Tips for Men to End Sexual Violence

Cover of Solace magazine from winter 2008. Thanks to Literature for life for permission to use the image.

This weekend I picked up an old copy of Solace, a local magazine for and by young mothers published by Literature for Life. We kept copies of their publications at a youth drop-in centre where I once worked. This volume, which I hadn’t previously read, is entitled “Sexual Violence 101.” It includes courageous first-person accounts of sexual abuse and victimization, all of them by young women from Toronto and the GTA. These women came together to speak out against sexual violence, and to support each other as survivors of abuse.

One piece included a list of tips for women to protect themselves from violence. Women readers are likely familiar with these safety warnings, which are nearly always directed at them and not at the men who hurt them. Although women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence in Canada, they are also burdened with the responsibility for preventing that violence. Men need to have real conversations about the impact of endemic sexual violence against women. Given our current cultural denial, any conversations are a step forward.

Since most women are already well-versed in the safety narrative, the following are some tips for men to help bring an end to sexual violence. Guys, this isn’t just about you or the upstanding men you hang out with. It’s about a nice place called Canada where our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, wives, and lovers are targeted by men every minute of every day. In 2007, 61% of Canadians surveyed by Decima said they personally knew a woman who had been physically or sexually assaulted. Here’s what you can do about it, guys:

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Misogyny (hatred of/towards women) is all around us and if we remain as silent as we’ve been, it will never stop.
  • Don’t let drugs or alcohol cloud your judgement. A woman’s choice to drink or use drugs does not relieve you of the responsibility of getting her consent before you get down.
  • Don’t let money or status cloud your judgement. A woman who accepts your kindness, a meal, a date, a ride in your car, or your conversation does not owe you access to her body in return.
  • Don’t be afraid to scream and draw attention to situations that threaten a woman’s safety. If you’re concerned about drawing unwanted attention from an aggressive man, you and that woman have something in common.
  • Give a new partner the opportunity to say “yes” to intimacy instead of waiting for her to say “no.” This means you have to ask her. And don’t forget that your wife/partner/lover/friend-with-benefits has the right to consent or not as she pleases.
  • Forget the conventional wisdom that you should never start something you can’t finish. If a woman says “no,” respect her choice immediately, even if the answer has been “yes” all the way along. I would say, “don’t start something you cannot stop,” but you can always stop, and sometimes you have to.
  • Petition your city government to install transparent bus shelters and proper public lighting so that women do not have to travel in fear.
  • Challenge people in your life who perpetuate misogynistic ideas, jokes, comments, and attitudes, even those who don’t realize they are doing it. This is not easy but it is essential. Men need to hold each other responsible, not just for heinous acts of violence, but for the attitudes that have made that violence so common.
  • Support women when they speak out against sexual violence. We need to be marching with women to demand safety and security instead of just walking them home.
  • Send this list to your guy friends and see if you can start a conversation about a problem that affects us all.

Love and respect to my partner Mackenzie, and to all the incredible women in my life who know we can do better.

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7 thoughts on “Tips for Men to End Sexual Violence

  1. Graham

    This is a very hard topic to really articulate my feelings about given it’s obvious complexity, but here goes.

    As a man, I find it very hard to read these types of articles, I don’t think anyone who would read an article entitled “tips for men to end sexual violence” needs four of the tips to basically boil down to “don’t rape anyone”. I may have a dick, but I am never ever going to rape anyone, so, despite myself, I begin to feel angry when I am lumped in to a group of people who would, just because of my anatomy.

    I am totally aware that my opinions on this are probably flawed and I welcome questions and constructive comments (no man hate please), but I think that taking gender out of this whole thing could get a better response from males. I’m not sure of figures, but let’s say 1 in 50 men may perpetrate sexual violence toward another human, low odds, so, why is this a male vs female topic? I assume that the overwhelming majority of men do not act in this way, so this isn’t about us, as men, this is about stopping sexual aggressive or violent people and behaviour. I have never read an article on this subject which has not talked about the behaviour of “men” as if they are all identical beings. Reading anything that tells me “men act like this” or “woman act like that” immediately loses my attention because it’s an incredible oversimplification. Take a look at the final sentence of this article – Love and respect to my partner Mackenzie, and to all the incredible women in my life who know we can do better. – What does that mean, WE? Men? That, to me, is a completely absurd thing to write, it’s almost an apology for being male, you’re basically excluding men from really feeling like that can get involved in this, like we should cast our eyes down and be sorry for what we are. I don’t understand. I am a man and I am against sexual violence, I want to stand beside all these other woman and men who feel the same as me without the being any difference perceived between us. Maybe the key to making this idea and movement more gender equal is to take that attitude out.

    Maybe all rapists are men, but they’re not rapists BECAUSE they’re men.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Although I agree with you that this seems to turn the issue of violence towards women as a simple man vs woman argument. I have to point out a couple of flaws.

      1. “Maybe all rapists are men, but they’re not rapists BECAUSE they’re men”–all rapists are not men. Unfortunately there is sexual violence against women by other women as well. The actual number of cases of sexual violence on women by other women might be less, but I also tend to think that they are reported less often due to social stigma. Then again this is more of a semantics issue, but it always pays to leave the “all” part out of a premise. The second part of your sentence is 100 percent true.

