First let me acknowledge that I don’t know if I am writing this blog for myself, my family and friends, or for people in general. I do know some people will see this title and not bring themselves to read it. The recent shooting of an unarmed black teen by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri and both the peaceful and the volatile aftermath of that shooting has impacted me. What did or didn’t happen in this particular case isn’t my point, other than being a catalyst for my own self-reflection.
Two things come to my mind about the general reaction of many white people to this case, any talk of racism immediately generates defensiveness or denial and entertaining the possibility that there are indeed some bad cops brings a very different reaction than discussing bad dentists, contractors, or parents. It seems to me that we can discuss “bad apples” in other professions without making strong and explicit caveats that “not all dentists are bad”; that is assumed.
I’ve also noticed that we white folks are uncomfortable discussing racism without adamantly pointing out that we aren’t racists. Well, some of us are and for the rest of us we do have the potential of having racist views, opinions, or thoughts. What helps me put it in perspective is comparing the words “racist” and “liar.” I can freely admit that I have lied and will likely lie again in the future but I don’t define myself as a “liar.” I also don’t consider myself a racist but I somewhat more reluctantly admit I have racist thoughts.
When I’ve tried to have this conversation with white friends I am generally met with reassurances of “it being understandable, that I’m not a bad person, that I’m not a racist.” But I don’t need or want people to make that ok for me. I know I am a good, albeit flawed, person however I need to examine my biases so I don’t someday rationalize acting on those biases. I need to learn from, grow and always strive to be a better, more caring human being.
People who know me might assume that after 32 years of being happily married to a black man and raising 4 black children into incredible adults that I don’t have racist thoughts about black folks but they would be wrong. Racist attitudes are deeply ingrained in our culture and I am not immune to racist thoughts or beliefs. In order to take this out of the relatively safe theoretical framework I want to share a personal story that isn’t easy for me to admit to myself let alone others.
A year or so ago I was in a fender bender in Austin and I was the driver at fault. Both cars drove to a nearby parking lot to get off the road. While driving I noticed the California plates. I get out of my car a little shook up but mainly feeling guilty and remorseful because I was clearly at fault. The driver from the other car parks at the far end of the crowded parking lot and I see a tall, young black man in sagging basketball shorts get out of his car and start jogging towards me. My immediate reaction was fear- an instantaneous “Oh shit, what is about to happen?” I became aware that he was shouting out something and as he got closer I heard “M’am didn’t you see me? Are you alright?” He was patient, respectful, and caring. The fact that surprised me says something about me. The fact that I must admit I wouldn’t have initially been as fearful if a white man got out of that car says something about me.
Self-reflection can be painful but not doing it does add to a culture that allows big and small “Ferguson” moments across this country. I am clearly a work in progress and I am determined to learn about the experiences of others without making it about me and avoiding the tendency to indulge in child-like reactions like “they do bad things too.” My parents didn’t let me deflect my own behavior/words with that excuse in my childhood and I certainly can’t let myself off the hook with that reasoning now.
photo credit: lulazzo [non vede, non sente, non parla] via photopin cc
Tags: Benji Cowan, benjijennacow, engagement, father's response to rude, Fatherhood, feminism, feminist dad, gender socialization, kristinespeare, magic!, Marisa DiFrisco, marriage, masculinity, media literacy, Nicky Costabile, Rude
Filed Under Prevention, Uncategorized | By Maya Pilgrim | Leave a Comment
A catchy song fills my car almost every time I’m in it. One of hope which quickly turns to defiance as a young man asks an “old-fashioned” father “to have his daughter for the rest of his life” and is rudely informed that dear dad won’t give his blessing “until the day [he] dies”.
It’s a song that inspired one father’s now viral response.
I have a couple of problems with both these songs… well, 5 actually.
