It was amazing to see the dialogue created by last week’s post, “Halloween, A Study in Unhealthy Gender Norms.” All of the thoughtful comments have really had me thinking. I hope that they have provided wonderful conversation and thought material for you as they have for me. I usually try not to write about things that are too closely related two weeks in a row, but in this case, there has been something on my mind all week that relates to last week’s topic. I was particularly struck by the words of my friend Lauren,
“There has never been a woman in the history of our society that has PROVOKED a man to stare at her, objectify her, touch her, sexually assault her or beat her. Those are CHOICES that men make. Those are LEARNED behaviors that men need to UN-learn.”
Her words could not ring more true, and undoubtedly, one of my greater struggles in life is to unlearn the socialization we men experience with regards to our interactions with women. After all, in my thoughts that Halloween night, I crossed that line of blaming women for the way men were acting toward them. Even while trying to hold the men accountable, I couldn’t help but think, “But she chose to wear that absurd outfit!”
It’s hard! It frustrates the hell out of me! This is why I get so excited about playing a role in the socialization of the young men in my life . . . cousins, nephew, friends’ kids, maybe even a son of mine one day (though the jury’s still out on this one). My mind always comes back to Andrea Gibson’s question of “What will I teach my son?” I love a story my friend Zach has told me many times of his mentor Novian talking to his son after the boy hit his sister. Novian asked his son something to the effect of, “What did we learn is the most important part of being a man?” The boy responds, “Being gentle.”
The truth is, though, that we cannot simply wait for a generation of young men to rise up and make the change in how we treat women because in the time we wait, every two minutes, another woman in the U.S. is a victim of sexual violence. We as men must constantly work to hold each other accountable – something that is hard and scary and can feel alienating but is incredibly important. We must examine our own relationships and ensure that they are sex-positive and healthy.
One thing that we as men and women in our society can work to do better, though, is support survivors of sexual violence. In the past week, I have been thinking a lot about how we treat women who have the courage to come forward to prosecute their aggressor or seek help for the trauma in a sexual assault. Fortunately there are many wonderful shelters, organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals who are doing the work to help women understand that, in the words of Lauren, “there has never been a woman in the history of our society that has PROVOKED a man” to assault her. In no way could sexual violence ever be the fault of the survivor.