Shifting the Center: My Dad’s Simple Condemnation of Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual violence and rape culture

My dad is a wonderful man – kind and quiet and thoughtful and generous. I can say with confidence that in many ways, I am the man I am because of my father.

When I was a teenager, he gave me an uncomfortable number of sex talks – he saw it as his duty as a physician papa to talk about STIs, condoms, waiting until marriage, etc. Years later, though, as we were sitting together in the mountains of Colorado, I asked him about something that was never mentioned in any of those uncomfortable conversations.

“Dad, in all of those times you talked to me about sex, why did we never talk about consent?”

He thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I assumed it was a given.”

A given.

God, how I wish that consent was a given, something we didn’t need to talk explicitly with young people about. How I wish we lived in a culture of consent where we breathed in consent and respect and accountability in the way that we presently do rape culture.

But we don’t live in that world. As some people come into clearer awareness about sexual violence by hearing of the lenient sentence given a White rapist from Stanford University and through reading the statement from the survivor of that attack, we see once again the ways that our systems bend over backward to protect rapists (particularly White rapists).

But rape culture is about more than a single viral incidence of violence.

Rape culture is evident in the startling fact that every single one of us knows multiple survivors of sexual violence, yet so often we don’t know that we know survivors.

Rape culture is evident in the truth that just as many of us know perpetrators of sexual violence, perpetrators who will never be held accountable in any way.

But this short post isn’t meant to be about rape culture. This post is meant to be about the ways we can shift those around us to speak out, to act, to work to end sexual violence.

I don’t think I have had another conversation with my dad about sexual violence since that short talk about consent many years ago. I have tried; it just never went anywhere. But I realized this morning that even when we weren’t talking, he was listening.

Last night, my dad sent me this email:

Should be in bed at 1145 but became pulled and wanted to read the whole article about the Stanford student written by Lindsey Bever in the Washington Post. Definitely  a reading that shows the pain and struggles of sexual assault. She will never be he same but is trying to make that journey back to some normalcy in her life. Very touching. I have a hard time reading a lot of your posts on Facebook but can really appreciate your passion. Sex always has to be  consensual and if one is impaired one cannot give consent.
Take care Jamie.
Love Dad

His email is simple. It’s not a nuanced condemnation of heteronormative patriarchal violence or a stirring call to action for all men.

And yet I sit here in tears. Because it’s my dad.

And my dad spoke out to condemn sexual violence and to remind me that “sex always has to be consensual.” And my dad did so in the context of the Stanford rapist’s father defending his son in such a public and disgusting manner.

That means more to me than I can ever tell him or ever hope to convey here to my readers.

And his words are a reminder that the center is shifting – more and more men are realizing our responsibility to act, to change ourselves and the ways we view the world, which will in turn change our relationships and our communities.

And as I reflect upon this shift, I am forever grateful to those who lead the movement to force a shift, a movement led primarily by cis-women, Transgender people of all identities, and Gender Non-Conforming people, a movement led by survivors and their allies.

The work is far from finished, but this morning I feel just a little bit more hope than I did yesterday.

And I feel thankful to my dad.

miss one's mark

5 Ways to Avoid Common Ally Pitfalls by Learning From Your Mistakes

miss one's markOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.

Over the years, I have been asked to talk and write on a number of occasions about the notion of allyship and solidarity, about what it means to be an ally, how one goes about effective solidarity work, and how not to be so very terrible at being an ally.

I think this trend of asking people who share my identity about this topic is simultaneously ironic and important.

It’s important because these are 100-level questions, and unless they have explicitly offered themselves as a resource to those of us with privilege, it is not the responsibility of oppressed and marginalized people to be our educators. Those of us who strive for solidary should be willing to put in that emotional labor to help those who share our identity understand some fundamental tenets of ally work.

It’s ironic, though, for two reasons.

First, as much as I can offer from my experience on these topics, the best thing people of any form of identity privilege can do to understand solidarity is to simply listen across difference. If we are willing to listen over time, we will understand pretty well what is expected of us by those with whom we want to act in solidarity.

Second, considering how much I’ve screwed up in my own journey, I don’t always feel super qualified to be offering help to others.

But I suppose in some ways, my mistakes are what make it possible for me to have anything at all to offer other White folks or other men or other able-bodied people; hopefully, my learning can help other people with privilege consider how to strive for more accountable allyship.

So often, our “learning” must come at the expense of marginalized and oppressed people. So hopefully, offering some of the lessons I’ve learned about solidarity from making difficult mistakes can help you consider different ways of being that don’t demand so much from marginalized and oppressed people.

