So, you’re a man; a living, breathing, human male. And you don’t sexually assault other living, breathing humans (as you should not). In upholding this requirement of being a decent human, you probably think you’re doing all you can to diminish rape culture on campus.
However, you can do more. We all can.
Though men can be victims and women can be assailants, men are unfortunately the perpetrators of the vast majority of sexual assaults. Therefore, we must take responsibility for the role our gender plays in this crisis.
Men can, and should, take a much more active role in preventing sexual misconduct, rather than passively sitting on the sidelines. While it may only be a start, these three ideas offer a foundation for men looking to eliminate sexual assault, particularly in a college setting.
Use the F-Word
The crippling stigma surrounding the idea of feminism is about as gargantuan as Beyoncé’s net worth. Many men say they empathize with women’s issues, but they do not label themselves as feminists based on stereotypical misconceptions, such as the idea that feminists are wrathful or want to dominate men.
This perception is unfair to feminism, which is simply the idea that women and men are entitled to the same opportunities and equal treatment. In acknowledging that we are feminists, we are more likely to emulate gender equality and speak up when a peer is demonstrating ignorant attitudes and actions.
A substantial part of preventing sexual assault is combating the objectification of women. When we witness verbal or physical degradation of women, it is essential that we call upon our feminist morals and safely but sternly speak up.
Know and Implement the True Definition of Masculinity
It is rooted in many traditions that a man is a figure of physical strength and an ambitious breadwinner who lacks all emotion. This poisonous characterization is rooted in our minds even as children. For example, the lyrics from “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in Disney’s Mulan explain that “a man is swift as the coursing river, with all the force as a great typhoon, and with all the strength of a raging fire.”
As adults, we recognize that this isn’t masculinity. In fact, contrary to popular perspective, masculinity stems from sensitivity. It requires an emotional core that is exercised through the display of feelings. A man is not defined by what he can endure physically, but by his ability to respect all individuals, especially himself.
To effectively prevent sexual assault, we must adopt and spread the ideal that masculinity encompasses being respectful toward sexual partners— as opposed to whether you “hit a home run” in the bedroom. This can be achieved through first recognizing when other men are exploiting women (through catcalling, harassment, etc.), and then putting a stop to it. We can educate these people who debase women on what is appropriate and what is not.
Eliminate All 50 Shades of Gray
Openly discussing sex is difficult. Yet our societal inability to communicate about sexual topics contributes to the problem of sexual violence. Our discomfort in honestly discussing sexual desires widely contributes to the risk of sexual misconduct, both purposeful and accidental.
Men can make sex safer for themselves and others by having the courage to learn effective sexual communication. We must listen to our partners, verbally ask for and receive consent, and cease all action if the situation is unclear.
It’s difficult enough for human beings to communicate about sex, so adding elements like drugs and alcohol can make it even more challenging and create more ambiguity. Avoiding these intoxicants may not appeal to some college students, but it’s important to remember that being under the influence also makes sex less pleasurable—it’s been proven by science. More importantly, having sex while intoxicated can lead to unintended actions and bad judgment. To fundamentally prevent sexual assault, it is a man’s responsibility to be extremely alert before making any move. While 50 Shades of Grey may be a steamy and popular novel, being as black and white as possible during sex is the ultimate goal.
The bottom line is that in order for men to make a positive impact in preventing sexual assault on campus, we must first speak up to create a more socially just and comfortable environment both on the streets and between the sheets.