1. Women can speak for themselves. And they do. All you have to do is shut up and listen.
2. Women now get to decide their own destinies. Having raised our legal standing a couple notches up from chattel, we’re not [nor have we ever been] helpless, delicate creatures whose fragile virtues are to be strictly guarded as we are passed from man to man for protection for the entire duration of our lives. We are beings deserving of love and support as we navigate relationships and life’s windy and twisty roads.
3. Drivers of fancy cars can be bad news, too. Got a problem with his Pinto? Well, if you’re thinking the maker of car you drive is an indicator of a good person, guess again. The exciting news is that your daughter is capable of working and earning money and buying whatever car she thinks best suits her needs.
4. I hear you don’t like his job, but wouldn’t it be great if anyone who worked full-time made a living wage? Poor shaming really isn’t cool. Low-wage earners face serious traps that keep them from escaping low-wage employment. Living out of mom’s basement has become a rising strategy among young people with rising college debt and a brutal job market. Luckily, as mentioned above, daughters are capable of working and earning money as well. Too bad she won’t make as much as she would doing the same job if she were a man. That should make you much angrier than her fiancé flipping burgers.
5. Do you really think that going to prison for killing your daughter’s fiancé to prove your dominance over your daughter is an act of love? Doesn’t sound very Christian to me. Besides that, you’d basically be removing two men in her life she loves. That’s not very loving at all, I’d say.
So, Mr. Cowart, consider instead this father’s lead instead.
And Magic!, don’t ask questions about the love of your life as if she’s property. She’s most definitely not.
Illegal Immigration Crisis, Humanitarian Crisis, Refugee Crisis? All may be true but how we frame this will largely determine how we chose to address this crisis. What we can all agree on is more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border into the United States from Central America in the past 12 months. This number has been swelling dramatically in the past couple of years. Most of these children are coming into the US through the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Everyone also seems to acknowledge that our current system is ill-prepared and ill-equipped to handle this influx of children on so many levels.
I am once again disappointed that an issue that clearly needs bi-partisan leadership to work on solutions has largely degraded into the typical blame game. When will the citizens of this state and this country tire of this tactic? The President is being blamed for his slow response to the crisis by some and for even following current law by others. Both parties are criticizing each other for the lack of immigration reform. I’ve seen criticism for ICE, Department of Justice, and Congress. Political pundits and infotainment superstars are working overtime pointing fingers and spinning the topic to suit their agendas. Meanwhile, scores of children’s lives are in the balance.
We can grouse about the price tag, poor leadership, border security, negligent oversight, and dozens of other things but at some point we need to discuss the experiences of these individual children. My hope is our elected leaders will get to the root of this crisis through thoughtful analysis rather than kick the can down the road. A long-term solution is likely to include humanitarian aid, stepped up border security, policy changes domestically and internationally, appropriating adequate resources, and a number of other steps, but in the meantime, what about the children?
Most of these children have been terrorized and many have experienced horrific abuse. Some have been sexually abused in their home country, others have been sexually abused in transit, and tragically, still others have been sexually victimized once they are in custody in the United States. This is unacceptable in the lives of any children! The profound trauma experienced by these children must be handled in the most professional and compassionate way possible. So while many Americans may support an expedited process for getting these children through the system I don’t believe that includes shortcuts on due process and moving at speeds that ignore all realities they may have endured in their young lives.
I know the solutions for this situation are complicated, expensive, and likely divisive but I am willing to swallow a hard dose of “bottom-line”, “compromise”, and “hard choices”, but I want to be certain that my elected leaders are truly tempering all of their proposals with old-fashioned “humanity.” As Americans, as voters, as decent human beings, we need to keep a close watch on this tragedy, demand accountability by our elected leaders, as well as find out how we can individually assist in the interim. Churches, rape crisis centers, online appeals, pro bono attorneys….there are folks working on this problem so find them and help them….volunteer, write a check, start a letter writing campaign to our legislators, etc. Let’s mobilize!!
To see TAASA’s talking points on the issue click here.
We celebrate fathers, step-dads, and all father figures who promote respect and harmony in their families and demonstrate great love for their children.
