We Hosted an Event About Masculinity and Sexual Assault and Nobody Came

Daniel Profile Pic A blog post and reflection by staff member Daniel Willey

The following post contains mentions of rape and sexual assault. Hyperlinks marked with * indicate that the article contains detailed accounts of assault in some form.

This past April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Women’s Center hosted an program called “What About the Men?” The event was held on during Monday free hour, and it was billed as “a multimedia discussion on masculinity, sexual assault, and male survivors.*”

I wanted to talk about how societal ideas about masculinity (like sexual prowess, social dominance, financial stability, risk-taking, and the “Man Card”) create an environment that encourages — or is at least passively complicit in — sexual violence against women, and isolates and invalidates male survivors of sexual violence.

And nobody came.

Okay, not nobody. Jess and Megan and Shira were there, and four community members stopped in to see what was happening. We actually had a really great discussion and I’m glad those people were there to have that important conversation. But I want to talk about the people that weren’t there. I want to talk about showing up and speaking out for male survivors. I want to talk about accountability, masculinity, and how sexual assault is everyone’s problem.

So, let’s go back a bit and talk about masculinity.

The Man Box is an activity we do in Rebuilding Manhood to get everyone thinking about hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is basically society’s idea of what a man ‘should’ be and do. It’s an idea we all agree to and go along with, whether we agree with it or completely conform to it or not. Inside the Man Box, participants write words or phrases that fit within this dominant idea of masculinity, including: trucks, steak, beer, sports, outdoors, strong, confident, protector, power, leader, man up, boys don’t cry, don’t show emotion, wears the pants, provide for your family, sex with women, good at sex, and good at math and science.

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Mito and Dan go over the Man Box

On the outside of the box are words and phrases used for men who step outside the limitations of the Man Box. When we do this activity, everyone is hesitant to write the words on the outside. Once a brave soul (or sometimes the facilitator) writes the first swear word, we see “bitch” “pussy” “gay” “fag” “pansy” “whipped” appear around the outside of the Man Box. The words outside the Man Box keep men trapped within the box. They are the consequences of not living up to the expectations set forth by all of us.

I talk about the Man Box because when it comes to conversations about men’s violence against women, the most common response is, “Not all men are like that.” To quote Tony Porter*, “There’s not a lot of men [perpetrating violence], but there is a lot of violence. So what is it that allows these men to do what they do in the presence of all these good men?” The answer is the Man Box.

It’s up to men to help other men get out of the man box and to discourage violent behavior. To not speak up and actively work to support women and a healthier concept of masculinity is to be complicit in the violence. It can be hard because laughing at rape joke or giving your friend the thumbs up and a condom as he guides a drunk person upstairs is part of the fee for staying in the man box. But if you’re not willing to pay the price of losing your man card to prevent rape or assault, you are part of the problem. When you say “Not All Men,” you’re giving all men a pass to say “that’s not my problem.” It is your problem.

When very few people showed interest in the What About The Men event, not only did it show how many people think sexual violence is not their problem, but it also became an example of a problem I hoped to address in the event: People don’t support male survivors in the same way as other survivors because we have a false image who and what a survivor is.

Now, let’s be real and admit survivors aren’t really supported at all. Even the “perfect victim” (i.e. a straight woman who wasn’t drunk, was dressed conservatively, didn’t know the person, didn’t consent to something else, etc etc) won’t get the support they deserve. But to society, a sexual assault survivor represents vulnerability and violation — something hegemonic masculinity just isn’t — and therefore it is totally unfathomable that a man could be survivor. At most, we can maybe comprehend boys being victimized at a young age, but not adult men. When I was doing research for the event, I found that most of the resources (like support groups and even interviews with psychologists specializing in the field) were targeted for male survivors of childhood sexual assault. None of them addressed sexual assault as an adult, and often they focused on the young age at which the assault occurred in to reassure survivors that they could still be men.

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So, what? Men who experience sexual assault as an adult are no longer men? Were they never men to begin with? Are they gay now? Does sexual assault just not happen to men? No, of course not. But because we see men as always wanting sex, as powerful and strong and dominant, we can’t imagine men as survivors unless it was during childhood. We also can’t imagine that sexual assault can be perpetrated by women, but in a recent study 46% of male survivors reported a female perpetrator. Maybe we can wrap our heads around a male perpetrator, but a woman*? No way. He’s supposed to like it*.