So here are some important lessons I think all people striving for allyship should know – ones I wish I had known so that my mistakes didn’t have to demand hurt or emotional labor from others.

1. The Moment You Think You Have Allyship Figured Out, You’re Going to Fuck Up

Solidarity isn’t a state of being, and “ally” isn’t an identity. There is no point that someone can reach where the work is done.

And even knowing that in theory, there have been times where I have gotten comfortable, where I have felt like I knew it all, and where I was complacent about what solidarity can or should look like.

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3 Examples That Show Even White Privilege Needs to be Viewed Intersectionally

istock_000056951292_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson, Australian Aboriginal activist 

A few years ago, I attended a workshop facilitated by Peggy McIntosh at the annual White Privilege Conference. In the workshop, McIntosh explained that she wished she could go back and rewrite the introduction of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” her seminal piece on White privilege.

The problem, she explained, is that people tend to treat her piece as a checklist of privileges that every White person experiences – but it’s not. The piece describes the context of herWhite privilege as a White woman with wealth privilege in an institution of higher education.

But privilege doesn’t function as a monolith; White privilege isn’t the same for every White individual and doesn’t function in the same way, to the same degree, for all White people.

However, all White people experience racial privilege. Full stop.

Our privileges, though, are complicated by other aspects of our identity that intersect with our Whiteness.

Intersectionality is a complex idea, but part of it means that when we are discussing someone’s class or ableist oppression, we must consider those things in the context of other areas where they might be marginalized as well as where they might be privileged.

Almost forty years ago, Derrick Bell wrote of the “interest convergence dilemma,” whereby institutional change toward ending racial oppression doesn’t often take place until White people see it in their best interest despite the incredible work of activists of Color.

As a White activist who sees the liberation of those I love, as well as my own liberation, as tied up in realizing intersectional racial justice, what Bell’s work says to me is that I have a responsibility to find new ways of engaging White people, of helping White people understand our own interests in realizing racial justice and in divesting from Whiteness.

And that’s the idea of collective liberation! Everyone with privilege has a choice to divest from systems of privilege and to join movements led by oppressed and marginalized people.

When those movements are intersectional, then working in concert with others means that we are also working for our own liberation.

So toward that end, I want to complicate some of the items from McIntosh’s list, highlighting how those items exist at intersections of identity that mean different things to different White people.

Hopefully this can help us break through some of the defensiveness that comes up in conversations about privilege. Namely, when White folks deflect to aspects of our identity that are marginalized rather than being accountable to our privilege.

Before proceeding, though, I want to briefly note the irony of White people (myself and McIntosh) being centered in conversations about the privileges that are the result of oppression.

If we as White people listened to people of Color, articles like this one simply wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, though, often we as White folks aren’t the best at listening to people of Color, but maybe we will hear things differently from a fellow White person.

Thus, if you’re White, I can’t stress enough how important it is for us to diversify our media consumption to learn from people of Color. But if it helps you to hear me complicate our conversation about privilege, then I hope it inspires you to continue along the path toward more anti-racist ways of being.

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4 Ways the American Dream Is Actually Just Affirmative Action for White People

screen-shot-2015-11-12-at-3-10-59-pmOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.

I once wrote an article on how affirmative action doesn’t actually disadvantage White people – despite how many of us believe the opposite.

And a few members of my family weren’t happy about that article. Quite sure that affirmative action for people of Color is “reverse racism,” they gave me an earful.

In their reaction lies the tremendous irony that hangs over most White opposition to programs designed to help people of Color access the schools and jobs from which they’ve been historically excluded.

After all, while affirmative action programs, which have been shown to help White women more than anyone, are a recent creation, there have been systems and structures designed to benefit White people at the expense of everyone else for hundreds of years.

In fact, that which we often call the “American Dream” is built fundamentally upon violent affirmative action programs for White people.

And I’m not just talking about the overt (though coded) forms of affirmative action that we White folks benefit from today.

The entire history of European settlement in North America is a story of unearned benefit that comes at the expense of people of Color.

This notably sets it apart from formal affirmative action programs for people of Color, such as those in admissions to universities, as they haven’t been proven to systemically disadvantage White people in any way.

To understand the White “American Dream,” though, we need to understand the history of Whiteness and its ever-changing and evolving nature.

As highlighted by scholars like Dr. Jacqueline Battalora and Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, Whiteness didn’t always exist.

