January 2020 Blog Post
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” –Fred DeVito
This quote was brought up in one of the breakout sessions I attended during the National Sexual Assault Conference 2019 and it really sums up my 3 day conference experience. I had considered myself knowledgeable about the widespread problems of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, but this conference challenged my level of comprehension and took it further.
One of the first things I asked myself on the first day of the conference was, “where are all the men?” On the contrary, the women with whom I attended said there were more men there than they usually see at these conferences. Sexual violence advocacy, awareness, and prevention are female-dominated fields, but they shouldn’t be. More men need to recognize their responsibility in eradicating sexual violence and be present as allies in this work.
My experience at NSAC2019 exposed me to an atmosphere of inclusivity and anti-oppression, a far cry from my usual corporate environment. I’ve never been to an event where all-gender restrooms outnumbered gender-specific ones, and our corporate meetings don’t feature a “commitment to language access”. I can without a doubt add that I’ve never had access to a “safe room” during my Marine Corps career. I learned that oppression is at the root of violence, and that building equity and sharing power with the individuals at the margins of society are the keys to preventing violence from happening in the first place, but as I saw these concepts in action, it all seemed really strange to me and brought me out of my comfort zone. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered--why does this idea of inclusion feel so weird? Why does tackling the very root causes of sexual violence feel so uncomfortable?
Why does addressing sexual violence make men so uncomfortable? Are men afraid of being seen as victims? We don’t want to seem weak, or less-than. Are men are afraid of being seen as offenders, being automatically presumed guilty or even falsely accused? Are we afraid of confronting our own questionable actions, both past and present? Are we afraid to face the inherent power and privilege that comes with being men in our world? Or, maybe more accurately, are we most afraid of losing that privilege when we seek to empower the women around us?
The only way to battle sexual violence is to confront our own discomfort. Sexual violence will never end without us becoming active participants in its erasure. This isn’t just a women’s issue—this is an all of us issue, and it’s time for us all to play a part.
Men, it’s time to get uncomfortable.
- Justin Growden