Teaching Men That Their Voices Are Important Too
By: Michael Nesbitt
It’s unfortunate to know that the women in my life, and many other women around the world, live in a society where they have to constantly worry about what they are wearing, what they are doing, who they spend time with, how late they stay out, how much makeup they wear and how nice they can be to boys and/or men in order to avoid violence or sexual assault. As Kathryn Stamoulis points out, as a society we are constantly teaching girls methods to avoid getting raped while failing to also teach boys not to rape. Violence against women is an important issue that needs to be focused on and an issue that stems from disrespect for women. Mary Stathopoulos explains that a strong belief in gender stereotypes and a weak belief in gender equality are key determinants in the perpetuation of violence and sexual assault. She explains that rather than trying to reduce sexual assault, we should focus on creating gender equality and correct men on their hostile attitudes toward women.
One reason some men hold these hostile attitudes toward women is that men are socialized and taught that a man has to exhibit specific behaviors to be viewed by society as a “real man”. Our society has strong gender stereotypes that puts men and women in two separate categories. Men are supposed to be strong, dominant, independent, emotionless, the breadwinner, and the decision maker. This is a strong disadvantage for men. Being taught to act like a “real man” not only forces men to follow behaviors and attitudes that they may not agree with or reflects their true beliefs, but they also avoid talking about and understanding the truth behind gender-based violence or gender inequality because they may feel that being conscious of the issue somehow takes away from their status as a man. On the other hand, women are socialized to be submissive, dependent, the caretaker, the cook, the cleaner and the people pleaser. In sum, these traits are viewed as weaker traits, characteristics that are opposite of the socially constructed definition of masculinity. Men need to understand and be comfortable with the fact that gender inequality is an important issue and has an effect on other men perpetuating violence and/or sexual assault towards women.
It is vital that we start teaching our young boys and men about respecting women and educate them about sexual assault prevention. We need to have open and honest dialogue about sexism, male privilege, and violence against women so they can recognize their role in its perpetuation and take steps to make change. Men need to provide young boys with healthy definitions of masculinity and teach them they can still be masculine while also displaying respect and sensitivity. This is especially important since many children understand their roles in society through media. In songs, music videos, television shows, magazines and even video games, women are constantly disrespected and if they aren’t being taught differently, they will perpetuate what they see. It’s also important that they realize that their voices can be used to teach others not to perpetuate violence or sexual assault. Kathryn Stamoulis explains a study where researchers observed the behaviors of bystanders when they witnessed a man belittle and mistreat a woman in their presence. They observed that most of the bystanders did not speak up and 80% of them felt uncomfortable seeing the woman being mistreated. They individually felt that they were the only one uncomfortable and, therefore, were too scared to say anything. Being an example and speaking out against violence towards women can help other men see and understand that they can use their voices too and that there’s nothing wrong with doing so.
Christine Rudolph listed 7 ways that men can join the #MeToo movement and use their voices to shed light on sexual assault and violence against women. There are five out of the seven that I feel are very important.
- Men should be aware of the society we live in. She explains that there is apparent gender bias and gender inequality in our society and that’s something that men should be aware of.
- Men need to hold other men accountable for their behavior. If a man sees disrespect or harassment towards women, they need to know that it’s okay to use their voices and say things like “that’s not okay” or “don’t do that”.
- Men should read pieces from feminist writers. This is important because it allows men to gain an understanding of the world from the perspective of a woman.
- Men should boost women’s voices. That means to tell people about articles, speeches and books by women and “spread the word”.
- Men need to treat women as people. This means that it’s important for men to treat women as their equal and for them not to use language or behaviors that demean or belittle women.
In conclusion, men are vital components to the eradication of sexual and other forms of violence against women. Without the active participation of men, the movement will continue to be viewed as having little impact on others not affected directly by violence, as a “woman’s issue.” It’s time for men to speak out and stand up for survivors everywhere!