Not Just Women’s Issues: Confronting Campus Sexism

We are
walking from Honnold/Mudd Library back to Pitzer College’s campus through a quad at
Claremont McKenna College, which is illuminated by light pouring from open residence hall doors and windows. It is roughly 10:15 p.m. on a Saturday night: party time for
this particular college. Our heavy book bags and non-provocative dress make us
stick out like sore thumbs among the partygoers like two mangy backpackers boarding
a commuter bus in downtown Los Angeles.

As we pick our way through a sea of screaming students
and red cups, the thumps of electronic bass music pulse through our bodies. Hordes
of young females shriek by us on their way between residence halls. The energetic
atmosphere spikes our blood with adrenaline and a sensation of confused
excitement. Do we join in, or keep walking and pretend that the scene is
perfectly normal?

At the
end of the quad, near the sports fields, we walk past an oncoming group of four
males wielding red cups. My friend Emily, who is prone to spontaneous gestures
of playfulness, runs up to them and startles them by waving her hands in the
air and shouting, “The Alpaca-lypse is coming!” As she runs back to join me, giggling,
we hear one of the males yell menacingly, “Shut the fuck up, you bitch.”

There is not a trace of humor in
his voice. But his friends find it quite funny, responding in unison with
laughter as they walk away.

I stop
in my tracks and turn around to look at them. How could someone respond with
such violent and hostile language? While she may have startled him, the way
that man had replied to her astonished me. Looking at my friend, I fill the
silence between us by apologizing for the male individual’s behavior, telling
her that he has no right to say such awful things.

Emily said later that she felt like
she wanted to hit him in the face. I told her I felt the same, but that we
would be enabling him by going down to his level. I also told her that I
thought that her consciousness was much more evolved than his. But these words,
coming from me, felt empty.

I was
angry and confused. I did not know how to respond—and so I didn’t.

Looking back, I am filled with rage and humiliation—most
of which is directed at myself. Rage for not standing up for someone whom I
love and care for deeply when faced with misogynistic insolence, and
humiliation knowing that
the hatred and violence that my gender directs toward others is an everyday
should have spoken up, acted up, done something to let this
degenerate, this “bro,” know that his actions are not acceptable.

I am
ashamed that I chose not to defend my friend and myself. Ideally, I would have identified
which one of those guys said those awful things to my friend, and told him that
he cannot speak to his sister like that, that he should be ashamed of his
misogynistic actions and the person he has come to be, and that he must apologize
to Emily immediately. Instead, like a coward, I led my friend away.

That night, I learned how challenging it
is to confront patriarchy. But difficult as it may be, it must be done. I was wrong for not acting when I could have. Remaining silent in the face
of gender-based hate and violence is unacceptable; it is a form of
consent and complacency. This writing is a reminder to myself, to other men, and
to my community that each one of us is responsible for neutralizing any abusive
or derogatory actions, wherever they may surface.

We live in a world where it is acceptable,
almost instinctual in some cases, to insult women. Gender imbalances are
reflected in our culture through our language. The offender in this example
chose to include the word “bitch,” which has definite gendered connotations.
Now, consider how many profanities and slurs our culture uses that are directed
at women—even natural female body parts are ascribed deeply negative connotations.
While derogatory male body-oriented language exists, it is used less frequently
and without the potency that these female-oriented slurs possess.

But combating
misogyny and re-imagining gender roles on campus are only part of a greater
movement toward gender equality. We are dealing with institutionalized gender
imbalances that have very deep roots. Male anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz spoke at CMC last semester to remind us of
the importance of questioning notions of manhood, and the roles that our
institutions play in producing and sustaining sexist realities.

As Katz reminded us then, these
are not just women’s issues, but men’s issues as well. Male-perpetrated violence
touches all lives. Friends, wives, sisters, young boys and girls, and other men
may all find themselves victims of sexual abuse and violence rooted in sexism. It is up to
all of us, and men in particular, to be leaders and to challenge these abusive actions.
Only when we have solidarity across gender lines and support one another to stigmatize
sexist behavior and language can we transcend gender inequality.

Adin BenPorat PZ ’16 is an environmental analysis major from Mill Valley, Calif.

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