A new article and video over at Mic highlights some of the core issues at the heart of Rape Culture. The video, a joint effort between Vine star Chaz Smith and the One Student project, discusses the disrespect for and the entitlement to women’s bodies felt by many men. By way of a sports analogy, the video makes the point that a patriarchal culture (such as ours) filled with toxic ideas about masculinity teaches men to be the aggressors and women to be on the defensive. On the defense from what you might ask? Think about the following:
When women are catcalled on the streets, who is doing the catcalling?
When women are sexually assaulted what group commits the vast majority of assaults?
The answer to both questions is M E N (I dearly hope there are no fools reading this who think I’ve just said “all men harass and sexually assault women”, bc that’s not what I’ve done. If you are one of those fools, learn to read for comprehension). As men are part of the problem, that also means that men are part of the solution. An essential part. How is catcalling going to end unless men stop engaging in such harassment? How are incidents of sexual assault against women going to diminish without men making the choice to stop sexually assaulting women? The video raises questions of this nature (and more). Listen for yourself:
While watching the video, I was reminded of an incident a few years ago. But first:
I am about to share a story with readers.
A story with an ending I played a role in.
Before I share this story though, I want to make one thing clear:
I am not asking for a cookie. My participation in the resolution of this situation was wholly an attempt on my part to do what I felt was the right thing.
Back in 2012, a friend and co-worker of mine-Rachel (not her real name)-confided in me that she was sexually assaulted by the General Manager of the restaurant we both worked at. Our restaurant occasionally made deliveries of food and on this occasion, Rachel and GM went together. On their return trip, Rachel said GM attempted to kiss her. While he failed at that attempt, he did succeed in groping her breast. When they returned to work, Rachel told me what happened.
I did not ask her if she led him on.
I did not question her attire.
I did not blame her.
I did tell her that I believed her and asked what she wanted to do about it. She said she was unsure and I suggested contacting the Regional Supervisor of the restaurant. Rachel was hesitant at first, so I told her if she wanted I could ask the RS how allegations of sexual assault are handled by the company. She agreed to that, and shortly thereafter, I spoke with RS (but did not reveal anything about Rachel’s situation). He said the company takes such allegations seriously and encourages employees to speak up if they’ve been assaulted. I told Rachel this, and she agreed to talk to RS. After she told him about being assaulted, RS asked her to meet with him and discuss what she wanted to do. Rachel agreed to this on the condition that I be there in the meeting (she later said she wanted me there for support). RS agreed to that, as did I. During the meeting, I sat silently in a chair close to the two of them and simply listened. I only spoke when either of them directed a question at me.
The meeting happened on a Friday. Over the weekend, Rachel expressed concerns about her job. If GM was not fired or sent to another restaurant, what would she do? She didn’t want to remain at a job where she would have to work with someone who sexually assaulted her and might do so again. Would she tough it out and remain working there and deal with/try to avoid asshole GM? Find another job? Thankfully she didn’t have to give thought to those questions for long. The following Monday, when I came to work, I learned that GM was fired for sexually harassing Rachel. I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised given that allegations of sexual harassment and assault are routinely dismissed. Nonetheless, I was pleased at the outcome. More importantly, Rachel was very glad to know that GM had been terminated.
As with many men, GM displayed a lack of respect for a woman’s body and a sense that he is entitled to a woman’s body. If he had respect for Rachel’s body, he would not have sexually assaulted her. Without his sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, I doubt he’d have tried to touch Rachel in a sexual manner without her consent. His beliefs are a product of a culture that devalues women-their bodies, their lives, their accomplishments. These toxic ideas of masculinity harm women and men. They need to be countered, especially by men. We’ve been part of the problem for too long now. It’s time to be part of the solution and here are a few things that can help:
- supporting and believing victims of sexual assault and rape
- refusing to engage in victim blaming and criticizing those who do
- educating yourself and others on bodily autonomy and the importance of consent
- not harassing women on the streets and criticizing those who do
- re-examining your beliefs about entitlement to the bodies of others
- ensuring that all sexual activities you take part in involve consenting adults