In fact, prior to the 1690s, “White” people were unheard of.

Wealthy, land-owning Europeans created the category of Whiteness as a tool to divide poor, light-skinned Europeans from enslaved African people and Indigenous people in North America.

Since that time, it has taken on a life of its own and been embedded in every single structure of the US.

This club, known as Whiteness, was designed to offer advantages, some small and some large, to light-skinned Europeans in exchange for their complicity in the theft of Indigenous land and the enslavement and exploitation of non-White people.

Notably, not all light-skinned Europeans were initially considered White (Italians and the Irish didn’t join the club until well into the 20th century, and European Jews have only recently been able to join).

Whiteness has evolved over time, but its singular aim has been to ensure that certain people (wealthy, White men mostly) hold power built upon the exploitation of people of Color and, to a lesser degree, poor White people.

It’s important, then, that we as White people understand this identity creation story because in this history lies an understanding of the privileges so many of us call the “American Dream” – something disproportionately available to people considered White.

Does this mean that people of Color haven’t realized this “Dream?” No. It just means that this “Dream” has been a nightmare for most people of Color built upon genocide, exclusion, and slavery.

1. White Wealth Is Tied to Land – So White Wealth Is Bound Up in Genocide

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Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses

istock_000037932394_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.

As a kid, I secretly loved to dress up in my sister’s dresses and wear makeup, and even though I pretended to hate it, I loved playing Barbies. In time, though, bullying and intimidation taught me how I was “supposed to act.”

By high school, I tried to exude the stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be: I acted like a tough guy (once punching my best friend and nearly ruining a friendship simply because I didn’t want to show emotional vulnerability), and I constantly expressed toxic heteronormativity, objectifying and treating women like garbage.

Once I got to college, though, two important things changed the way I think about masculinity and my relationship to it.

First, women in my life shared with me the ways they’d been directly hurt by toxic masculinitythough sexual violence. Second, male mentors in my life reached out to me and helped me understand different ways of being a man.

These revelations were important for helping me find a path toward cultivating a different kind of masculinity. And it’s important for me to think of this as a path – because I’m still very much traveling in the direction of healthier masculinity while often losing my way, screwing up, and needing to do better moving forward.

As I reflect on my own learning, though, it’s notable that it took leaving my home environment and immersing myself in different ways of thinking to shift my reality.

This isn’t true for every man who embarks on the path toward healthier masculinity, but for those men who go to college, we find a unique opportunity to engage men.

Hence, “men’s work” and male-engagement programming are becoming more and more common on college campuses. Full-time positions are being created to focus on men’s engagement in creating positive community and ending sexual violence, and some schools are going as far as to create Men’s Centers (more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, while men’s engagement programs and positions offer unique opportunities for reducing sexual violence and promoting healthier ways of being men, there are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in doing this work as well.

As a result, I’ve compiled five dangers to consider and four suggestions for effectively engaging men on college campuses in hopes of offering some important considerations for students and professionals on college and university campuses who are taking up “men’s work.”

1. Men’s Work Lacking Intersectional Anti-Oppression Analysis Reinforces Oppression

Probably the single most significant issue with work on men and masculinities is also somewhat of an umbrella for the other four dangers: When we do men’s work without careful attention to intersectional feminism, we can recreate the very problems we’re working against.

A perfect example of this is the movement to create “Men’s Centers” on college campuses because of declines in net enrollment among men.

It’s notable that the cesspool of Men’s Rights Activism known as A Voice for Men has published content lauding the movement to create more “Men’s Centers” on college campuses. Historically, identity-based centers have been spaces for marginalized and oppressed people to find community and safe space in otherwise hostile college environments. But men are neither oppressed nor marginalized for their gender on college campuses.

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From Manspreading to Mansplaining — 6 Ways Men Dominate the Spaces Around Them

manspread1Originally published at Everyday Feminism.

A few weeks ago, I was having a meeting with a friend at a coffee shop. It was hot out, I was slouching a bit, and without my really noticing, my legs were sticking out into the aisle. A woman who came by had to walk around them to get inside.

My friend laughed. “Dude, are you manspreading right now?”

“Am I? Maybe. I don’t think so. Maybe…”

I totally was.

In truth, at first I was defensive and had assumed that I wasn’t mainly because I’m not “that guy” – you know, the super entitled jerk who takes up more space than he deserves.

But that’s the thing about manspreading. It’s not about men actively choosing to be jerks or trying to be sexist and ableist (since the outcome of our manspreading not only takes up space under the guise of our needing more room, but also often makes space less accessible for some people with disabilities).

