Actiwisdom: An American culture shock

Before I went to India last fall, I braced myself to experience gender issues on a level I had never before experienced. This mental and emotional preparation proved valuable when I not only witnessed gender discrimination but also directly experienced it.

Throughout my time in India, gender issues were so pervasive that I longed to be back in the U.S., where the situation was much better. Yet deep down, I knew that things weren’t perfect in the U.S. either.

Even so, when I came back to the U.S., I didn’t expect the onslaught of issues that seemed to occur for the sole purpose of proving to me how bad things really are in the U.S. In my first few weeks back, it seemed like my Facebook page was constantly plagued by news articles about horrific rape cases like the Steubenville case.

While hanging out with a group of female friends, every friend had a story of having been stalked or harassed. On the way home that night, one of my female friends ran into a group of men who said, “Look, it’s a present,” before following her into her dorm, where she thankfully escaped into her room.

I don’t want to make any sweeping statements about what ‘most people’ think, because to be honest, I don’t know. But I do know there are still plenty of people out there who think that just because we are past the 70s and women now have higher-paying jobs and more independence, gender issues have been solved, and feminists are just whining. It is to these people I regretfully must say: You are wrong.

Women walking alone at night are still followed. Rape is still widespread and occurs much more often than we’d like to admit on the Lawrence campus. Rape victims are still blamed and perpetrators excused. Domestic abuse still keeps thousands of people, mostly women, living in constant fear and pain.

The objectification of women and men is not only widespread, but normalized. It is still considered acceptable to make sexist jokes that perpetuate gender stereotypes. And women are still devalued in many ways.

Thus, feminism, which attempts to address these issues and more, still exists because it still needs to exist. But feminism and women alone cannot solve the problems they aim to address without the active support of the mainstream and those who are, because of their position of power in our society, largely responsible for the kinds of issues women face: Men.

I was heartened to see a lively crowd at Take Back the Night (TBTN)  last Wednesday. However, when I looked around, I only saw a few men. I know it may seem irrelevant to many men, but we need you supporting us if we’re ever going to change America’s culture. And that doesn’t just mean at events like TBTN. Far more important is a change in men’s everyday actions.

Voices of Men, an organization of men in the Fox Valley dedicated to ending domestic abuse and sexual assault, gives a phenomenal list of ten things men can do to end violence against women. If you are a man interested in helping in this fight, please read this list, then live it:

1. Challenge traditional images of manhood that keep you from taking a stand.

2. Ask how you can help if you suspect abuse or an assault. If you are abusing others, stop and seek professional help immediatley.

3. When you have children, teach them that “No” means “No” and “Stop” means “Stop.”

4. Don’t buy the argument that sexual and domestic violence are due to excuses like mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, or stress.

5. Stand up and speak out (silence affirms and supports domestic violence).

6. Make sure your attitudes and actions don’t support the objectification and devaluing of women.

7. Teach boys and younger men with your words and actions that being a man means respecting women.

8. Educate yourself by listening to and learning from women. Attend events to learn how to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

9. Step up to create a culture shift that doesn’t tolerate disrespect or degradation of women. Make this a men’s issue.

10. Host a video, discussion or presenter on this topic to educate others.