OPINION: Men’s attitudes can prevent gender violence
FREE PRESS OPINION COLUMNIST
The reality of my status as a second-class citizen struck hard my first year in college when I participated in my first protest. I was part of a “Take Back the Night” march in which women came together in cities all over the world to walk through parts of our cities where, alone, we could never be safe at night.
I was surrounded by hundreds of women who had survived violent attacks themselves or who were closely connected to someone who had. It was overwhelming to realize that one out of every three women and girls are victims of rape, battering, or other forms of gender violence.
Most disturbing, though, were the men who showed up at our rally. There were a handful, most of whom were gay, who came to support us. The majority of men there had come just to threaten and taunt us. How could so many possibly feel threatened by women who were simply demanding not to be raped?
Gender violence is not a random, unpredictable occurrence. It is something we are all trained to participate in from our youngest days. For me, that meant growing up with Pepe le Pew, the Looney Tunes skunk, sexually assaulting Penelope, the cat, in every episode.
My favorite movie was “Grease,” in which John Travolta sings about his summer “conquest,” and his buddies ask enviously: “Did she put up a fight?” Then, as a teen, there was “Sixteen Candles,” in which the hot jock hands his drunk and passed out girlfriend to a buddy with permission to do as he pleases with her. The jock is valorized for choosing to do nothing to the girl even though he could “violate her in 10 different ways if I wanted to.”
Today, kids 12 to 17 years old account for 80 percent of pornography usage, and by the end of middle school, almost every boy is familiar with pornography and virtually every girl has been subjected to some form of sexual harassment or violence. The most popular “artists” now are making rape suggestions and singing about the sexual acts girls should perform in order to be liked. Date rape drugs are commonplace, and there are stories every day about women and girls being blamed for the violence perpetuated against them.
As we saw in Steubenville, Ohio, and now in Maryville, Mo., whole towns show up to “defend” high school football players from the girls they have raped. In Steubenville, student rapists documented everything they did with photos and a Youtube video in which they bragged about sex with the unconscious girl, yet much of the community continues to stand behind them and to demonize the rape survivor. Just last month, a Montana teacher, whose 14-year-old victim killed herself, was released from prison after serving his month-long sentence. The sentencing judge defended the light penalty with the argument that she “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her 54-year-old rapist.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In solidarity with your mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, I have a simple request to make of my male counterparts.
Please recognize that more than a women’s issue, gender violence is a men’s issue. Worldwide, one billion women and girls have survived rape or battering. Women can’t stop this, but men can. Humans learn by example every day, and it only takes a moment to speak out.
Every time a man refuses to share an “amusing” email with a misogynous joke, view pornography, or gawk at a woman, he is making a difference. Every time a man tells his daughter that she’s perfect just the way she is, treats his partner as his equal, or confronts the friend who brags about his “conquests,” he is making a difference.
When you realize a woman or girl is in trouble, please don’t judge her; do what you can to help her. And for anyone with questions or in need of emergency support for rape or domestic violence, call the Latimer House at 970-241-6407.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Robyn is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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