We celebrate fathers who actively engage in raising children and who do their share of family chores, showing by example that it takes everybody’s hard work to make a home.
We celebrate fathers who love and respect their partners and work honestly to maintain equality in their relationship.
We celebrate fathers who encourage their children to feel good about themselves and who promote understanding and respect between all youth, regardless of their gender.
We celebrate fathers who place their children’s need for love, safety, and support first, whether they live with them each day or some days.
We celebrate fathers who make the difficult choices involved in balancing family and career, ensuring they make time for their children.
We celebrate fathers who challenge prejudice that demeans not just their sons and daughters but for everyone else, too.
We celebrate fathers who advance the idea that peace and harmony in the home are preconditions for peace and harmony in the world.
Each of these principles, when put into practice on a continuous basis by both fathers and father figures, help to prevent sexual violence. This Father’s Day, we want to celebrate fathers who are cultivating nonviolence in their homes, but we also challenge them to look beyond their homes in order to promote peace in their communities by taking a stand against sexual violence with a public pledge.
The pledge reads as follows:
Alongside millions of Texas dads and father figures, I pledge that I will not be silent about, commit, or condone sexual violence. I pledge that I will teach my children about healthy, nonviolent relationships, and that I will act to make a difference in my home and community.
We wish all fathers and father figures in Texas a Happy Father’s Day and encourage them to commit to living out this pledge.
Tags: broadway, child exploitation, child sexual assault, civil rights movement, feather boa, feminism, feminist hulk, objectification, objectification of girls, prevention, primary prevention, RAINN, rosa parks, sexism, sexual assault, sexualization, social change, social justice, suffrage, Texas
Filed Under Child Sexual Assault, Powerful Women, Prevention | By Ted Rutherford | Leave a Comment
About this time last year, I went to see my son’s 3rd grade school performance. It was the musical story of two children that explored their grandparents’ attic and discovered a trunk filled with old costumes, props, and accessories. It turns out that their grandparents were former Broadway performers. Each item that was pulled from the trunk sparked a quasi-flashback musical number. My son was featured in a little song and dance called “My Top Hat and Classy Cane”. It was about how much people admire and desire you when you wear a top hat and classy cane. It was a little icky, but that was mostly camouflaged by seeing 20 or so boys valiantly attempting to master the Box Step while singing. They did a great job.
A little later in the show it was the girl’s turn. From the trunk came a hot pink feather boa and from the speakers came something out of an ole time burlesque show (ba-da-da-da-da…). A crew of twenty 3rd grade girls, wrapped in feather boas, poured onto the stage and began singing and dancing to “There’s Nothing Like Feather Boa to Get Your Point Across”. This risqué little number, according to the lyrics, puts “the spice in your pasta sauce”. The girls were shimmying and shaking and singing about how to use their sexuality to get what they want. My jaw dropped in disbelief and I had a few moments of tunnel vision. I was snapped back to reality when members of the audience (mostly parents and other family members of the performers – particularly the men), all over the room, began whistling and cat-calling at the girls on stage. I was sickened, horrified, and felt extremely uncomfortable.
When the number was over, the audience cheered wildly – much louder than they did for the boys. In the midst of the whistles and applause my horror began shifting toward anger. Mild mannered Ted Rutherford was channeling Feminist Hulk, it seems. My rage-green eyes were scanning the room in search of the teacher or the principal or whoever thought this was a “good idea”. As I scanned the faces of the people in the room, I saw only smiles and happiness and elation. Nobody else had veins bulging from their temples. Nobody was turning green. Nobody was speaking in short, choppy sentences or referring to themselves in 3rd person. Hulk alone in anger. Hulk start to second guess Hulk’s feelings. Hulk afraid Hulk’s overreacting.
