When Will Men Say Something?

Men's silence around sexual assault is striking and bizarre

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A former student at Amherst College recently published an account of a rape she endured 18 months earlier in her campus dorm-room. In the article, Angie Epifano writes that when she finally sought the help of college officials, they could not have been more unhelpful. A campus-based sexual assault counselor told her that it was pointless to press charges against her attacker, she should forgive and forget and c’mon now, was it really a rape? The alleged attacker went on to graduate with honors; the college retained its premium brand; Epifano’s blunt, brave narrative crashed the server; and, as usual, no man said or did anything.

(MORE: Are Colleges Doing Enough To Combat Sexual Violence?)

Last week, the female president of Amherst, Carolyn A. Martin issued a statement declaring that “things must change, and change immediately,” followed by a pledge of support by the Board of Trustees. Now, make no mistake: It’s great that the influencers at Amherst acted so decisively and responsibly. The question that did not come up — the question that in fact, never comes up when “women’s issues” hit the news — is this: Why don’t men come forward and say something?

As a married guy with a son and two teenaged daughters, I don’t consider myself any more or any less a “feminist” than anyone else. But in my experience, outside of Lysistrata, widespread female outrage on behalf of other women rarely accomplishes much of anything.

Which is where men come in. I’m not saying it’s easy to recuse yourself from your gender in order to defend the other. Men seem to be trapped between their own loyalties and the risk of being seen as “patriarchal” — or, alternately, girly, traitorous or sexually nosy. Then there’s this: at some point in his life, every male I know, including myself, has drunk too much and treated women poorly. The result: by refusing to get between other men and their penises or their beliefs about sex and women, men have relinquished any moral authority and leadership. “Silence has the rusty taste of shame,” Epifano writes in her op-ed. Indeed.

Aside from President Obama, various comedians and MSNBC, where was any measured, non-political male response to the Sandra Fluke affair, or to the recent remarks by assorted right-wing politicians about women, rape and conception? Men’s invisibility was, and is, striking and bizarre.

(MORE: The Problem With Our Sandra Fluke Moment)

In our culture, sometimes — not always but sometimes — things don’t get done, or changed, unless a man in authority speaks out. Women and men both know this. The issue is not that women can’t fight their own fights; it’s getting others to listen and influence change. It goes without saying that more than gender, “women’s issues” have to do with power, which is why men sometimes have a moral obligation to call out other men around issues of right and wrong. The last I heard, this was one of the descriptors of being male. Gentlemen: do you have anything at all to add?

78 comments
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roxiesean78

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ninawest
ninawest

Brilliant. Finally. At last. Thank you. A man willing to call this bizarre, sometimes telling, silence to public attention. Men listen more to other men so they have a responsibility to call each other to account for the respectful treatment of women. God knows we women are tired from our seemingly futile attempts to make progress on issues like rape and violence.

AbeFroman
AbeFroman

Men will step up their outrage about alleged rapes when they start seeing an appropriate level of outrage over false and misleading allegations of rape.  It seems like every time someone makes an accusation, there is a huge knee-jerk reaction from a vocal group of mostly women, and also pompous elitist men, about how the guy definitely did it, he's being "protected" by a "system" and we have a problem with male culture and so on.  Heaven forbid the allegations involve an athlete or some other stereotype, because then the crowd really piles on.  It's a tired act.

We need to be more even-handed about rape allegations in the court of public opinion.   We should, for example, be just a bit more skeptical when the accuser spent all night getting drunk with a guy, and then claims he went a bit too far at 4 AM when they're both hammered in his dorm room.  I'm not saying it isn't a serious charge that should be investigated.  I'm just saying its not exactly the same as, say, the Central Park jogger.  Very different situations, but they both get put into the "rape" bucket before any real facts come out.

By the way, I'm just the messenger.  Many, many men feel the way I do about this, but they don't dare admit it in public.





JamesRomines
JamesRomines

I don't view rape or sexual assault as 'women's issues'. They are moral issues. Even if a behavior is legal, it isn't always right. As men, especially in western society, we seem to have given up on the principle of morality. We, too often, rely solely on civil law for our "moral compass". That's not moral. Again, we should be reminded that all that is required for evil to triumph, is that good people do or say nothing. When will we men, of our own volition, start to examine our personal, and our society's behavior in a moral context. When will we start to do what is right, without regard to its legality? When will we men start to refrain from doing, or supporting, even by our silence, what is wrong, regardless of its legality? Men do not NEED women to be our moral leaders. We men need to start holding ourselves, and each other, to the higher standard of moral behavior, just because that will benefit all of society, in our own self-interest. After all, if men hold themselves to the higher standard, that results in us men being treated better as a result. If we are more harsh in our judgment of other men's immoral behavior, the result is better treatment of women, and a better level of behavior in civil society overall. 

RidicuRyder
RidicuRyder

I have modified my previous 666 day thing......but I have said something about Objectifying Women (with or without the violence). Maybe a silver bullet, let me know.

