Hundreds of Lawrence students, mostly men, attended a dinner hosted by Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) on Tuesday, Oct. 6, hoping to confront issues of sexual violence on our campus. The event earned a great deal of attention from Lawrence administrators, members of the Communications office and outside news media, both before and after the event.
On behalf of Title IX Coordinator Bob Williams, Executive Assistant to the President Alice Boeckers emailed all male Lawrence students, inviting them to an “important event” that promised to “matter deeply to you.” Communications, through Lawrence’s social media, highlighted the event and its resultant media coverage. The dinner itself earned the attention from at least Fox 11 and the Post-Crescent.
We think to ourselves, for the briefest of moments, “Fantastic! Men are becoming active in a broader movement to combat violence against women, reversing society’s tendency to victim-blame and urge women to protect themselves from this inevitable danger!” However, are they? For those who acknowledge that it is on men to radically and collectively alter their behavior and mindset, this must be a good step, right?
We hear so often people say they join fraternities as a means to “become better men,” and we heard this said at last night’s dinner! But if those fraternity brothers are working so hard to become better men, why has it taken so long for them to acknowledge the harm they have perpetuated on campus? Why haven’t they fought sexual violence on women with everything they have? Why did they wait to create their own organization rather than join one of the many women-lead conversations and organizations on campus? Why is it that it takes a well catered dinner for them to start a conversation? Why is it that men are leading this conversation, when, statistically, they have so rarely ever experienced anything that they are talking about?
Why the attention now? Why, after women have led organizations, marches, petitions and educational campaigns, do 300+-plus men in their Sunday Best get the limelight? Why is it that, when men come together to learn lessons they should have already learned, administrators and reporters believe this to be exceptional? And, perhaps most frustratingly, why did Fox 11’s coverage qualify the term rape culture with the words “so-called”?
Here’s to the organizations, such as Downer Feminist Council (DFC), Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SAASHA), All Is One! Empowering Young Women of Color (AIO), etc., that have done this work tirelessly for years. Here’s to the individual women who have stood up for each other day in and day out. Here’s to a future that no longer privileges male voices and male-led events. Here’s to the thoughtful reconfiguration of events, such as A Mile In Her Shoes and this MARS dinner, that do just as much, if not more, to bolster fraternities’ images and men’s self-images as they do to dismantle the patriarchal systems and assumptions that fuel rape culture.