We don't often acknowledge it, but I believe that most men possess some measure of discomfort with the cultural climate around sexual violence. Long before I consciously acknowledged this spirit in myself, possessed the language to articulate this spirit to others, or had the courage to share this spirit, I was aware that I spent a good deal of time feeling uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable hanging with my boys as they discussed the pursuit of women in the same manner as a hunter might describe his search for prey. And I was uncomfortable when they shared the fruits of the hunt through sensationalized expositions devoid of any acknowledgement that they were discussing encounters with actual human beings. The world told me that "boys will be boys," and that this type of fraternization was wholly distinct from the actions of rapists. But my spirit disagreed and hinted that we were sheltering those men, if not altogether grooming ourselves to join their ranks. For a time, I found peace with ignoring my spirit of resistance because doing otherwise would open me to accusations of betraying both my gender and often my race.
I had to learn that for every man who might criticize me for acknowledging these inner thoughts, there is another that can admit to having similar feelings. I also had to learn that holding my gender to higher standards does not constitute betrayal. Rather, those who most avidly defend manhood are often its biggest traitors. Their defenses of men often deflect any responsibility for sexual violence and regard men as near-mindless machines that can do nothing more than rely on behavioral scripts in order to determine the wishes of intimate partners. Women who submit similar reductions of men are often branded as stereotyping man-haters for their troubles. Men cannot criticize women for stereotyping men in this fashion, when we ourselves are guilty of so much reductionism in our own defense. Additionally, defenses that rely on myopic readings of men are subtly racist when applied to men of color.
The logic in defending men based on their inabilities also runs counter to the prowess typically professed by men -- their "game" if you will. To let many men tell it, they are experts at deciphering the intentions of women and wooing them towards a mutual attraction, but this confidence quickly disperses when it comes to discussion of sexual assault. There, we are passionately told that men are not mind readers and women need to communicate explicitly if their intent is to be understood. In this arena, men presumably need their intimate partners to do nothing less than fight them if they are to have any indication that something is wrong. Never mind men's ability to infer from body language, context, dialogue or anything that a capable and empathetic being could utilize.
It's worth calling men out on these inconsistencies. Since we spend so much time speaking to our ability to read women, it's worth reminding men that decades worth of data on sexual violence suggests that we are not nearly as good at reading women as we might claim. Either this or the more insidious interpretation that a good many of us are perfectly aware that we are engaging in non-consensual sexual activity and just don't care. If you read such an interpretation as unfairly malicious towards men, then I hope that you would follow up on your faith in manhood and join the women and men engaged in the critical work of training boys to become more accomplished wielders of the empathy and reason that we know them to possess.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit theNational Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.