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linayerkes

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ThinkingWoman
ThinkingWoman

I have to say this shocks me about the US...and universities in the Northeast that are supposed to be generally more progressive and gender sensitive. A recent rape on a bus near Delhi, India received a large number of male writers, bloggers and activists writing against this...and vocally, strongly, firmly and passionately challenging men in their own communities and gender and demanding change. Most asked for stricter punishments and changes in cultural attitudes and beliefs among men towards women.

How come America is going backward? That is scary!

Virginia
Virginia

A women named Anita was encouraging less bullying and harrassment of women on the internet. Many men came and attacked her for that with more bullying and harassment. Women supporters were fighting against this. Gradually, the bullying is lessening as more and more men come forward and say that it is not right. Is it because men are better then women? No. It is because sexist men are not going to listen to women they are sexist against. (The girl Anita is from feministfrequency.com)

Virginia
Virginia

Good point. Men have power and women should as well, but until that time men should remember with great power comes great responsibility. Otherwise you become oppressors.

LollyPoPDesignx
LollyPoPDesignx

@GlennCarroll  This is NOT a part of evolution .... men choose their own actions, they are not stupid and all of you know the difference between right and wrong. Violence is not a part of life, violence is a choice. 

@StewartPlatt  You sacrifice it every time you choose to not take a stance that protects those who are week and at risk ... like now for example.

@Talendria Perpetrators need to be taught NOT to commit these crimes, you are taking a classic rape culture, victim blaming stance ... google it.

@jlandrith  Thank You ! 

GlennCarroll
GlennCarroll

Well, I'm advocating that we have selective births such that many more females are born than males.  That is the only solution.  So long as there are desperate men who can't get any women to have sex with them, rape will happen.  This is simply part of evolution; nothing right or wrong about it.  Violence is part of life -- if you want less of it, have less men.  We can all be happier, men included.  Of course, this will never happen, as most of us secretly enjoy violence, or at least the dangers and/or the challenge of the status quo potential violence provides

StewartPlatt
StewartPlatt

A pretty interesting conclusion you draw from an institutional problem at a particular college. I'm just trying to remember when exactly I sacrificed my "moral authority and leadership." I know Freud spoke of Penis Envy, but I'm not sure I have ever heard of Penis Guilt. You appear to have it though.

RidicuRyder
RidicuRyder

Hello Mr Smith,

I will sleep on the couch for 666 days beginning January 1 / 2013 and Challenge men everywhere to do the same (including usage of pornography, masturbation or anything else you would prefer your Mother not see you perform).

Mark Bradley RN

robbie.johnson
robbie.johnson

Dear Peter Smith, Thank you for asking this question. Widespread female outrage on behalf of other women, in conjunction with second and third generation feminism, does not produce a safe forum for men to speak up in support. A man who sees a group of outraged females would be wiser to simply walk away, rather than say anything in support. It is a given that when women gather to vent their outrage at situations like the above, that the conversation will be led by, what could be described as activists. If you take the time to peruse some internet forums where activists for the cutting edge of modern feminism gather to vent their outrage, you will see that those places are openly and admittedly not man friendly.  

Whether or not the structural arguments of feminism are correct or not, and especially when they are there to offer their support, no person, man or woman, wants to be howled at that they need to 'check their privilege.' 

That is quite simply, one of the main reasons why you do not and will not hear male voices standing up in support of women's issues. 

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

OK: I'm a man, married to the only wife I've had since August 18, 1978,  have four kids and six grandkids - and yes, I have something to say. Men that rape others, regardless of age, race, religion or sexual preference, theirs or their victim's, in my humble opinion should be emasculated (with a very rusty and dull serrated blade - without anesthesia). Loyalty to MANkind, just because I have a penis? That is such a primitive and barbaric concept it makes me sick to the stomach as a human being.

sofi12
sofi12

Thank you, Peter Smith, for writing. You make a valid point:men must speak up.(This includes clergy)for the same reason parents need to speak up when  their children are being bullied or mistreated either by other kids or , in some cases, their teachers. Some of your commenters apparently are not aware that A. men run the world and B. men are physically stronger than women. In previous centuries these were accepted facts (see the Age of Chivalry). The sexual abuse of college women is apparently widespread, probably more so than the \sexual abuse of boys by the occasionally pedophilic coach. Sen. Casey of PA did introduce a bill to address this problem. I doubt that it went anywhere in Congress. I have read of many instances of sexual violence against women in one of our service academies, where apparently nothing was done by the (presumably) hardboiled administrators.  Just the other day in the NY Times the Amherst scandal was reported. The reaction of the victim's counselor was, I fear, the common response: Are you sure it was rape and what do you expect us to do about it?  At the same college a fraternity printed up t-shirts showing a woman being roasted on a spit.  Had that been either a Jew or an African-American there would have been hell to pay. Since it was a woman,  I'm not sure that anything was done about it. Now Amherst has a new president, a woman.We can hope for better things.

MITCrimeClub
MITCrimeClub

The Amherst Student warns that the op-ed by “Angie Epifano” (pseud.) “may be triggering to some people.”  It’s been triggering to a lot of people.  But former Amherst student Angela M. Epifano ’14 didn’t write it.