I went home without smashing anything or confronting anyone and decided to let it marinate overnight. The next morning I was still green-eyed and angry-tailed so I crafted an email to the principal and the teacher to express my concerns over the show. I explained that sexualizing girls is extremely problematic because, in part, it teaches them (and boys) that a girl’s power and value is attached to and limited to her sexuality. I went on to say that teaching girls to use their sexuality for power simultaneously puts a target on their sexuality and their bodies for those who seek to take their power. I even pointed out that sexually objectifying girls in this particular way reinforces the misguided notion that women’s and girl’s function in our world is in sexual service of men. The cat calls and whistles from the “gents” in the audience were proof of that. After informing them that 1 in 4 women in Texas experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and that, according to RAINN, 15% of rape survivors are under the age of 12, I asked them to be more thoughtful and conscious when selecting future shows.
Fast-forward approximately one year to my son’s 4th grade performance, “Night at the Wax Museum”, that took place earlier this week. This show was set, as you can probably guess, in a wax museum where wax statues of historical figures come to life every night. My son gave a Tony Award worthy performance as Thomas Edison (not biased at all). Other characters included Jackie Robinson, Albert Einstein, and Coco Chanel to name a few. Each character had a moment in the spotlight to tell the audience a little about themselves and their lives. Coco Chanel was the first female historical figure to speak. As she spoke about high fashion and sprayed her Chanel #5 on her neck from a crystal bottle, my heart began to sink. I was afraid the rest of the female characters that were in the show were going to reinforce narrow stereotypes about women and ignore their extensive historical contributions. The tunnel vision began to creep in just as it did the year before. I could hear girl’s voices from just offstage chanting something, but I couldn’t make it out at first. Then a quartet of girls came marching boldly onto the stage carrying protest signs and their chant instantly became as clear as Coco’s perfume bottle – RIOTS NOT DIETS…RIOTS NOT DIETS…RIOTS NOT DIETS. There, standing before me, was Susan B. Anthony, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, and Dorothea Lange. Under the lights the girls proudly rattled off their character’s accomplishments from the women’s suffrage movement to the civil rights movement. It was a glorious 5 minutes of social justice-y, feminist redemption. The girls resumed their RIOTS NOT DIETS chant as they exited the stage to cheers from the audience. Hulk smile. Tiny stream of water came from Hulk’s eye.
I have no way of knowing if my decision to challenge the school, to make better choices when it comes to these performances, produced this outcome. I also have no assurances that future shows will feature roles that are empowering for girls and that break with convention when it comes to gender stereotypes in general. I suspect there will continue to be a learning curve with a few missteps along the way. What I do know is what Rosa Parks taught me about taking action when she said, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” I am glad I didn’t remain silent just because the other parents didn’t seem to be bothered by what they were watching last year. What a difference a year makes.
Tags: A Song of Ice and Fire, Craster's Keep, feminism, feminist criticism, Game of Thrones, George RR Martin, GOT, Rape of Thrones
Filed Under Guest Post, Prevention | By Maya Pilgrim | Leave a Comment
TRIGGER ALERT: Discusses scenes of sexual violence as they happen on Game of Thrones
SPOILER ALERT: Discusses up to Season 4 Episode 5, “First of His Name”
Game of Thrones is one of my guilty pleasures. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I’m feeling more guilt than pleasure. This inner battle has waxed and waned over the four seasons but it’s recently become more pressing and it seems as though the guilt side is winning. And
it’s not for the scene (you know, of Cersei and Jaime in the Sept of Baelor) that many people were upset about from the “Breaker of Chains” episode. Instead, this scene had only the slightest mentions and analysis from the torrent of recaps and episode analysis that come out from the entertainment blogosphere the Monday after a show. Perhaps that was what alarmed me most.
There’s been no shortage of analysis and opinions published about Game of Thrones and its depiction of women in the highly patriarchal and violent medieval fantasy world of Westoros. Compared of other hugely successful works of fantasy (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek come to mind) there is undoubtedly a much richer variety in female characters that more than pass the Bechdel Test. See the chart for a sample of the “GOT is Feminist” and “GOT is Not Feminist” camps. The writer of the series, George R. R. Martin, has donned the label “feminist” and is lauded for his development of highly complex female characters. Nonetheless, in the hyper-masculine world of Westoros, “All men must die”, no one can be trusted (see image), and just about every female character has been threatened with or experienced sexual violence.
