By Nick DAngelo
- Signs such as this one have been hung around campus with the slogan “Helpful Tips for Men.” This sign indicates that someone disagrees with the generalized assumption of the campaign.
On April 25, Golub House hosted Professor Andrew Feffer, chair of the campus’ Sexual Assault and Harassment Committee (SAHC), as part of its Common Lunch Lecture series. With April being Sexual Assault Awareness month, the topic of the discussion was the state of the situation and the climate on our own campus. The statistics for Union, according to the informal survey put out by the committee, match national data and the lecture showed that sexual assault occurs on campus—this issue is real and should be taken seriously.
Some did not get the memo. Appearing across campus have been signs and posters labeled “Helpful Hints for Men” in regards to sexual assault and rape. Such useful and effective anecdotes include “Don’t rape people” or “If you cannot stop yourself from raping people, ask a friend to stay with you in public.” At a time when the mission of effective organizations like SAHC is to promote the seriousness of a serious issue, such frivolity is counterproductive and even irresponsible.
While the signs were not the works of the committee, Feffer was supportive of them, commenting in an e-mail, “The ones I’ve come across appear to me to be part of an effort to provoke students to think about the issue and to discuss it among themselves. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”
It should not come as a surprise that, like so many other issues, Feffer and I respectfully disagree on this. People are talking about the signs—but not about the awareness it brings to sexual assault crimes on campus. Rather, the conversation has been one of harsh criticism directed at an individual or group that makes a poor attempt at poking fun at a grave issue.
And why is this directed at all men? Are all men now to be viewed as potential rapists? According to this effort, the answer is yes. The maneuver is blatantly and unequivocally sexist. While women have a much larger risk of being raped, as may be assumed, 3 percent of college men have also been victims. In fact, 4 percent of current male college students across the nation have answered “yes” to the question: “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?”
Furthermore, Union makes it very clear in its Sexual Assault Policy that “both men and women can be perpetrators” and victims. If this effort is a serious attempt at bringing awareness to the issue of rape and assault, then why isolate four percent of the victim base?
These efforts attacking the male population, instead of rooting out the real problem, are not new.
Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute has continually advocated for “equity feminism”—that is, equal treatment without regard to gender—instead of feminism “hijacked by gender war eccentrics.”
Sommer’s equity feminism promotes good will and mutual respect between the sexes.
In a 2008 lecture at our neighboring Hamilton College, Sommers criticized the very nascent acts that we see on our own campus today, stating, “Most men are not brutes. They are not oppressors. Yes, there are some contemptible Neanderthals among us, and I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. But to confuse them with the ethical majority of men is blatantly sexist.”
These flyers across campus are but a small part of the problem. They represent an erroneous discourse and a distraction from a real conversation. It not only turns, as Sommers would state, “the worst case example of pathological masculinity and treat it as the norm,” but a serious dialogue into nothing more than triviality. Union can do better. In fact, there are many on this campus who are. Tonight in the Nott is the annual “Take Back the Night” gathering, a very serious attempt at change: real stories and real solutions.
I encourage all to be there so we can turn this destructive amusement into constructive action.