In the second of two posts on sexual assault, Women’s Studies student Layn Abbott writes about his experience accessing one of the most shocking forms of male privilege: the assumed ability to take sex from women without consent. Or as he puts it, to rape. You can find some background on masculinity studies in another of our blog entries, here. I leave the floor to Layn.
–Alison Reiheld, Director of SIUE’s Women’s Studies program
Something shocking happened to me a couple of months back and I would like to share it, because I think it needs to be heard. I am transitioning from female to male right now and identify as a trans* man. I have been on testosterone for 6 months, I am a feminist, I love women, and I love equity for all.
Lately, I have seen slivers of privilege like “Joining the Boys Club”. Great for me, right? I can be a little overweight now and it is fine, I can be more negotiable with my salary offers for jobs that I am currently interviewing for, I am getting more of those jobs, men talk to me differently, and in all of this I pass as a man; which is a dream come true to me. For once, my identity and expression are synced with me both mentally and physically. I am a part of the boy’s club, but I come from the girl’s club so I don’t think that being a man is following gender norms. I feel like I have been gifted with a unique and enlightening perspective that I want to share.
Seems great, but I left out some details that keeps me up at night. Everything I have ever stood for with equity of gender has been scrambled for me. I feel like part of the problem and I sense that others now see me as part of the problem. I still have friends, family, and loved ones like my fiancé struggling to make it and telling me that I am going to eventually forget what it was like to be a woman or relate to daily struggles of oppression that I don’t face as much as my trans* women friends.
Do you want to know what the most painful thing is for me? I have spent two years of my college career diving into deep issues surrounding sexual assault, violence, and rape on college campuses. I have tons of training in prevention and conducted research for the University to advocate for a grant for programming. I have written many papers and encompassed my whole internship to the police department at SIUe to look further into these issues. I have taken countless classes on gender, sexuality, race, class, social inequality, social justice, women’s studies courses and serial rape. All of these things are engrained in my roots and now women fear that I might rape them.
I am a Resident Assistant for the University and I had to work early one morning. I left my apartment in cougar village at about 5:00a.m. and it was pitch black outside. I have to walk through about 3 apartments to get to my car. The first apartment I walk through is a building that belongs to myself. All of the individuals know me, but the second building I walked into there was a woman leaving her apartment to go to work early in the morning. She kept glancing back at me and I was in a hurry so I was walking pretty quickly, but not as quickly as her even though we were scared of the exact same thing. I could feel her fear. At that moment it hit me… I have lived my whole life like this woman thinking that every man that is in close proximity to me when I am alone could attack me and rape me despite the statistics of that happening being relatively low. Now, I am the one feared and society has instilled that fear in her so regardless of the content of my character and the things I advocate for, if I look like I might have a penis, I am a threat. What is ironic is that in my instinct I still feel like her walking in the dark and turning my head at every corner, but my outer shell makes me look like I am capable of raping a woman.
It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it? Am I a potential victim or am I an assailant. Should I still be afraid or do I have this unjust cloak of privilege on me that has given me relief. I feel so out of control that I cannot choose to get rid of this cloak. It has been patched onto me and I will never be able to get it off.
So another thing entered my head. 1 in 20 men are assailants and that is the statistic that I preach to the choir. One of you…is a rapist. What about the other way around? 19 in 20 of you are misunderstood, but yet you have been conditioned to think there is nothing you can do to help the problem, because it is a woman’s problem.
Proactive approaches are my favorite approaches for sexual assault prevention. They advocate for male involvement. It takes harassment, assault, and rape and gives men a vital role as a part of the movement. It is more than just women protecting themselves. We live in a culture that claims it’s a scientific fact that men are stronger, more aggressive, and more capable of overpowering women, but we don’t talk about the fact that my partner could probably kick my ass. Society says that women need to watch out and do A, B, and C to stay safe, which is good BUT we are only reaching half of the population. How can men play a part? I may not be able to stop that woman from running in fear and I might not be able to end sexual assault forever on BUT I can take the steps I am taking now to encourage those 19 in 20 men to do the same in hopes that it will reach that 1 man that thinks that he is entitled and has the right to overpower and assault women.
