My fellow men, I’m talking to you.
The “we” I refer to is society as a whole, but for the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on my brothers, the men who live in our society because we are a large part of the problem. We must step up to be more involved in the solution! I know there are nearly infinite genders, but I am primarily referring to heterosexual cisgender men.
While any gender can experience sexual assault, men are by far the most common perpetrators. In fact, men perpetrate an aggregate of 78 percent of reported assaults. It should also be noted that 69 percent of sexual assaults are never reported and men commit innumerable instances of sexual harassment on a daily basis, knowingly putting women and other genders in uncomfortable positions (though they likely won’t label this harassment).
We allow sexual assault and other forms of violence to occur by conforming. We perpetuate the culture within our society that makes it acceptable to womanize. This leads men to think what they are doing is OK, myself included. There is certainly a difference sometimes between intent and impact. We might not intend to do something hurtful, but we don’t get to determine what makes someone else uncomfortable or not. If we do cause discomfort or pain, we need to own up to it, fix the situation, and work to never put someone in that position again. We need to stop thinking of women as objects. We need to stop perpetuating the strange societal notion that women are less than and that men need to behave a certain way to be “man enough.”
For example, one time I asked a female friend if we could hook up simply because I had the idea that I was not being man enough in college by remaining celibate. Your first thought may be, “wow, that’s pathetic.” And, yes, yes it is. But, there is a deeper issue. I was thinking of my friend only in terms of a body I could hook up with! I felt pressured to live up to a certain ideal of manhood. I did something similar again a few months later during a hookup by abruptly asking my partner if I could see her breasts. I had recently watched a movie and gotten the idea that every straight man should see boobs at least once in his lifetime. So, while exposing one’s naked body parts during a hookup isn’t unusual, I wasn’t asking for her pleasure or even my own. Once again, I felt like I had to do something to meet societal expectations and ultimately treated this woman as something to look at rather than a person with which to share a mutually pleasurable experience. I made her feel extremely uncomfortable for the sake of my own internal concept of masculinity.
I have heard many people say that women who come forward about sexual assault are ruining the accused men’s lives. Well, what about their lives? Survivors of sexual assault are more likely to suffer from depression, attempt suicide, develop PTSD, self-harm or use maladaptive coping strategies such as eating disorders or substance abuse. Some might counter asking me to imagine if I were accused of assault. Honestly, I think that’s relatively easy to avoid by living up to one simple mantra: don’t be a dick.
Of course, I would be frustrated if someone accused me of crime I felt I didn’t commit (especially if I really didn’t do it), and it could affect my future, but I would be more devastated to have caused someone such deep pain. Imagine being disregarded and removed from your humanity, being thought of as an object of fantasy and sexual gratification. if someone forced themselves on me, took advantage of me, and used me for my body. I don’t think I would be able to function anymore. I emulate the brave people who can go on. There is a big difference between inconveniencing a life and destroying one. Besides, if you did something wrong, why shouldn’t you be called out for it?
So, let’s get to work by fixing the culture. We can start by following France’s example. The French government recently passed a law banning cat-calling and sexual harassment. Perpetrators can face immediate fines. Critics might consider it a violation of free speech, but proponents say it is preventing hate speech.
We should also be empowering men and boys to eliminate toxic masculinity (like I experienced), prevent violence, and respect women through education, conversation, and exemplifying a culture of consent.
I am trying to get an early start with my nephew (even though he is only 2-years-old). After Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, I needed a way to process my emotions, so I wrote a letter to my niece about how she is no less of a person because of her gender (a common theme related to the election and beyond). I also wrote a letter to my nephew highlighting how we as privileged white males need to be the ones to enact change:
And, we need to emphasize respecting women because they are not respected, compared to men. “Respect” is a broad term, but the main idea behind respecting women is seeing them as fellow humans and not as objects. We, the men, are the perpetrators of many of the injustices committed against women. Even if you and I are not the perpetrators, we have been too complacent. It is currently acceptable in our society for men to objectify women, judge women based solely on looks, use women for their own benefit, and more. We need to change the narrative and stop blaming the victims. The issues exist because of men. The problems continue because society condones them. I think we need to do a much better job respecting women and treating them as people (the true meaning of feminism). By getting to that root cause, we can alleviate many of the other issues. It’s much easier said than done, but that shouldn’t stop us!
In summary: don’t be a dick and do your part to break down a culture that silences victims and continuously allows sexual violence to occur.
Header image edited by Marcy Gooberman
Evan Gooberman, DO, MPH is a resident physician at Abington - Jefferson Health in PA and the Chair of the Alan Z. Gartzman, DO Memorial Fund.