I came to the series late, resistant to watch it after the consistent reports of the show’s “rapey-ness” and critical of HBO’s use of sexposition. I had been very intentionally avoiding shows and movies with rape scenes. I was influenced by a passage written
The scene was a relatively short scene in “The Oathkeeper” episode. Above The Wall, the Night’s Watch mutineers have turned a homestead called “Craster’s Keep” into a rape camp. Craster, him had lived there with his 19 “wives”, many of whom were his daughters before he was killed during the mutiny. The scene contained a very graphic representation of the continuous raping of very minor characters, Craster’s “wives”, as the character Karl lets the audience know what a complete and total scumbag he is. I’ve spent the better part of a week trying to dissect the scene and my reaction. Why this scene? Why not the Dothraki raping/pillaging scene? Why not the prostitute forced to beat another scene? The possibilities of where I might have had my fill are endless. But this stuck out. During this scene, I put Game of Thrones on notice.
Myles McNutt, coiner of the term “sexposition” interpreted the scene very differently. I’m grateful for his viewpoint which was far more nuanced than other write-ups, which glossed over the scene or referred to the women being abused as concubines. He argues that cutting to an abused, silent character is evidence of the show’s interest to “highlight and acknowledge the atrocities being committed against them.” He called it a “small moment of refuge from a space that otherwise dwells on violence against women, and female nudity that is consistent with the show’s modus operandi.” For that pit in my stomach, however, it was not refuge enough. Alison Herman argues that the sexism and cruelty are not without purpose and that Martin “created dozens of female characters who struggle with what it means to survive in that world in ways that render them three-dimensional and tremendously empathetic.” A valid argument, but not what happened in this scene.
My gut reaction as I watched the bare women’s bodies used as a backdrop for violence was that the scene was far too eroticized without the opportunity for viewers to care enough about the characters. During that scene, for about 5 seconds, I had a hard time distinguishing it from violent porn. The visible bruises on the bodies were enough; the cries of “no” in the background were enough; the fearful women clutching at what was left of their clothes were enough. A short cut to a face was not enough for me to cancel out the exposed and abused. The scene could be a critique on violent masculinity, even as it revels in it. But must it revel in it? Can it revel in it and still be a critique? These are all answers I don’t know, but am doubtful. As we work against the various ways violence manifests in our lives, to what degree do we allow it to manifest in our entertainment? How much of my politics am I willing to suspend for a TV show?
Remembering why I avoided the series in the first place, I visited Muscio’s website and immediately landed on an entry titled “The Girl Who Didn’t Watch Rape Scenes.” In it she weighs her own reactions to “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” series and the sexual violence portrayed. She concludes that the rape was important to the development of entire series and to the drive and persona of the character. It’s a hard line to walk. There’s our Read more
The 2014 NFL Draft begins on May 8th. For aspiring professional football players, the months and weeks leading up to the draft is a time when every aspect of their lives is scrutinized to the nth degree. Talent scouts, general managers, head coaches, and even team owners shine a flashlight into the dark recesses of each player’s being to see if they are worthy of a multimillion dollar investment. They dig for character flaws, criminal offenses, gang affiliation, mother’s occupation, and so on. For the most part, no stone is left unturned and no question is left unanswered.
The same can be said for those aspiring to be professional basketball or baseball players. I guess from a business perspective, doing some digging makes sense. Drafting these players and paying them millions of dollars is a huge investment. As with any investment of money, time, or energy, the investor should go through some sort of risk assessment before making a commitment to invest – a cost-benefit analysis. In the end, the investor should do their level best to determine if the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs.