We choose as a community to take pledges. We pledge for fraternities, sororities, abstinence, the It’s on US campaign, as well as many other points of activism. The commitment to say that this is on me and on us as a community to increase awareness, reporting, and overall reduce sexual assault is rich and powerful, but I am certain we are missing something.
How can men make a consciousness effort to demonstrate their support? Well, I have an idea. We live in a society that instills fear in women that anyone who has a penis could rape you because they are stronger, faster, more aggressive, and you name it. Well, why are we not getting those 19 in 20 men to pledge and sign away their assumed right given by society and social construction that they are capable to rape? We tell men from a young age that they are capable of this, and we tell them that there is no chance it can happen to them. Can I as a man demonstrate that society says one thing about me, but here is where my commitment lies and this is how I plan on showing everyone my commitment? It is much more powerful than a “consent is sexy” shirt. It makes men like me who would never hurt a fly think that if there is anything I can show to that woman who is afraid of me walking beside her to my car, it is that I am one of those 19 in 20. I want us to do more than that. I want to demonstrate my commitment by going beyond and trying to influence other men to sign away that assumed right in hopes that I will reach that 1 person. That is proactive sexual assault activism in a nutshell.
Where are the men that are committed like I am to be invested in this, to move with women, and to influence other men to open their eyes to aspects of privilege and social construction? We can as a community look our privilege in the eyes and say that society has placed this stigma on me, but that doesn’t mean that that is who I am. It has caused a lot of pain for many women both who I know and are close to me and complete strangers. I may have a penis, but I can take the plank out my eye to see that it is okay to break the stigma. It is okay to not be aggressive or treat women like crap. Who is to say that I am stronger, more aggressive, and more powerful than all women? Society? Society is wrong about a lot of things. It is okay for men to be passionate about women’s studies, oppression, social inequality, and sexual assault. I don’t feel like I have to do what all men are told to do and I don’t feel like other men should have to too.
I have treaded the path. I have seen both gendered expectations and roles. I may have a strong opinion, but I know one thing without a doubt: The only way that we are going to move towards increasing awareness and reducing sexual assault is by allowing men to be an active part of the movement to influence each other.
I will leave you with a story that I will warn you is quite sad and inappropriate, but it holds the strongest truth that I know about social construction. I remember something that my father said to me my sophomore year of college. My dad has always been a pretty sexist and privileged man. I was visiting at home and I was sitting at the dining table with my mother and my younger brother. My dad was talking about one of my friends who was a woman and how she has been sexually active at a young age. He blatantly said to all of us, her voice is so annoying that I am sure all he MAKES her do is oral so she can shut up. He looks at my brother and says, you know that is why they call blow jobs hummer’s right? He starts laughing. My younger brother doesn’t know what to do so he starts laughing to. I see the heartbreak in my mother’s eyes. So I open my mouth. I get hot and defend my mom and all women in the universe only to be told to shut the fuck up. I storm out and sleep in my car for three days waiting to go back home to the residence halls at SIUe following break.
Would you believe me if I told you my father was a Traditional Lutheran Pastor? That my mother has had four children with this man and loves him to the moon and back. Should I have said something? Of course. Was I heard? Not at all. After that point, I never brought up sociology or women’s studies again. I ask myself now that I am going through my transition, what would have happened if my brother would not have laughed anxiously. What if he would have said what I said? Would it have made a difference? Maybe. My father thinks so, because he told me a couple months ago if I really want to be a man I need to be analytical. My response was “You mean like women, right? Are women not analytical?” You know what I heard after that? Silence.
The only way that we are going to move towards increasing awareness and reducing sexual assault is by allowing men to be an active part of the movement to influence each other.