Last week, I had this really amazing conversation over coffee. On Monday, I had a Women’s Commission that drove home the significance of that conversation.
A few weeks ago, friend of mine got me in touch with one of the soccer coaches at my university. We were finally able to meet up last Friday morning – he’s interested in starting a men’s group to discuss men’s issues, as well as anti-sexism and bystander awareness and empowerment… etc.
One thing that was clear from this is Soccer Coach has been self-educating himself on gender, sexism, social narratives, you name it – and he is clearly more than a little overwhelmed at what that education is making him see in this world. The things he has come to understand. The other thing that was clear is that this conversation, and his new-found awareness, makes me want to leap from my chair and do a happy dance. It is so so exciting to think about this happening, about starting something that is so needed in our society – a group where men can educate themselves and one another on the subtle ways misogyny still works in the world, and on what they can do about it.
This is in addition the space this would create for men to talk about what it means to be a man today. About masculinity. About gender roles. A space where they can have the conversations women have been fighting to have for decades – but a space that is enlightened, educated, aware.
I have so much hope for this. So much hope that this is happening the way that it should – through that enlightenment, education, and awareness, and not as a shroud for a post-feminist backlash (…why does that sound familiar…).
SO this post is in part a call to arms, a quest for resources, a plea for advice. If anyone who reads this has thoughts, recommendations, references, etc that I can pass on Soccer Coach, PLEASE leave them in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve already been in touch with Jamie Utt of Change From Within, and he’s provided me some websites for similar groups on other campuses, including those for Haverford, Harvard, University of Hartford, and Northwestern. These are in addition to other resources like Men Can Stop Rape, Jackson Katz, and Men Stopping Violence.
Of course, Soccer Coach is interested in a greater dialogue than just against rape and sexual assault – to include men working against sexism in general, as well as ways in which the patriarchy works in our society and against men themselves.
Yet while this cup of coffee left me filled with hope… a Women’s Commission the following Monday drove home the point – this isn’t just a hopeful venture. It’s a very fucking necessary one. These groups, this enlightened and educated and aware conversations between men need to happen – and they need to happen now.
Apparently, a new anonymous twitter account appeared in recent months – one called “[my university]-d”. The “d” stands for, well, you can probably guess. The tweets? The more benign of them included things like: “If she’s wearing leopardprint, she wants the D” and “If she texts you ‘heyy…’ she wants the D” and “If she wears a mini skirt she wants the D”. You get the idea.
Please don’t tell me I have to explain why this is a serious, serious problem. Why this just plays into our narratives that women are always and constantly available to men, that anything we do can be seen as an invitation. How this perpetuates and excuses rape culture.
The thing is? There was a serious backlash towards those who spoke out against this twitter account, including of course the whole “can’t you take a joke?” contingent. The ones who would belittle and threaten and harass a woman who started a IDidntWantTheD twitter account in response, and tweeted about her own rape and sexual violence at the hands of her boyfriend.
As you can imagine, the people who drove this backlash were both men and women.
The Women’s Commission discussed this – as well as the fact that we can’t just look at singular instances. There are multiple-and-growing examples – especially within social media and the anonymity it allows. The answer isn’t just about addressing each and every person who uses this language, who perpetuates these social narratives and this rape culture, who excuse and ignore street harassment and sexual violence.
The key is enlightenment. It is education. It is awareness.
It is empowered young men and women to stand up and speak out – not only in public forums as bystanders, but also in private conversations. Who understand the difference between a goddamn joke. Who will begin to make a change.
It starts with one soccer coach who starts to educate himself. One soccer coach who reaches out to others for help, for support, for understanding. One conversation. One dialogue. One example that hits home.
One person who begins to listen, to understand – and who is willing and wants to educate someone else.