In this year’s draft, there are a few players that are really under the microscope. Jadaveon Clowney, from the University of South Carolina is an immense talent without question. He is one of the most anticipated players to enter the NFL draft in a number of years. Here is why. Yet his last season of college football was marred with questions about his work ethic and heart. He has been called lazy, immature, and selfish by past coaches and talent scouts. Since the season ended, he has also had two run-ins with the police for speeding and reckless driving (84mph in a 55, and 110mph in a 70). Currently he is projected to be a top 5 pick in the 2014 draft.
Another play with lots of question marks is none other than Johnny Manziel – aka “Johnny Football.” Like Clowney, he is a tremendous talent. He is a human highlight reel that, despite being undersized for the quarterback position, makes big time plays over and over again. However, he has made a series of immature and selfish decisions that raise questions about his character and ability to lead a team – not the least of which was the NCAA investigation into whether he sold autographs for personal profit while playing at Texas A&M (a huge no-no). Despite these questions, he is projected to be a top 10 pick – possibly even the number one overall pick by the Houston Texans.
Lastly, there is Michael Sam – a linebacker out of Mizzou. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and led the nation with 11.5 quarterback sacks. He was a finalist for the Nagurski (best defensive player) and Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker) awards in 2013 and by all accounts a fantastic leader on and off the field. The “knock” on Sam is that after the 2013 season ended, he announced publicly that he is gay. Prior to this announcement, Sam was projected to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round (he is a bit undersized for this position). Since his announcement, he is projected to be drafted as late as a 7th round. There are many teams that have marked him off their list altogether simply because they feel the NFL or their team “isn’t ready for an openly gay player.”
It is odd that NFL owners and coaches seem more concerned about a player’s sexual orientation than they are about a player’s character and maturity. It speaks volumes that owners and coaches will gamble on players that are higher character risks before they are willing to draft one that is gay. It also speaks volumes that current players are divided on the subject. Some don’t want to share a locker room with a gay player (as if they haven’t before) and think it will be bad for team dynamics and morale. Yet we hear very little about these players expressing concern over being teammates with a player who has a history of rape, abuse, violence, and murder.
I wonder if any of those players ever shared a locker room with Darren Sharper. Sharper played 14 seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the 2nd round out of the College of William and Mary. He was a 5 time Pro Bowl selection and was a member of the all decade team signifying that he was one of the best at his position during his time in the league. After football, Sharper landed a job as a television analyst for the NFL Network. Earlier this year, Sharper was charged with drugging and raping 2 women in California. He is also a suspect in 7 other rape cases across 3 different states to date.
Sharper’s (alleged) history of violence is not unique. In fact, NFL players have had a long history of engaging in sexual and physical violence against women [TRIGGER WARNING]. We know that there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of perpetration (witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, impulsive and aggressive behaviors, associating with sexually aggressive peers, etc.). These risk factors, I would imagine, are present in a number of players. I am sure they routinely show up on the pre-draft radar. Yet, to my knowledge, the NFL does nothing (proactively) to ensure their draft choices, current players, or alumni receive interventions or support that target those risk factors. Instead, they hand them guaranteed, multi-year contracts worth millions of dollars and hope that their new-found fame, wealth, and access doesn’t unleash a monster. Unfortunately, it sometimes does. It seems like proactively supporting these “at-risk” players would make for a much less risky business.
If you were an NFL owner, what sort of interventions would you give to your players that are at a high risk of perpetrating violence against women?
Sometimes I write about issues for which I have a pretty developed and rooted opinion about or solution for – this one is more of an “I’d love your help thinking through this” kind of issue. As I have mentioned before, I have two daughters. My partner and I are in similar places when it comes to values and how to support the growth and learning of our daughters. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about the reality of raising daughters in a sexist society and the impact that could and/or should have on both the messages we give to them and how they might come across differently coming from my partner and I because we are different genders and sexes.
Specifically, both my partner and I believe very strongly in the importance of thinking of others often and in understanding the value of community. We both believe that our needs, safety, and happiness are intimately tied up with the needs of others and that it is important to consider the impact of decisions we make on those people around us whether they be close friends and family or community members we’ve never met. We value individual rights and freedoms AND we recognize that those rights come with a responsibility to the other humans with whom we share our community.
