New Yorkers and silence: they're not exactly BFFs. And as it turns out, when it comes to violence against women, that's a good thing.
Recent national and local attention to the epidemic of sexual assault on campuses--including headlines about incidents at Columbia--has shined a new light on the role men can and must play in stopping such violence. A recent NPR story showed how positive peer pressure from men has a significant impact on preventing rape.
But it's not just about stopping the very small percentage of men who commit actual rape. In fact, most men are not violent. But most men are silent--that is, in the face of a peer's violence (or plans to commit violence, or boasts about it later--or even just sexist comments). And very often, peers' silence is taken as an endorsement. Silence perpetuates the idea that violence, not to mention everyday sexism or discrimination, is normal, acceptable, even cool.
"One of the things that matters most to boys and emerging adult men is the opinion of other men," John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University researcher who studies rape prevention among young men, recently told NPR. "Let's say you have a group of 10 guys. One or two are constantly talking about, 'Oh, I bagged this b- - -h.' Many of the men listening to that are uncomfortable, but they think that the other men support it through their silence."
What can men do instead? Speak up. Say something. Tell a friend his sexist joke is actually kind of lame. Be that guy. Change the norm.
And it's not just about intervening to stop a particular incident. Men can also be role models every day. More and more men are doing that already. Men spoke up in droves after Elliot Rodger's murderous rampage in Santa Barbara. Thousands took to Twitter to declare that #YesAllMen have a role to play in challenging even the daily, most micro-forms of violence and discrimination against women.
And on Tuesday, August 26, they're collaborating for a cause. Comics from MTV, Comedy Central, SNL, and HBO will take to the stage at the Gotham Comedy Club for "Dudes Against Violence Against Women: Because DUH." Nationally-known comedian Dean Obeidallah conceived the project and sought the partnership of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable. The event is designed to celebrate and inspire men leading culture change to challenge violence against women.
The group of of volunteers he rallied to help produce the show is also almost entirely male. Local leaders including City Council members Ben Kallos and Brad Lander, along with Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, have lent their support as well.
It's a sign of New York men leading the way. So come on, New Yorkers...follow.
Phoebe Schreiner is the U.S. Country Director of Breakthrough (www.breakthrough.tv), a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable.
Follow Phoebe K. Schreiner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PhoebeSchreiner