Monday, April 22, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month--Men in the Movement, Part 2

So in my continuing blog series of men in the anti-rape movement, I am reconvening this week to provide you with some of the questions and answers that guys in my world have provided me with. If you want to see their responses to the first question about the necessity for men in the movement, you can see them here

Today's question was: Did you become invested in this for personal reasons or political/social reasons (or some of both)? And, did you have a turning point moment when this issue became part of your world?

A1: "When I was a kid, some close family members talked in front of me about their own experiences as victims and witnesses of domestic violence.  I learned to read between the lines when their stories hinted at rumors of sexualized psychological abuse and familial rape.  As a young adult, I learned that a number of women in my family had been sexually abused by men in my family; men who I now suspect might have themselves been victims of abuse.  It's quite possible that I channeled my subsequent abhorrence, anger, and sorrow into choosing to address sexual violence through my work.  To be clear, I had a relatively happy childhood, but these experiences have led me to believe that sexual violence -- particularly within families -- is much more prevalent than we think."

A2: "Both. When I was in university a friend was drugged while out at a bar, she had woken up the next morning naked in one of her friend’s bed with no memory of how she got there. While the friend did admit to having sex, he said she forced herself on him (which was a little questionable how a 120 lbs. woman could force herself on a 220 lbs. man but I digress) but he hadn’t drugged her. This was true because the friend had been at a different bar entirely and had met up later with her. She and I went to the police and the first question they asked was what she was wearing; this wasn’t for evidence collection but a judgment. It was my first time in a situation like this, and my first exposure to how demeaning and prevalent rape culture is. The person who drugged her was never caught, the friend vehemently denies he did anything wrong by taking advantage of a vulnerable woman and life went on. Except for her. Her interactions with men changed because of that, she guarded drinks (even water) closely, sat with her back to the wall facing the door and studied every person walking into her field of vision. It was a definitive case of PTSD. What resonated with me was that she even changed to me, I was her closest male friend and even she had a bit of guard up around me now. We used to walk arm in arm with coffees chatting, we stopped walking arm in arm. We used to be able to break the touch barrier easily, now there was a sphere of invadable space. I took it in stride because she was my friend, and that’s what friends do but I never forgot that change and what had caused it.  From a societal standpoint I became more vocal about rape culture and the anti-sexual violence movement when a good friend became involved in the first ever (in the world) SlutWalk ( and the circumstances that precipitated that annual event. Since my interests have deep roots in gaming, I’ve noticed very prevalent sexism within the gaming community, particularly dealing with conventions and women who cosplay. There’s been a string of incidents at conventions where female cosplayers have been subjected to harassment and assault. To me, most of these issues, including the anti-rape movement orbit around the rape culture where the burden of proof is on the victim to prove they weren’t “asking for it” by how they acted, what they were drinking, or how they dressed/what costume they were wearing."

A3. "I became involved in the movement for both personal and political reasons – after all, the personal is political, isn’t it? I don’t have one particular “light bulb” moment that turned me on to doing pro-feminist work. I’ve always felt like I fit outside the “box of masculinity” that so many gender theorists talk about. I was “in the box” in a lot of ways, but was also sensitive, empathic, and was uncomfortable around men who made sexist remarks. One experience that pushed me towards anti-sexist activism was during my freshman year of college when my then girlfriend (now fiancĂ©e) was talking to me about her experiences with street harassment, and I never realized until then the effects it had on women. Though I never verbally harassed women on the street, I watched as others did. When I asked her how I could help she suggested I take a women’s studies class – I did and ended up majoring in Gender & Women’s Studies - and from there I got involved in the feminist movement on my campus."

A4. "Oddly my real passion for feminism and other issues around racism, homophobia, transphobia etc came from when I became vegetarian. Being a straight, white guy it can be difficult to really understand what discrimination is like (I know, “boo-hoo poor straight white guys” J).  After I became a vegetarian I began to experience this, albeit on a minute scale. Suddenly the entire world wasn’t made for me. I’d go into restaurants and have few or no options. I’d hear jokes that I’d find myself the punchline of. Taking vegetarianism a step further into animal rights issues I’d then find myself feeling outraged about an issue that others were wilfully being blind too. All of this helped me to understand discrimination in a way I fear I may never truly have had I not stopped eating animals. I now could relate to why it’d be annoying to go to the cinema and have no films with female leads, or why seeing 20 billboards with half naked women would start to grate or why people ignoring rape culture and endorsing victim blaming would cause such personal outrage."

A5. "I was raised in a household that strongly valued feminist ideas, and more broadly advocated for addressing issues of social injustice. However I don’t think I became a real active advocate until I started talking with Christa.  She provided an intellectual and political framework which helped me contextualize the issues that I had been thinking about.  Once I became more comfortable being ‘out’ I realized that a lot of my friends had been going through issues stemming from past or current incidences of sexual assault. This kind of created a feedback loop where the more I was a vocal ally the more people I realized were hurting. 

When I started my job as a professor this took on a new perspective. I’m protective of my students, they’re wonderful people and I honestly wish them the best. However after reading statistics about rates of sexual assault on campus I decided that being a strong and vocal advocate at the faculty level could potentially provide a good role model for my students and a safe space for those who are hurting."

A6. "First, I should point out that I'm not exactly active in any movement against sexual violence (or gay rights, or labor) in any concrete sense. I don't speak, I don't volunteer, and I don't stand in picket lines ... but, I would. I just don't have a lot of free time as a dad with a 50 hour a week soul-sucking corporate day job and aspirations to become a novelist. That said, I do what I can. I sign petitions, I call my congressman from time to time, but mostly, I just try to raise our collective awareness by being an active voice where and whenever I can. So, why did I become invested? I'm not really sure. Becoming a dad was part of it, I'm sure, but my oldest daughter is 17, and I'm not sure I've been thinking about this stuff actively for quite that long. In general, throughout my whole life, I've just always cared a lot about human rights, and equality for everyone, and I see sexual violence against women as one of the most pervasive violations of that belief. Plus, I'm kind of a big strong hairy scary guy, and I think a movement like this needs as many of those as it can get."


M.J. Fifield said...

I hope this series is read by a lot of people. It really deserves to be.

Carrie Mesrobian said...

I love this series. Big thanks to you for doing it as well as to the guys for participating/supporting women.