      2. You cannot take gender out of this equation because it is a gendered equation. The way to make this idea and movement more “gender equal” is not by ignoring current social situations, but by adapting them and making them your own. There is only so much a woman can do when facing these issues, but as the second gender in the equation, the one with less “power” we are widely unable to make any successful gain. The only way to make any movement forward towards a true equality where there is no more binary of power, is by the first gender in the equation acknowledging current social hierarchy and then doing something about it….

      It is maybe not nice or fair to lump together all men and accuse them all of being rapists or sexually violent. However it is fair to call out all men and ask them to take a stand. If you are not included in all men, then you cannot effectively produce change, because you are a third party observer with no invested experience in the issue. The innocent cannot cause change, only those with experience have the ability to fix a broken system in a way that works. A system can’t change unless enough people in the system change first. Key there is you have to be part of the system.

      So you get a choice, either you can’t bitch about being lumped in with “all men” and get to help make change. Or you get to bitch but are not included in a system where you could effectively help change it because you are only a third party observer.

      You have to have dirty hands before you can wash them off. Even if it is only dirty by proxy.

      Reply
  2. Graham

    Also, no offence meant with the use of your final sentence, I hope this reply is not seen as too negative.

    Reply
  3. Desmond Cole Post author

    Thank you so much for your thoughts Graham. In response, I feel it is simplistic to reduce violence against women to simply violence. That diminishes the cultural factors that cause many men to believe they should control women’s bodies. It also ignores the overwhelming statistical data about sexual violence.

    Do you believe that narratives about masculinity contribute to sexual violence against women? I do, and it is that aspect of violence I am addressing. You may not like being lumped into a group that includes people who commit horrible acts of violence, but that is not my categorization, it is the categorization you and I have inherited.

    You are a man when you apply for an executive job, lead a political movement, or walk into an auto mechanic’s garage for service. Being a man is usually advantageous in our society where power is concerned. We are the benefactors of that system even if we reject it, and we must acknowledge our privilege if we hope to share more of it with women. We can’t just pretend people don’t make gender-based value judgements, and ask everyone to strive for undefined equality when social injustice so overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects women.

    I never apologized for being male. Men can do a better job of respecting women’s bodies. If that makes you uncomfortable as a general statement, ask yourself why.

    Given that at least half of all Canadian women are believed to experience violence throughout their lives, and that most of that violence is perpetrated by men they are familiar with, it seems unlikely to me that 1 in 50 men in Canada are responsible for all acts of violence against Canadian women. And beyond the statistics on violent crime, I would include intimidation, control of finances, emotional abuse, cultural stereotyping, workplace discrimination, on and on. The issue is larger than rape (which is why people use terms like sexual assault and sexual violence).

    Reply
    1. Graham

      Thank you for both of your replies, as I said in my original post, I did struggle to make my point so thanks for taking the time to reply and make good points back.

      I don’t want anyone to think that I am sidestepping the issue and I don’t want to step away from it and not “take a stand”. Any abuse of power is abhorrent and I would stand against it.

      I was trying to make a general point as to how it made me feel to read what men do. I can get past that initial spike of indignant annoyance, but maybe others wouldn’t. I suppose I was sharing an idea of how more men could be engaged to take more interest in sexual violence issues by presenting it less as a man/woman thing (even though that is clearly what it is, woman/woman situations aside). Maybe someone who is involved in promoting awareness and action against it could try that? I don’t know, I guess it is a small detail in a big issue, just something I have been pondering on for the last couple of weeks.

      Anyway, thanks again for your patient replies (the 1 in 50 comment in particular, I did cringe a little as I posted knowing that would stamped down). I was really pleased to read your points and learn something.

      Reply
  4. Desmond Cole Post author

    Word. This piece has been described to me as being hetero-normative, which I accept. We’re all here to learn.

    Reply
  5. Lesley

    Hey Desmond, this is a great post. Here are two relevant quotes that other readers might be interested in:

    “Most men in this country are not violent, most do not beat their wives and girlfriends. Despite that fact, domestic violence is really a gender issue. Men commit 90 to 95 percent of domestic violence acts. I think most men instinctively know this is true, but most men find it really hard to talk about it, think about it, or much less do anything about it. Some men believe that because he is not violent or it’s not happening in his family, he needn’t do anything. Some men believe it is a “woman’s” issue, so he can really ignore it. Some men can’t imagine talking about this issue with other men, some of whom he might suspect are abusing women in their lives.

    Let’s face it. This is an embarrasing issue for men. It’s much easier for us to simply let women try to take care of this problem. It’s really hard for most men to admit that this is our problem. Violence against women is men’s violence.”

    And:

    “[I]t’s time for progressive men to become active participants in the equality movement, not only because the men who most need to hear a message of equality simply don’t listen to women and gay men, but because many of the issues feminism has sought to address—like violence against women—are predominantly problems with men. It’s that last bit which has been particularly contentious, as men rush to defend themselves against the inferred charge that the problem is with all men.

    Clearly, this is not true. Not every man, or even most, are abusive toward women. Nonetheless, that most sexual and domestic abusers are men makes it a men’s problem. And, more importantly, that most men have long regarded the problem as something with which they don’t have to be actively engaged, the overwhelming belief that not doing anything wrong themselves is enough, makes it a men’s problem. Indeed, it is the failure to take collective responsibility for prevention that makes it a problem with men beyond those who actually commit the violent acts.”

    [Both quotes from here: http://www.shakesville.com/2006/11/maybe-one-day.html%5D

    Thanks for writing this.

    Reply

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