Men need to be more involved in combatting sexual violence

Defining men as allies doesn’t alleviate the onus to combat rape culture

Matt believes men need to address toxic masculinity to take responsibility against rape culture.

This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre's online chat feature can be reached here. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.

In the wake of the sexual violence that occurred during Western University’s orientation week, I’ve been reflecting on my own experience in dealing with sexual violence and the experiences of some of my loved ones.

With women at the forefront of resistance to sexual violence, men involved in these conversations are often labelled as ‘allies’ only. As a man, I’ve always been aware of the fact I’m recognized as an ally to women in the fight against sexual violence.

This isn’t unlike other issues women have faced that have been designated as exclusively women’s issues. While women have historically faced barriers to equal status, several men have been considered allies for equality.

But by labelling men only as allies, we are placing the responsibility on women to lead the charge while men are applauded for being supportive bystanders.

When we learn about history, we hope to move forward to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself. It’s, therefore, foolish for men to continue to put the full responsibility on women to fight for their own safety from sexual violence. Instead, men need to take responsibility for changing a culture that they have full responsibility in cultivating.

Women experience sexual violence at a greater level than men on both micro and macro levels every day, with the majority of perpetrators being men.

When we call the men who are adamantly against sexual violence allies, it dampens the collective responsibility men have to lead the fight against sexual violence.

It’s imperative that men spark conversations with their loved ones to take responsibility for sexual violence. It’s important to acknowledge your loved one’s voices are heard, understand the full depth of the issue, and share your commitment to your responsibility in combatting sexual violence.

I’m personally extremely concerned for my loved ones.                                                                                   

My sister goes to Western. When I started to hear about the sexual violence happening over the past several months, my one wish was that my sister went here. Though sexual violence happens at all universities, I felt helpless knowing that if she ever was walking home from an evening class or a friend’s house at night and felt unsafe, I couldn’t be there with her.

However, I also feel hopeless knowing that when I walk at night, I, too, feel unsafe.

In my own experience, men need to be at the forefront of conversations about sexual violence because men are sexually assaulted too.

Defining men as allies also excludes men who have been victims of sexual assault, which we know is not true. Gay men experience sexual assault, too.

Let’s take ‘Joe’ as an example.

Joe is a gay man who met up with another man from an app and took all of the usual safety steps to get there. When Joe got there, a “roommate” answered the door. Joe never thought this roommate would’ve created the most realistic profile of a guy he had spoken to before.

Joe never thought that he would have been physically hurt. Joe never thought that saying no would fail.

Joe never thought he would have to ask himself who to tell or make a difficult decision to agree with a physical examination at the hospital without reporting a disclosure.

He also had to make a decision not to tell his family as he lied about his whereabouts and they have limited knowledge of his sexuality. Joe had to grapple with the thought of not telling friends, who he knows would’ve been supportive and assisted him as he could inexplicably only fear judgement.

Joe never thought he would have to contemplate any of those things or that he would feel this scared. Joe never thought sexual assault would happen to him because he was a man.

According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 26 per cent of gay men and 37 per cent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence.

To my male friends, their male friends, and beyond, it’s time for us to take responsibility for our actions. Anyone could be friends with someone who has committed acts of sexual violence and not have known it.  

Combatting this begins with men keeping their other male friends in check when they’re exhibiting risky behaviour or having conversations that include objectifying language.

Defining men as allies gives them the task of merely supporting the fight against sexual violence rather than taking responsibility for some of the root causes, including toxic masculinity.

It’s time to get rid of kill chart competitions, stop calling each other pussies for respecting a woman’s desires and stop calling each other “a fucking fag” for not trying hard enough with that girl.

This past homecoming, the Kingston community saw extremely misogynistic signs that threatened sexual violence to women at Queen’s. What blows my mind is that young men across Canada pride themselves on attending academic institutions that enable this sort of environment, including men here at Queen’s.

Instead of holding this as a source of entertainment and bonding, we need to speak out against it.

This is a call to action from a man who has been sexually assaulted by another man. It’s time to start holding our friends accountable.

Men need to start speaking up not only to those responsible and those who choose to engage in conversation but also to those who choose to remain silent. Silence is complicity, and accountability is crucial—even if it means losing a friendship.

A culture shift begins with people at the root of a problem, and that begins with men. Until men take responsibility for the roots of sexual violence and move away, they cannot even be considered allies. 

Matt is a fourth year Applied Economics student.

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