I just read an interesting op-ed column in the NY Times by Frank Bruni, Tackling the Roots of Rape, that links the pervasiveness of sexual violence to the messages we give boys about what it means to be a man. Be strong, fight for what you want, don't act like a girl, etc. I think he's right. Those messages do set up a mindset that men can use to justify sexual violence. They also set up a mindset that justifies excusing such behavior as 'boys being boys' grows from pulling ponytails to sexual violence. Those messages are the social norms that become our measure of a man. If we want to eliminate sexual violence we need to change our messaging.
What I think he missed is that while the majority of men have been exposed to these messages, if asked to think about it, don't feel that way. The overwhelming majority respect, value and treat women as equals. The majority of men would be opposed to any acts that degrade, harm or violate women.
If we want to empower men to create change among their peers to eliminate sexual violence, we need to give them the message that a man stands up for what he believes in and speak out when he sees injustice. Even if his teammate, best friend, co-worker or college pal is the one committing the injustice. We need to practice those words not just when an egregious act is happening, but when we see any injustice. That's leadership. That's manliness. That's what creates social change. All it takes is a few good men standing up for what's right to turn the tide from the negative messaging. Most men would follow that lead.
Want to know how to do it? Watch this video. It's really this easy!
P.S. The same applies for women. It's just as important that we look, speak up and step up. Think about the negative social messages we inadvertently communicate and speak out.