On Tuesday, NCAA football hall of famer and male feminist activist Don McPherson came to speak at my school, American University, as the kickoff event for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event was a resounding success, largely due in part to the fact that all members of varsity sports teams, fraternities and sororities were mandated to come to the event. Because many of these students would not usually turn out to an event featuring a male feminist speaker, the mandate allowed so many more students to hear McPherson’s message than usually would. And while not everyone probably came away as inspired as I was, my hope is that those who may have never thought critically about Masculinity may start to.
I want to elaborate upon some important and points McPherson made that I think are important to share with everyone.
The first is the notion that “We have all been raised not to talk about these things”. “These things” being problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, domestic abuse, and sexual assault. I agree with McPherson that this is a huge problem. Without talking about and acknowledging these issues as serious problems within our society, how are supposed to solve them?
Second, while talking about the prevalence of alcohol as a date-rape drug, McPherson said, “ladies night should be illegal.” I fully agree with him. Not only do ladies’ nights at bars further reinforce perceived differences between men and women, but providing women with alcohol at a reduced or no cost, such as what happens at many parties, clubs and bars, only happens with one goal: the intoxication of women to the point where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault. However, I want to be clear that this thought in no way seeks to take away blame from the men who perpetrate the majority of sexual assaults. Rather, we need to think critically about the way in which men actively use alcohol as a tool of perpetrating sexual assault.
The focus of McPherson’s presentation was around the use of misogynist language within our society. He asked the males in the audience what the worst insult they could remember from their childhood. The overwhelming majority? “You play/throw/run like a girl”. What does it mean when from such a young age, boys are told that when they do something poorly (usually a physical activity), they are similar to a girl?
McPherson said that “Implicit in the statement is that women and girls are less than [boys and men]”. For him, the fact that you can call a guy any number of epithets involving animals and inanimate objects and it is positive, buy when you call a guy a woman and it becomes insulting is one of the backbones of misogyny. When women are denigrated so much that they become a male can “hit that” or “grab a piece of that”, women become simply objects of sexual attraction, and not people with their own needs, desires, likes, and dislikes. The problem does not start in high school or in college, but from a very young age, according to McPherson.
And the problem does not stop when we remain silent. For McPherson, “silence is saying that its ok”. But we know that it is not ok to refer to women as an object, to strip them of their humanity and reduce them to their physicality. All of us, feminists of every gender, need to stand up to our friends when they use misogynistic language, we need to stand up to strangers who engage in street harassment, and we need to stand up when our society’s pop culture glorifies men who denigrate women and shuns women who stand up for themselves.