Shifting culture and changing the way we talk to men about sexual assault

By: Fritz Parker

Even before the identity of the Reynolds High School shooter was released late last week, there was one thing that we already knew about him: he was male. As Upworthy reported after the Santa Barbara shooting last month – which is all but forgotten in the wake of this latest tragedy, as is the trend over the past several years – nearly 100% of mass shooters in the recent history of this country have been men.

Think about that. If there was any doubt that we have a pandemic in this country of violently socialized males, it grows smaller and smaller every time that another school shooting shows up on the news. The hardest thing about approaching the problem – and one aspect which has little to do with guns or school safety or any of the other places where people tend to reach for a solution – is that these shooters are only the tip of the iceberg. The violence runs far deeper.

It’s no coincidence that all of these shooters are men. The way that our culture interacts with men – telling them from a young age that the world, especially women, owes them things – virtually assures that they will be. When that entitlement is paired with the violence that surrounds masculinity in our culture, it provides the blueprint for these sorts of tragedies. As UCSB shooter Elliot Rodger reminded us, this violence has everything to do with the way that men are taught to view women, and the frightening incidence of sexual assault by men is just as much a symptom of unchecked male violence as the school shootings are.

So how do we reach men, and start to work out some of these troublesome aspects of masculinity? That’s the million-dollar question, and one that clearly cannot be answered in a blog post.

But here’s a start: men too often feel that conversations about masculinity are necessarily anti-male. They get turned off from the message of violence prevention because they think they will be pointed at and blamed. They think that, if they speak out against violence – particularly sexual violence – that will be interpreted by their fellow men as an attack on fun, on sex and on every aspect of guy culture.

So we need to show them that things don’t have to be this way. We need to show college men that standing up against sexual violence doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself up in your dorm room, abstain from social life or take a vow of celibacy.

Only by injecting the message of violence prevention into the settings where it is actually needed – the house parties and crowded, dark dance floors that exist on college campuses all over the country – can we hope to make change. That’s what Party With Consent is all about: reshaping the way that violence prevention is framed on college campuses, with one of the major goals being to include men in a cause from which they otherwise shy away. Masculinity cannot be reformed without engaging men, and men have shown time and time again that they won’t participate if they are treated solely as culprits.

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