Teaching this belief to our daughters and modeling it for them is a complicated proposal because of the racism and sexism in our communities. Having the privilege that comes with being the beneficiary of racism and sexism rather than the target for them is like wearing blinders. White folks and men (particularly heterosexual, gender-conforming men) are often blinded to the benefits we receive without earning them as a result of racism and sexism. We are also blinded to the mistreatment of people of color and women and the systematic denial of rights and resources they experience. I believe that part of the work of being an ally is taking off those blinders. If a racist and sexist society is bestowing unearned benefits to me, part of my practice must be to recognize that and try to create systems that assure those rights and resources are distributed to everyone based on need. I believe an ally must believe in their soul that their own true happiness and safety are tied up with the happiness and safety of everyone in their community.
So, on the one hand, as I raise my white daughters in a racist society, it is important for me to model for them the act of thinking of others as an act of allyship. This may start with thinking about the feelings and needs of family members and friends, but it should also extend to how they interact with everyone in their community. On the other hand, a sexist society often puts the responsibility for the care of family and community on the shoulders of women in a way that encourages women to ignore or put their own needs and happiness aside. This Read more
First Class means to be of the best quality. This year it is the premise of Texas Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month – First Class Male: Cultivating Change through Male Involvement, which TAASA officially commenced with a unique event on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Those of us who assembled for this event were colleagues, coworkers, close friends, and acquaintances whose willingness to be real, be respectful, and be responsible steered us into a conversation of the best quality – a critical, deep, and unexpected conversation on consent.
I, along with most of the men gathered, had never had this conversation with another man, much less a coworker. In fact, no one could really recall a time growing-up when someone explained what consent was and was not. Those conversations for us didn’t begin to take place until our late teens or early 20′s when we were already entering sexual relationships, and by then it was most often initiated by our partners rather than the male role models or friends in our lives.
For me, this is what the Conversation on Consent aims to change, especially as more conversations take place around the state. Through their participation, men are showing that they want to have these discussions, but they don’t always know how. As men within the movement, we are responsible for helping others in our communities start talking about consent by considering the following:
- Encourage men to check-in with their partner(s) about their comfort level regarding their participation in this type of discussion with other men.
- Create a space and time to allow men to explore the issue of consent together.
- Listen without judgment when discussing consent with men.
- Recognize the various messages different people received about giving and getting consent.
- Be courageous when having these conversations, encouraging men to share openly and honestly.
- Ensure that the conversation is not heteronormative but rather is inclusive of a range of sexual orientations and relationships.
- Urge men to share their insights from these conversations with their sexual partner(s).
- Invite women and other allies into a dialogue about the nature of these conversations and seek their input throughout the process of organizing these conversations.
By taking these steps, we are cultivating the change that we seek and helping to support first class males as they become more willing to initiate these conversations and listen to the needs and desires of their sexual partner(s), opening themselves up to mutually fulfilling and healthy sexual encounters.
If you would like to learn more about seeking consent, check out Want The Best Sex of Your Life? Just Ask by Jaime Utt, or, if you are ready to begin a conversation right now, share your thoughts on consent below.
As I decided whether or not to write this blog and then set out to do so, several things were happening for me. I kept wondering if I should write this – this white, middle-age, middle class, heterosexual-identified male will never be the person who knows the most about sexism. I decided I should write it because, as someone who identifies as male and who is trying to be anti-sexist, I reject this recent notion I’ve heard that both men and women are the victims of sexism.
My next decision was how to start this blog. I tried to start off clever by talking about the importance of math to understanding sexism. Instead, I managed to highlight my privilege while being dismissive of women’s experiences of sexism. While this was not intentional, it was very real – privilege strikes again. (A big thank you to Morgan for helping me see what my privilege blinded me to.) Sexism is a reality that my female-identified colleagues have to deal with on a daily basis and a cute or clever approach just isn’t appropriate, particularly the approach I took. Hopefully this version of this blog is more straightforward and supports the truth that women have been telling for years, that gender-based prejudice is only a part of the equation of sexism and that men cannot experience sexism in our culture. The full equation for understanding sexism is below.