It’s entirely about our socialization – about how we’ve been taught (in subtle and overt ways) never to consider how entitled to public space we may act or feel.

So when countless women point out (often in hilarious ways) that we’re manspreading all over the place, we quickly hear the refrains of “Women do it, too!” and “Stop conflating someone being rude with sexism and toxic masculinity.”

But the problem actually is toxic masculinity and, by extension, sexism – it’s just not as obvious as sexist name-calling or men being physically abusive.

After all, it’s our masculine socialization that ingrains in us from the youngest of ages the idea that we are entitled to what’s around us.

And this is intensified when we add in other forms of social power (or a lack thereof) to the equation.

When male entitlement compounds with class privilege, White privilege, and other forms of privilege, we see the amplification of this privilege and entitlement (all too perfectly exemplified in Donald Trump’s “I’m rich, so I can do what I want” braggadocio).

On the other hand, when White supremacist systems endlessly brutalize and humiliate men of Color while reducing them in the media to strict portrayals of hypermasculinity, then masculinity, the only sense of social power that some men of Color may feel, can show up in hypermasculine expressions or in a sense of entitlement to public space.

We as men have been so inundated with the idea that all space is our space that we, often subconsciously, act as if that’s true – both in our body language and in more overt expressions of entitlement like dominating conversations, talking over other people, and harassing women on the street.

A hilariously perfect illustration of male entitlement to public space, the KoolAid man busts through a wall of a party, shouting “not all men.”

Thus, I do think manspreading is a problem– not because it’s the ultimate example of misogyny, but because it’s a perfect, public representations of the much more concerning issue of sexist male entitlement.

So when we as men experience a lifetime of messages that tie up our identity with entitlement to space and bodies, it makes perfect sense that we would take up more than our fair space on a crowded bus – but we must also understand that this is indicative of something so much bigger.

The point is that, in and of itself, manspreading in public isn’t inherently sexist.

But when it’s taken in the context of power and oppression and all of the other ways that we consciously and subconsciously assert our entitlement into public space, it’s suddenly something entirely sexist.

With that in mind, here are six spaces in which our entitlement shows up in forms other than manspreading, offered with the hope that we as men will reflect a bit on how we can work toward better ways of being in community.

1. Men Dominate Physical Space

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To End Racism, White People Must Invest in Other White People

gay-coupleOriginally Published at Everyday Feminism.


As I sit here writing this after learning of the brutal murder of Natasha McKenna while in police custody, a death local authorities ruled an “accident,” a familiar feeling rises inside of me. I recognize this anger and this sadness.

Sadly, this is a feeling that comes up for me nearly every single day as I work not to allow myself to numb to the brutality Black, Brown, and Indigenous people experience at the hands of the police. And frankly, I have little patience at the moment for talking to White people.

Similarly, after the grand jury decided against indicting Darren Wilson, I found myself lashing out at those who share my race and who were defending the decision. I was incredibly snarky, and I was looking for the best thing to say to sound right, not to actually help them understand the roots issues of systemic racism at play.

Seeing these gruesome images is something all too common in our age of cell phone cameras and social media – not that the violence is happening more, only that we as White people are privy to this racist violence in a way we never were before.

Yet I’m watching my fellow White people do mental backflips to justify this violence and to deny that this is in any way connected to a wider system of racism in the United States.

And I should feel angry.

If we as White people striving to be in solidarity to people of Color don’t feel anger, then we seriously ought to question our motives and wonder whether our investment is solely intellectual.

But how that anger and hurt and frustration gets expressed will go a long way in determining how effective I am in working with White people – my people – for racial justice.

In thinking about that anger, I can’t help but remember this brilliant piece from Spektra Speaks that came out after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson – White People, Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson (seriously, if you’re White, you need to read this piece).

After all, if you’re anything like me, being told to “f*ck off” or being berated doesn’t exactly inspire me to self-reflect, to consider how I can be better and do better – and cutting White people out of my life doesn’t advance racial justice.

Far too much of what I have justified as “calling someone out on their privilege” was little more than a dismissive slight aimed at boosting my ego and making me look like the “best anti-racist White person.” How does that actually help anything?

Thus, the more that I think about it, I realize that White people who wish to work in racial justice solidarity and who strive for allyship need to realize our fundamental responsibility to do more than simply “call out” other White people.

We must take up the long, difficult, often emotionally-exhausting work of calling them in to change.

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