Lilly's Blog: Stop Preparing Women to Be Victims & Start Holding Men Responsible for Violence
Recently, I had a very scary realization. It is easier for us to talk about young women as victims than it is for us discuss the possibility of young men becoming perpetrators or witnesses of violence. It seems to me that, until we change how we think about crimes against young women, we will always be one step behind in a losing battle to make the world safe for women.
A few weeks before I graduated high school, my school organized a day for seniors called “Life Skillz Day.” We were shuttled from one workshop to another where we learned how to watch football, how to sew a button, how not to be awkward. (How awesome is my school?) Some workshops were more serious. One covered sex ed basics and finally we watched a movie about drinking on college campuses.
The movie included helpful hints for young women. One such tip warned girls to never put their drink down at a party for fear of someone slipping a “date rape” drug into the cup. We were also advised to not wear revealing clothes to parties lest we attract the wrong kind of attention. Finally, we learned to always use a buddy system and have a female friend check in with you throughout the night. In the discussion following the movie, my peers and teachers reiterated these ideas. The suggestions, while helpful I suppose, gave me chills.
We were speaking about ways young women can try to avoid being attacked and violated. Yet no one blinked an eye. It is an unforgettable day when girls accept that, when they go to college, they must learn to be constantly aware of the fact that, come Saturday night, the boy sitting next to you in class might become a monster.
It truly saddened me to see my community so matter of factly speak of the ways in which female graduates could find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The tips and tricks did little to empower, rather they confirmed that our society has resigned itself to hosting an insidious culture of violence against women.
Instead of being ushered into a world in which I don’t have to fear being drugged at a party, I am told to arm myself with knowledge of how to surreptitiously cover my drink. That day, it became clear to me that for most it is less painful to admit that one’s female friend and student may be a victim of violence than think that a male friend and student may be the cause or passive witness of such violence. As I looked around the room at my peers and teachers, I wondered, why are we only talking about girls and what they can do to prevent violence? Shouldn’t we be discussing how guys, who have the privilege of not being potential victims, can help?
But in thinking about violence against women, men seem to be conveniently forgotten. In the tragic scenario of violence against women that is read on newscaster’s prompters and relayed in hushed tones, there is one player: the female victim. What she was doing, what she wearing, how much she had drank, there is a disproportionate (and often critical) focus on the victims of violence.
Men never seem to be factored into the equation. It is too scary to talk about the nameless, faceless perpetrators because humanizing that force of violence leads to realizing that the violent man was once a boy sitting in a classroom. And it is too painful to consider that perhaps that boy once sat in a class listening to his female peers being taught to fear. Perhaps they heard the statistics (one out of four women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus). Who is assaulting that one woman and what causes him to act in such a violent manner?
It is time communities started asking these hard questions and stopped accepting violence against women as a fact of life. It is foolish to pretend that it is impossible a student may become a violent young man while resigning one’s self to the likelihood that a female student may become a victim.
Never mind the size or severity of the problem, no issue has ever be remedied while stubbornly ignoring the cause of the problem. With each one-sided, incomplete conversation that only addresses the role of women in violence, my peers are taught to surrender to the inevitability of violence. Inadequate efforts to raise awareness about this issue only contribute to a failing paradigm of preparation (cover your cup) instead of prevention.
Finally, by omitting the role of men from discussions about violence against women, young men are given permission to be complacent bystanders. The message sent to my male peers during the workshop was that violence is between women and shadowy figures. It is a profound privilege to live without fear of being attacked or violated, a privilege more than half of the world lives without. Yet men are rarely expected to use their privilege to help others. If only more young men were taught as my brothers were that it is their responsibility to be good to women and to ensure that their peers follow suit.Where are all the good men at these parties? Again and again, young men seem to become silent bystanders when they are needed most. It is a dangerous and seldom recognized pattern.
Until we become as comfortable thinking about male complacency as we are contemplating female victimhood, violence against women will remain a “women’s issue.” Ask young men to talk about the pressures they face to be unfailingly macho, constantly sexual and perpetually aggressive. Ask young men to reflect upon the moments they witnessed sexism. Ask young men to explore the ways in which they can be active allies and supportive members of the movement to stop violence. Suddenly, violence against women is a human issue. Suddenly, we’re getting somewhere.
**This blog was first published June 2010**
Lilly graduated from high school in June 2010 and was a weekly guest blogger for RachelSimmons.com. Read more about her here.