Toxic ideas like this leave male survivors feeling isolated. Many feel like they can’t talk about it. Many don’t know they can claim words like “assault” “victim” “survivor” or “rape” to describe their experience. And if men can’t talk about rape, male survivors have nobody to speak up and say “Hey. It happened to me, too.”

We called this event “What About The Men” (if you click on just one link from this whole blog, it should be this one) because every time we or anyone else does anything about sexual assault, someone goes “Hey, men get raped too!” They’re totally right, but usually these people are using male survivors as a way to derail conversations about men as perpetrators. They’re not focusing on how toxic masculinity ignores and reprimands male survivors. They just want to absolve toxic masculinity of its responsibility for sexual violence against all genders. I wanted to use that time and space to really address that question: What About the Men?

We all need to show up more for male survivors. As much as I am upset with our community for not stepping up to be accountable for sexual assault and support male survivors, we at the Women’s Center need to be accountable too. This is the first event we’ve hosted with the focus of male survivors in the last five years, and possibly the only one ever. This is a feminist issue because the power structures of patriarchy and rape culture will continue to put men in positions of power and dominance, whether they use it against others or have it used against them. We all need to do better.

If you’re interested in more issues related to masculinity or are in search of a safe space to talk about masculinity, keep an eye out for Rebuilding Manhood and other Women’s Center programming. If you need to talk one-on-one with someone who can provide a safe and affirming environment, schedule a meeting with Jess or Megan or stop by the Women’s Center, or contact the Voices Against Violence coordinator. 

More online resources:

For Gay or Bisexual Men

Commonly Asked Questions

Graduation: A Decade-Long Journey

Carrie Profile PicA final reflection from Carrie Cleveland as a undergraduate and Women’s Center staff member

In the fall of 1996, I started my college journey at Douglass College at Rutgers University.  I spent a brief three semesters at Rutgers, mostly floundering around and hating my choice of major (pre-business).  In December of 1997, I left college and began working at Starbucks.  I managed to support myself, but barely.  I spent a few years at Starbucks, but knew that this was not what I wanted to do with my life.

When I decided to leave the retail/restaurant world, I had a hard time finding another job that would pay me a living wage.  I was told that my lack of college degree made me “highly unemployable” in the words of one recruiter.   It was then that I tried to get back to school.  I could never figure out how to pay for it and cover my living expenses.  I had no idea what I was doing in terms of financial aid and loans.  I never asked for help. I just kept on working low paying jobs that had no professional opportunities for growth and thought I would go back to school later.

Time passed. I got married and had a baby.  We then picked up and moved from New Jersey to Maryland.  In my new home, I felt isolated with a husband who worked A LOT, a newborn baby to care for, and no nearby family or friends.  I convinced my husband that it would be a good idea for me to go back to school, even if it was just to have some social interaction with people who could form complete sentences.

In the fall of 2007, I re-started my college journey at Anne Arundel Community College.  I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I *grew up* (mind you, I was almost 30 at the time), but I walked through the door thinking I would get my general education credits done and figure it out from there.  In the meantime, I  would go on to have another baby, find my calling (social work), graduate from AACC, and have ANOTHER baby.

While my story is uniquely me, it isn’t necessarily a unique story. More and more students non-traditional students are enrolling in college. In fact, you’ll often hear the phrase that the non-traditional student is the new traditional student. Even though our numbers are increasing, the barriers we face as non-traditional students have yet to be diminished (even though the Women’s Center Returning Women Students Scholars Program is working hard to support us!). The American Association of University Women released a report about women in community colleges a few years ago that outlines the many barriers that non-traditional women students face when returning to school.  One of those barriers is child care which definitely reflects my own experiences.  It was easier to be in school and manage child care at the community college level and I really had no idea how challenging it would get when I would leave community college and transfer to a four-year institution.  Looking back over the past several years, I feel like I spent just as much time arranging child care as I did writing papers…..  But I digress.

That brings me to UMBC.  Four years ago, in the fall of 2012, I started what would be my “last stop” on my undergraduate journey.  I cannot believe that I am standing here today, so close to graduation.  It has taken me 9 years of continuously being enrolled in school to get to this day.  As I think about graduating, it seems unfathomable that my time here is done.  I always knew I would finish school, but it always felt so far away.  Now, it just feels SO real and VERY bittersweet.

