Michael: Ok, Cara — earlier today women at Spelman College held a protest over the egregious lack of accountability in instances of sexual assault with their brother institution of Morehouse College. You and I were talking about this a bit earlier. What about all of this really hit home for you?
Cara: My immediate thought is that this is happening all over the country. Almost every college seems to have a problem with rape and way too many fail to address it. Victims get punished or expelled and rapists never get charged. It’s pretty sad that I find myself feeling “lucky” to have made it through college without being a victim of sexual assault.
Michael: Right — the statistics on campus rape and assault are insane. And unfortunately (outrageously) many campuses are failing to do anything real or meaningful about it. Ironically, Vice President Joe Biden was at Morehouse campus not long ago decrying campus assault and yet, according to many victims, neither Morehouse nor Spelman has taken the appropriate steps needed to curb campus rape. Black women bear the brunt of not only being black in a society that devalues blackness but also being women in a society that devalues women. The African-American community is not immune to sexism and gendered violence — hearing the stories of rape and assault of black women just leaves me particularly deflated.
Cara: What do you think it will take for change to happen?
Michael: Exactly the kinds of courageous actions you’re seeing at Spelman. But it will also take men (ALL MEN) to realize that they participate in — both actively and passively — and benefit from a system that harms and marginalizes women. Men have to take responsibility for changing it. Women have been protesting and calling out against rape and campus violence for a long time — men (and in particular to this conversation, Morehouse men) must show accountability and change the culture of their campus.
Cara: I’m glad you specified ALL MEN, because I can’t help but wonder how many of these instances of sexual assault included bystanders who did nothing to interrupt the violence (or have failed to call out violent and sexist actions of their fellow men, in general). I have so much respect for those brave women who are out there being loud and telling their stories, because I know it cannot be easy. But I agree, men are going to be critical to shifting our culture away from one that perpetuates sexual violence.
I would also add, though, that men suffer under the oppression of a culture that promotes hypermasculinity. Women are most frequently the victims of sexual assault, and certainly suffer most of the harms of patriarchy, but ultimately, a culture of gender equality would be best for everyone, men included.
Mike: That’s a great point. Many men see feminism as a threat to masculinity, as though it means that women want to be given an advantage in a zero-sum game. It’s particularly frustrating to see as a man of color. I would like to believe that we would be more empathetic, since our own oppression is so salient. Unfortunately, being oppressed oneself doesn’t guarantee an understanding of others’ oppression.
Cara: Straight up. It’s not a zero-sum game – it’s quite the opposite. None of us will be free until we are all free.