Friday April 5, 2013

HELP WANTED: Seeking Men & Boys To Stand Against Rape

For Applicants: First, please know this can be tough work, and a serious business. But it's rewarding too, and you'll be in some very good company. It may even be the most critical work you do. It's a chance to make peaceful but radical history. Starting today.

Hours & location: Whenever you can -- from home, at your current job, in your social circle, online, anywhere you see a chance to speak out.

Requirements: Be a conscientious objector to the war on women. Help put an end to sexism and the growing rape culture we all live in.

Why are we seeking out men? Because smart, compassionate guys who understand the crisis have unique access to male dialogue, and you're needed on those frontlines more than ever.

The ideal candidate: Like us, you're sick of reading one headline after another describing the trauma of rape -- gang rape, recorded rape, flaunted rape, rape by soldiers, by athletes, by coaches, and yes, even by priests. This trend is not about maleness -- it's about privilege; about feeling entitled to access anyone's body. And we're just skimming the tiny percent of crimes ever reported. Add to that the callous backdrop of much profit-driven media that erodes even basic respect, especially for women and girls.


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Around the world as women make gains, there's also a steady drip of toxic messages that hyper-sexualize or demean them. For just one routine example, you could take the grocery store checkout line: while food is rung up, women are urged to consume ever more insulting photographs, with text mocking women's beach bodies as they try to just enjoy a vacation or live out their lives.

So how is crudeness and objectification connected to rape? Because as with our physical environment, a toxic mental landscape isn't harmless either; it teaches contempt for women. Throughout history, every form of oppression has existed on a spectrum, with degrading words and images at one end, helping to spawn violence and atrocity at the other. And we've long been at that ‘other' when it comes to rape: the unthinkable happens every day mostly at the hands of men and especially to women and girls.

And now, after Dehli, we have the headlines from Steubenville, where teen rape played first as comedy and spectator sport, then as adult cover-up and media rape-enabling show, focusing more on the future of the offenders than the victim. It is one more example of how our culture has grown quite comfortable for rapists, while ever more victims are shamed, blamed, and effectively silenced away. Rape, however, can be a lifelong wound to the spirit, though it may take only seconds to inflict. Such is the system feeding itself -- raised on violent and sexualized media, kids are now filming crimes of their own.

Our joint mission must be to transform this culture. While statistically most men are not rapists, most rapists are men, and often repeat offenders. But their victims can be anyone, and over 75 percent of the time it is people they know. Rape is a learned and violent behavior, not some biological trait. Nor is it actually about sex, but about power and control. It takes a village to raise a child, but a whole violent and sexist culture to raise a rapist.

So it's high time to ditch the sexist legacy we've all inherited. For starters, to stop the cruelty of reducing women to objects and parts, or some juvenile verdict of "hot or not." Imagine, after Steubenville, how our culture can dust off some basic ethical questions instead, for instance: human or not? Deserving respect and bodily sovereignty or not? Worth some compassion, and in a crisis, intervention or not? No child is ever too young to be taught how to care, and help achieve a humane society. Your voice in any conversation will be crucial for creating change.

Other ideas for a job description: Notice when men are positioning themselves to rape. Speak out against sexist jokes. Don't keep silent when other men are controlling or disrespectful to women. Help fund the movement to end rape. Attend some of our events to learn more. You can also check out resources from other men doing this work: a great starting point is at jacksonkatz.com.

However you choose to sign on, we know it's never been easy for anyone to challenge violent masculinity. But it's not mission impossible either. And the benefits could last forever. Plus with your help there is hope. Every notice taken of sexism, and every thoughtful pushback, has the chance to change a joke, a deed, a form of media, and possibly change a mind. Meanwhile, this next generation of kids is watching us all.

Thank you for being an ally.

The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womensfreedomcenter and at our website www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate 24 hours a day on our crisis line at 802-254-6954.