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape” is the kind of stop-what-you’re-doing-right-now-and-read-this essay that deserves to be linked-to and reposted as much as possible. Go ahead and read it if you haven’t already—I’ll wait here (UPDATE: yet another brilliant piece from Zerlina Maxwell here).

If I were going to add anything to this conversation, it’d be about the specific responsibilities that men have to fight against, disrupt, and ultimately dismantle rape culture. While Maxwell’s piece focuses on things that we as a society have to do, there are some specific things that men can do to take part in this struggle.

Starting with the self: learning more
If this is a new topic for you, do some research. This isn’t an “Intro to Rape Culture” piece, but those kinds of things definitely exist. Here’s a good one called “Rape Culture 101,” courtesy of Melissa McEwan at Shakesville. Another good one is “Ten Things to End Rape Culture” at the Nation. There are more, including all the links above.

Bringing the conversation into traditionally male-dominated spaces
I talk about rape culture a lot because I’m always around people—especially women—for whom social justice education is a passion or career. But there are a lot of spaces where those voices are absent, spaces that are traditionally considered “boy’s clubs.” Sometimes, a critical voice in a space like that—whether a sports team, a role-playing game guild, a male-dominated class or workplace—can be incredibly powerful. “The work” can’t be all women teaching men, and it can’t be all social justice educators doing workshops—we all have a role to play in spreading these ideas.

Using powerful platforms to create change
Part of male privilege is that, as men, we expect people to listen to what we have to say, and that’s no surprise—we’re socialized to take men’s voices seriously, to hear authority in them. And as much of a problem as that is, I can’t help but consider a few possibilities. An obvious start is for fathers to talk to their sons about consent, but there’s more. Think of the power that a high school football coach has to talk about violence against women. Think of how this kind of message sounds coming from an educator whose primary field has nothing to do with social justice. Think of how far consent culture can spread when a popular male artist, or blogger, or politician starts talking about it. And you don’t have to be a celebrity or leader to be powerful—anyone with a Twitter account or Facebook page can push the conversation forward.

Related to the last point, men can speak out to other men. For example, when a friend posts a video of a comedian making a rape joke on Facebook, your posting about why you don’t think it’s funny sounds different from a female friend speaking out against it. Women are more likely to get tagged as “angry feminists” or whatever BS, so men can also step up and be pro-active in situations like this. I definitely don’t mean to imply that women’s voices don’t matter or can’t be powerful; I just think we all need to step up; disrupting harmful behavior, language or ideas is everyone’s responsibility. Check out the Green Dot project for more.

Some colleges, high schools and communities have organizations dedicated to dismantling rape culture. Check out groups like Men Can Stop Rape or PAVE. Check out the Aurora Center at the University of Minnesota. Maybe you can start an organization where one doesn’t already exist. Maybe it starts with something as simple as a weekly or monthly discussion group for men. There are many possibilities.

Take risks
Some of this stuff is really easy. Some of it isn’t. I certainly haven’t always been perfect when it comes to taking on rape culture. I’ve been a bystander. It takes work. It takes cultivating awareness. But it can be done. As a final note, I’ll share this poem I wrote for an event that the Aurora Center organized. Art can be one way to start a conversation, but there are many others; I hope we can all keep talking about—and building—a better world. Feel free to leave any other related articles or resources in the comments.

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