Seeing Parallels

Connecting workplace equality to Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

By Cliff Leek. Between coverage of the scandals at Columbia University and the University of Virginia, it may appear that sexual violence is suddenly a major problem. The truth of the matter is that sexual violence isn’t new, and it isn’t merely confined to a few college campuses. A major report by the US Department of Justice in 2000 estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 women in college experience sexual violence during their college careers.

In case you missed it, April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). In honor of SAAM, I was asked to present at Suffolk County Community College about how men in college are a necessary part of the solution to violence on campuses. As I was preparing my talk, I had an “aha!” moment of clarity on just how parallel the work of preventing sexual violence is with the work of promoting gender equality in the workplace.

I took my usual tack when arguing why more men need to be involved in prevention sexual violence; I pointed to three things that I know to be true.

1) Most sexual violence is perpetrated by men.
2) Most men do not perpetrate sexual violence.
3) Most men are silent on the issue of sexual violence.

The first statement is almost universally accepted but, unfortunately, it often leads to misconceptions about men’s role in this work. Too often we understand that most of the sexual violence is perpetrated by men and jump to frame men as the problem without remembering that the second statement is also true; most men do not perpetrate sexual violence.

So, where are those men who do not perpetrate sexual violence? What role do they have in solving the problem of sexual violence? For too long we have left men who do not perpetrate violence out of the equation because they are often silent on the issue. I, and many others, argue that convincing men to speak up on the issue is a big and necessary step toward preventing the violence. Because men often have power and influence over other men that women simply don’t have they can reach and be heard by other men in ways that women often aren’t.

But why are most men silent? Well, many men simply aren’t aware of just how big of a problem sexual assault is. They may not truly comprehend the scope of the problem or realize just how much of an impact it has on people’s lives. Other men (or sometimes the same men) are silent on the issue because they are afraid of how it will affect their standing with other men — implicit peer pressure silences them.

Here are those same three statements repurposed for the context of the workplace:

1) Most sexual harassment, gendered microaggressions, gender discrimination, etc. in the workplace is perpetrated by men.
2) Most men believe in / desire gender equality.
3) Most men are silent on the issue of gender inequality in the workplace.

And, as Catalyst research has shown, the reasons for men’s silence on the issue of gender inequality in the workplace are partly the same: ignorance and fear.

Our task then is to transform our own thinking from seeing men as the problems to seeing men as the untapped potential components of the solution. Far more men are well-meaning and silent on these issues than are actively and consciously contributing to the problem.

The possibility of transforming those silent and well-meaning men into agents of change should give us hope for the future.

d8a11676c36532306c60e9bc9abf8387-huge-10625156_10202232035744827_7583229007405345016_n.jpgCliff Leek is the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Research Fellow and Community Manager. He is also a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University (SUNY). He has worked as Prevention Specialist for the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force and as a consultant for a variety of gender-focused non-profits. Cliff is currently writing his dissertation on the growth patterns and effectiveness of organizations seeking to engage men and boys in gender justice work around the world.  He is also a founding editor of Masculinities101.com, a blog that connects activist and scholarly work on men and masculinities.

Posted by MARC Catalyst on May 5, 2015 1:27 PM America/New_York

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