POWER (historical power + institutional power) + GENDER-BASED PREJUDICE = SEXISM
I want to be very clear – men are absolutely targeted for gender-based prejudice. Further, gender-based prejudice has very real consequences, particularly when it is wielded by people who have individual power over other individuals. Work to end gender-based prejudice is important for this reason. However, gender-based prejudice against men does not have the same impact on a community and societal level (and therefore on the individual level) as sexism against women because men have institutional power and historical power in their favor. (It is important to note that men who belong to other marginalized groups who’ve had institutional and historical power wielded over them experience other forms of oppression.) This distinction makes the experience of gender-based prejudice against men different than sexism against women in at least these 3 ways.
- Sexism leads to the normalization and minimization of prejudice and violence. Gender-based prejudice leveled towards men on a community or institutional level is the exception rather than the rule. Sexism directed at women brings with it a long history of similar behavior. The impact is that, even if sexist behavior is brought to light, it has been reinforced over centuries and from generation to generation and has therefore become expected. In this environment, the response to prejudice and violence is often one of acceptance rather than outrage and the target of sexism often finds little sympathy or support.
- Impact is on the collective and not just on the individual or a small group of individuals. Most of the women I’ve ever met can easily rattle off multiple incidences of sexism and sexual or physical violence they’ve experienced at the hands of men. They have also heard stories of violence and sexism from women in the generations before theirs. In the context of this level of historical violence, gender-based prejudice towards individual women reinforces the oppression of all women in a way that doesn’t happen for men targeted by gender-based prejudice. The acts of prejudice become a warning of what’s to come for other women and a reminder of the violence that’s already been.
- Sexism is reinforced by other systems. In a society filled with institutions whose policies and practices favor men (e.g., men are still making more money for the same or similar jobs as women) and where women continue to be tracked away from more powerful and highly-valued roles, women have had to resist and work hard to create spaces where they can find support. Most often, these spaces are outside of traditional institutions because an act of sexism in one institution is often supported by and reinforces a system of sexism.
Some people might ask why this distinction is so important. Why, if gender-based prejudice can lead to violence on its own, and we’re all struggling to end violence, is it so important to distinguish sexism from gender-based prejudice? There are at least three important reasons for recognizing the distinction:
- Honoring and understanding the full impact of sexism on women. Ignoring the level of institutional and historical disempowerment that women contend with makes it impossible to empathize or sympathize with women who are targeted for violence. This can have a profoundly negative impact on how we support survivors and understand the far reaching and multi-layered impact of gender-based violence on women.
- It hides the solution from view. The focus on ending gender-based prejudice while ignoring the destructive effect of power lends itself to solutions that are limited to changing individual attitudes and behaviors. To be sure, a solution to the issue of sexism must involve work on this level. However, it also requires efforts to change the systems and institutions that perpetuate gender-based oppression. Without this level of work sexism will persist.
- It reinforces a male-centric approach. A sexist society values things from the male sphere and focuses attention and resources on men. A sexist society also tends to focus attention away from men’s negative behavior. Even in our own movement we often hear about violence against women without calling attention to who is committing the vast majority of that violence – men. Stating that sexism is gender-based prejudice reinforces sexism. It turns much of the focus towards men as victims, thereby focusing energy on a solution to a problem for men rather than a problem promulgated primarily by men. The results are reinforcement of the focus on and importance of all things male and efforts to solve a problem that actually reinforce the problem.
I hope you will join me in seeking understanding of the impact of sexism and the systems and institutions that keep it in place. We’d love for you to share any resources that may have helped you along in your anti-sexism efforts or hear about the small or large acts of resistance you engage in to call attention to and ultimately eliminate sexism from your community.