men, masculinities and gender politics

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I love men! (Especially when they care enough to stop rape.)

Trigger Warning:  discussion of physical and sexual violence against women and children]

Tonight I watched a group of awesome men cheer enthusiastically as the women in their lives marched to “Take Back the Night.”  To take it back from rape.  Back from the threat of rape.  Back from harassment.  To take it back from all of the forms of male violence that make the night unsafe for women.

Watching these men cheer tonight was a healing experience for me.  It made me proud to be a man. 

Because, you know, I don’t always feel that way.

As someone who has worked extensively with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I can sometimes begin to feel a little bit contaminated by all of the abuse that so many of my fellow men perpetrate against women.  So much of what happens to women in our communities is horrifying.  And it pretty much all happens at the hands of men.  So, as a man, at times it can be tough for me not to internalize some of the revulsion I feel when I witness first hand what my brutal fellow men have done.  It’s sometimes hard to look in the mirror knowing that I look just like those brutes.   

And with all I have seen, I also sometimes get intensely frustrated with the arrogance of a lot of men.  Men who think that the very fact that we males own and run most of the world somehow means that we are more qualified, more capable, and more intelligent than women are.  We’re not.  We are just the beneficiaries of millennia of misogynist violence aimed at keeping women down. 

Sometimes, when I get to thinking about the horrific magnitude of the global scourge that is violence against women, I lose patience with men who do not “get it” (or, perhaps as often, choose not to “get it”) when it comes to issues of sexism and patriarchy – and how these things link to violence against women.   

Why does my patience sometimes run so low?  Because...

Because right now there is a man somewhere raping a woman.

Because right now there is a man in a brothel (either here or abroad) sexually violating a child.

Because right now there is a man threatening to take a woman’s children away from her if she tries to divorce him.

Because right now there is a man threatening to kill a woman if she leaves him.

Because right now there is a man raping a child and filming it in order to put it on the internet.

Because right now there is a man sexually harassing a woman as she tries to do her job in order to feed her kids.

Because right now there is a man groping a woman on a public bus.

Because right now a woman is giving a professional presentation and some men in the audience are staring at her breasts instead of paying attention to what she has to say.

Because right now a woman is being gang raped as a spoil of war.

Sometimes people comment on this blog and want to know why I can be a little harsh in my writings about men. 

So, now are we clear?

Not me, not him!  And a lot of men (and their defenders of other genders) will say: But not this guy!  I don’t (he doesn’t) do any of that horrible stuff!  And in fact, my friend/boyfriend/classmate/neighbor/boss/coworker/uncle/any man I have ever met doesn’t do any of that horrible stuff!

If that’s really true, well great.  Great for you that you don’t rape women.  (I am sure your letter of commendation will be arriving any day now.)

But guess what?  You probably do know guys who have raped women.  I know a few.  Maybe more than a few.  Boys I went to high school with.  Guys I went to university with.  Men who are currently in my community.  And despite what Hollywood-Media Industrial Complex would have us believe about THE FEARED BLACK RAPIST, most of the rapists I know are white.  Privileged.  Successful. 

 I know rapists.  And you probably do too.

So maybe you’re not that guy.  But you know someone who is.  And...

It’s not enough not to not be “that guy.”

There is a current Canadian anti-rape campaign that urges men “Don’t be that guy.”  Aimed largely at the bar scene, the campaign features pictures of women in various states of intoxication.  The posters range in level of inebriation depicted, and run the gamut from “Just because she’s drinking, doesn’t mean she wants sex” to an edgier version: “Just because she’s drunk, doesn’t mean she wants to f**k.”

The posters all continue with the message:

sex without consent = sexual assault.

DON’T BE THAT GUY.

(You can find the posters here: http://www.theviolencestopshere.ca/dbtg.php )

And although this campaign has been perceived by some people to have some problems with it, in my opinion serious attempts to address the issue of alcohol-influenced acquaintance rape are usually a good thing.  In this case we should “not let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the ‘merely good.’”

But I also believe that it is not enough simply to not be that guy.  It is not enough to not be a rapist.  It is absolutely necessary to not be a rapist – but it is also absolutely not sufficient.  We men need to do more.  We need to work to stop rape.  We men need to put down the remote, drop the game console, get off our asses, and get out there and do something about it!!!

And that’s what felt so good about tonight.

Tonight, I saw a lot of brave and beautiful men doing just that.  Tonight I saw men come out to support their female partners and friends who were bravely marching in a Take Back the Night March in my community.  I saw guys who decided that supporting the brave and brilliant women who were marching was the most important thing that they had to do tonight. 

True, there were far more women there marching than there were men supporting them.  But there were more men out there tonight than had ever attended before. 

And it meant something.  It meant something to me to see men who cared enough to come out to the march.  Who respected the women enough to be willing to stay behind for the discussion and teach-in while their sisters, their female friends, their partners, their daughters marched.  These were men who are able to break out of our numbness.  To let go of our tendency to remain “above it all.”  Out of our tendency to intellectualize.  To distract ourselves.  To not listen.  To not care.  To think that rape is not our problem.    

Sometimes, when it comes to men’s horrific treatment of women all around the globe, I can get to feeling a little hopeless. 

But not tonight. 

No sir. 

Tonight I am full of hope.