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When I walk across that stage tomorrow, my three daughters and my husband will see what is the culmination of all of our hard work.  I say “our” because I may have done the academic work but they were all there supporting me.  My kids have no idea what it is like to have a mom who is not in college.  I also have an entire village of other moms who have schlepped my kids across town, or to dance class, swimming or Girl Scouts so I could be in class or field placement or write a paper.  I have friends who have watched my kids on snow days or the inevitable days when their schedule just did not match with mine. I feel like they have all earned this degree. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it take a village to get a mom through college.

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Thank goodness for talented friends who design your cap so your kids can find you in a sea of graduates!

I had an amazing four years.  I will leave UMBC with not only a degree, but with four years of experiences that I did not think were possible for a non-traditional student.  I was able to become involved with BreakingGround and do work that I really enjoyed.  I found a job at the Women’s Center where my unique experiences were considered an asset as a student staff member.  I made some great friends, both traditional and non-traditional students.  I am going to miss UMBC.  Good thing my daughter has a swim meet here in a few weeks.  That is the life of a mom, right?

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Congrats to all of UMBC’s non-tradiation students graduating on May 19th to include a very special shout out to the graduating students in the Women’s Center’s Returning Women Students Scholars Program!

To read more about Carrie and her experience at UMBC, check out the Baltimore Sun’s Class of 2016 Graduate Profiles! 

 

 

A Call to Prayer: My Return to the Muslim Community

MJ Profile PicA reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, MJ Jalloh Jamboria

The following is a little of my experience as a queer Muslim person. I recognize that my experience is not reflective of Islam, nor of the community of people I met at the Interfaith Center.

For the first time since last Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holy holiday, I went to Jumu’ah (congregational Friday prayer). I met a person on campus who extended a warm hand and invited me to prayer which took place at the Interfaith Center. I was both excited and terrified for a plethora of reasons. I was excited to sit amongst my sisters, to rejoin the community I had left behind me as I entered college, and to listen to the guest Sheik that was invited to give the khutbah, the congregational sermon.

In the days leading up to the Friday prayer, all I could talk about was how excited I was that I finally had a friend to go to Jumu’ah with. I quickly realized, I had no idea how to be practicing Muslim anymore. I was once a Sunday school teacher and was really quite good at incorporating Islamic teachings into my life. However, since the start of college, I hadn’t really thought about being religious. I am not hijabi, a woman who wears hijab full-time. I’m not even a woman! I sometimes eat gelatin (oops!) and I don’t think I own a single piece of ‘modest’ clothing. I am a fat, queer, shorts and T-shirt wearing, ‘you kiss your mother with that mouth?’ swearing, mess of a person! Muslim people can be all of these things, but in prayer there are certain rules we must submit to. The expectation for women is to stand in a section separate from men, covered in appropriate prayer attire and hair and neck wrapped in a veil. The thought of completing some of these actions made me nervous.

Friday came and I finally decided upon an outfit that was appropriate, picked a hijab and walked over to the Interfaith Center. The prayer went well, I loved the khutbah (the sermon given by the person who leads prayer, usually the Sheik) and I felt like was I finally home. Even though I had only spent an afternoon with these sisters, I knew I found a community of women who understood and loved me. In fact, the khutbah before the prayer was almost serendipitous. The Sheik recited a line about friendship. He reminded the congregation that we should all find friends that we love purely for God’s sake. With the women that surrounded me, I felt I finally found the very friends the Sheik was talking about.

Despite all of the affirmation I felt in the space, I was (and am) still challenged by the fact that a large part of my identity has to be put on hold to enter into this space of prayer. Since high school, simple and arbitrary gender markers have been instrumental in the way that I’ve been able to present my identity. My name, the way I dress and talk, even the way I wear my hair have become the only way I can really be non-normative and express who I am. As I got ready for prayer that morning, I felt like I was hiding and changing who I am. I had to find clothes that weren’t form-fitting and that covered my body. I put on a hijab and while I love what hijab represents, it too plays a role in covering up important parts of my identity. I’ve been growing my locs for the past 2 years and they’ve become a prized familial tradition I don’t want to hide. But, both the hijab and the clothes were material. Whenever I was asked my name, I cringed as I introduced myself as Sister Mariam as opposed to “MJ.” I love my birthname. I love the woman I am named after and I love the religious significance of my name. But, I hate lying. I am no longer Mariam. I am not the pious Sunday school teacher anymore. I’m MJ, a queer, potty-mouth, music-loving, dances in their underwear kind of person who also happens to be Muslim.