The unknown author used Epifano’s name and class year to assume her identity and get false information published in a reputable newspaper.  The person (gender unknown) has been reported to campus police on suspicion of Section 37E identity fraud.  Letter from Herms to Deputy Chief Zaniewski (Nov. 2, 2012), available at http://mitcrimeclub.org/incident121017.pdf

James K. Herms, Advisor

MIT Crime Club

herms@alum.mit.edu

Talendria
Talendria

From the perspective of this 41-year-old woman, we don't need men to gallop in on a white horse and save us.  Quite simply, we need parents to teach their children sexual survival skills.  Young girls need to understand when and how they put themselves in compromising positions, how to extricate themselves, and how to deal with feeling used or violated.  Young men need to understand that having sex with the wrong girl can result in prison or 18 years of child support.  If we teach our kids to be responsible and understand consequences, they can better protect themselves.

jlandrith
jlandrith

What are you talking about Peter?  I am a man who talks about sexual violence on a regular basis.  I've paid a price for it in friendships and professionally.  Speak for you yourself and don't assume that all of us are silent bystanders. That is beyond nervy and quite inaccurate.

By the way, your piece is written from the perspective of a man who seems to believe that only women are subjected to sexual violence.  Time to expand your world view a bit.  There are millions of male survivors out there and many of us are quite vocal on behalf of our hurt brothers and sisters.  

The problem is not a lack of men speaking.  The problem is listening.

You can read my work here:

http://jameslandrith.com/content/category/8/181/79/

http://goodmenproject.com/author/james-a-landrith/

Nowhere1111
Nowhere1111

Speak for yourself Mr Smith! I do speak out as I'm doing here. I see men speaking out other places as well. Perhaps not all do and maybe we should castigate them. I can also say I've heard no males that I know speak in derogatory terms about rape (and I'm from Okla) What more do you suggest we do?

LokHupBaFa
LokHupBaFa

I've always assumed it was the identifying with victim problem.The reason people don't sympathize with a victim they know, is because if itwasn't their fault - the logic is that means they could have been raped as well.And no one wants to think that, better to blame the victim and feel safe.Personally, I think men’s thought of rape applying to them is particularly horrifying,so they find it hard to sympathize with a victim…Men are also raped, and sexually abused - but they are much less likely thanwomen to report it, the change in attitude that is just starting to let womenfight back, doesn't seem to have expanded to the point that male victims ofsexual abuse are as comfortable speaking out.  What if the person raped atthe college had been a guy?  And was treated just as badly by the counselorsand school.....would he been able to find his voice and speak out?  Wouldthe article have generated support for him or mockery?It is up to men and women to speak up, support victims and demand betterfrom our institutions... but some change takes time

MattFernald
MattFernald

The men have not been silent: several good articles have been published by male students already, but none of them have gone viral.

To be honest, the men really have no clear position in this discussion. We cannot speak out too boldly, for fear of being off the mark and hence being shot down by women (another culture of silence, you see). We cannot fully empathize with either party, as we are generally removed from either position, and so we have little to say that is of real significance.

pendragon05
pendragon05

I think those students need to read Camille Paglia.

gkimeng
gkimeng

Is the problem really that men don't say something, or is it that the people in power ignore us the same as they do women?

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

Well, one way of speaking out that might be particularly effective would be to vote for somebody other than Romney, MOurdock, Akin, etc.

DateSafeProject
DateSafeProject

HOW a person speaks out matters. To be most effective, we must do so with respect for all genders.  While I believe Peter Smith's intentions may have been to help females, his choice of words throughout this article clearly failed to accomplish that goal. The concept that women speaking out really doesn't matter until a male steps in is dangerous and false.

The female in the Amherst case he refers to SPOKE OUT and has created a huge impact with the writing of her article. Sandra Fluke spoke out and started an important dialogue across this country that is still being discussed by many.

As a male when I speak out it is not because of a belief that without my male voice being heard nothing will happen. I speak out for two main reasons:  1) To help people become aware of a situation that needs more support and/or awareness  and/or 2) To create positive change.

Speaking out alone does not achieve either of those goals. To engage and shift paradigms that result in positive change, you need to choose your words carefully and with respect. Thus, I ask each person reading this article to answer the question, "How could I speak out in a manner that would be positive, helpful, and respectful? If not through words, what actions can I take to do so?"

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

"I'm not saying it's easy to recuse yourself from your gender in order to defend the other."  Recuse yourself?  What? Mr.Smith, rape is not a crime of sex.  It's a crime of control, humiliation and violence.  Men need not be "feminists" to defend womenagainst such horrors perpetrated by men.  They only need to be human.

slendermeans
slendermeans

'But in my experience, outside of Lysistrata, widespread female outrage on behalf of other women rarely accomplishes much of anything.'

Really? Isn't this rather dismissive of the massive changes brought about by all of the waves of feminism we've had so far, not to mention the work that continues to be done by, yes, I'm going to say it, outraged women on behalf of other women every day? Your piece is basically arguing that without men, women's rights don't stand a chance. Well thanks for that; it's very helpful.