While it would be easier to just not stress over being called by my birthname and changing my appearance, I think I owe it to myself to look for a space where all of my identities are acknowledged and valued and allowed to intersect. I’ve previously felt like I had to filter parts of myself to fit into certain spaces. In queer and feminist spaces, I’ve felt a disconnect from my religion. While in Muslim settings I’m forced back into the closet. It’s important to find communities and spaces where all of our identities and embodiments are acknowledged, valued, and perhaps even loved!

I have yet to return to the Interfaith Center. Two weeks have gone by, and instead of joining the congregation, I steal glances as I pass the Center on my way to The Commons. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll be going to another Friday prayer just yet. I want to be among my sisters again, but not at the cost of other parts of my identity that I’ve worked so hard to be able to express.

 

For more on practicing and incorporating intersectionality into our lives and feminism, check out Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It) from Everyday Feminism.

And, to read another person’s experience related to intersectional feminism and her Muslim identity, read Maha Saleem’s reflection on AAUW’s blog. 

“Twice as Good” On Being a Woman of Color and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

Meagé Profile Pic

Meagé Clements

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements 

Growing up, my mother would always remind my sister and I that we had to work twice as hard as everyone else because not only were we women, but we were Black women. Living in a society that has always had low expectations of us, a society where we are confined to various stereotypes and generalizations, it has always been important for us to excel above and beyond the expectations of others. We applied her advice, made the honor roll and the dean’s list numerous times, pursued membership in honors programs and honor societies, yet we continued to question if any of these things would even matter in the long run. Would we still be subjected to the glass ceiling and other barriers that would prevent us from reaching the top because of our gender and race?

As I approach my final weeks of being an undergraduate and I’m frantically trying to plan every detail of my adult life after grad school, I find myself returning to this question more and more. At a recent Women of Color Coalition meeting, I learned that this constant questioning and self-doubt is called “Imposter Syndrome.”

Despite earning the grades and being just as qualified, if not more qualified than many of my peers, I doubted myself and whether I truly belonged and I continued to try and find ways to prove that to myself and others. During the meeting, I found that I was not alone in this sentiment, and that this was something that nearly everyone experienced; however, this persistent self-doubt impacts women of color differently for a number of reasons.  Continue reading

Voter Suppression

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A brief thought by student staff Shira Devorah 

This coming Tuesday, I’m going vote in the Maryland Primaries!

I’m excited to participate in this election, but I am also really wary.

Voter suppression is a topic that’s pretty new to me. I’ve never voted before, let alone spent too much time looking into how it works. Most of my efforts have gone towards researching candidates, not worrying that I won’t even get a chance to speak. I knew a little bit about Photo ID laws (boo), but that was about it. I didn’t know about voter suppression before my more politically aware friend pointed it out to me. I like to think that I’m well informed, but clearly I haven’t been paying enough attention. And now that I’m about to vote for the first time, I’m worried that there are a ton of students just as unaware as I am.

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Source: The American Civil Liberties Union

Voter suppression includes a range of strategies aimed at discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote. It can be done legally, through unfair laws, or illegally, through underhanded tactics. Either way, it is a social justice and feminist issue. When politicians get in the way of equity for all, we must educate ourselves and take a stand against unjust practices. Continue reading

(In)Visible Disabilities and Women Resources Round-up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members Meagé and MJ

In case you missed Tuesday’s roundtable on (In)Visible Disabilities and Women (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking some useful reading materials and resources.

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As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep a few guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these included:

  • Where do the intersections of (in)visible disabilities and gender show up for you personally? In the classroom, peer networks, etc.?

  • How does disability relate to issues like reproductive justice, sexual violence, or gender socialization?

  • How is the way we talk about disability influenced by gender and sexuality?

  • How does ableism impact women with visible vs. invisible disabilities differently?

  • Why is this a social justice and/or feminist issue?

Continue reading

I Work Out

Carrie Profile PicThis is a blog post written by student staff member, Carrie Cleveland.

This post is reflective of my own journey in trying to embrace who I am while trying to work on improving my overall health.  I chose to write about what I am doing because it is an important part of who I am right now. Everyone has their own path, this just happens to be mine.

So I joined a gym. Not just a regular gym with a bunch of treadmills and elliptical machines. I joined  Conquest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA gym. I mean, what middle aged, overweight woman decides that this is the way that she’s going to lose weight?  At least, I didn’t think it would be my personal path. But, it went something like this… Continue reading