WARNING: 1st paragraph has violent depictions of real life events.
Tracy Chapman is mostly known for her classic song Fast Car. It’s her song Behind the Wall that makes me think of incidents at Canadian universities in the last few years: two men sexually assault women at York University by breaking into their rooms at night; another man brutalizes a woman breaking her jaw and dislocating her shoulder while sexually assaulting her in a lab at Carleton University; Laurentian University sees a man roaming campus touching women inappropriately; women have been robbed at knife point by a man on University of Toronto campus; a woman at Bedford Park (just north of U of T) was doused with rubbing alcohol and lit on fire.
Chapman sings of sleepless nights due to a neighbor being battered by her male partner; cops coming “late, if they come at all,” and declaring not being able to “interfere with domestic affairs.” Finally, Chapman sees an ambulance taking the woman away.
When talking about the assaults at Canadian University’s my friend said, “It’s the perfect breeding ground for predators. Kids drinking and walking around a dark campus.”
Angrily, I informed him that the women were assaulted in their rooms while sleeping. I proceeded to tell him that over the years the many, many sexual assaults at York University that the media gets a hold of have occurred when women were leaving, or going to class, or the library. The woman working in a lab at Carleton was not drinking and she was in a well lit room during the day. My friend re-thought his position, said he was unaware of all this, and took back his assumption.
While Chapman sings of not being able to sleep I wonder, “Will these recent survivors of patriarchal violence be able to sleep?” I also wonder, “How can the cops at York University who have been doing fuck all over the years sleep at night? How can the men doing the assaults sleep at night?”
I’ll tell you who is sleeping—most men in our society.
The conversations I hear when I’m around certain groups of men are disgusting: sexist, misogynist, and full of phobias.
Anishinaabe Kwe Shannon Simpson, Counselor at First Nations House U of T, says, “Violence is a human rights issue, not a women’s issue. Men need to take responsibility. Men need to use male privilege in a positive way. Imagine if white business men started speaking out against violence against women; more people would listen then if a woman of colour said the same thing.”
What would be great is if male athletes started speaking out against violence against women. Imagine a UFC champion saying, “Support our women!” as opposed to, “Support our troops!”
Privilege is unearned power which gives certain groups economic, social and political advantages. In our society white males benefit from this the most but all males benefit from this just by being born.
Stoh:lo feminist, activist, and acclaimed writer Lee Maracle defines male privilege as, “A head start, a larger entitlement in the social, economic, and personal arena.”
Below is a Male Privilege checklist By B. Deutsch from the Colours of Resistence website (http://colours.mahost.org/org/maleprivilege.html):
1. If I’m a teen or adult, and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped are so low as to be negligible.
2. I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces.
3. Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.
4. I can be somewhat sure that if I ask to see “the person in charge,” I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
5. If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.
6. If I have sex with a lot of people, it won’t make me an object of contempt or derision.
7. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.)
8. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is usually pictured as being male.
9. Magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are much rarer.
10. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.
Simpson says, “Men have to be ally’s because men listen to other men.” Before we can be ally’s there is much research to be done and a lot of important questions that we men have to ask ourselves.
When talking with Cherokee Professor/Writer Daniel Heath Justice he described the larger, systemic problems as starting “from little things” and therefore “we have to start small.” For example, the unquestioned use of the word bitch, or putting down the toilet seat, or helping clean up around the house.
Like many things in life small things lead to the big things. Ideas lead to actions, this is why we have to start educating young men to think differently, act differently, and question things.
As men we have to ask ourselves:
Are women around us safe from smaller forms of dehumanization? (Smaller as in the “little things” mentioned above compared to the big things such as sexual assault listed in my intro.)
Do we interrupt, or talk over, women?
Do we consider what is being said by women before we consider an answer?
Do we look women in the face while talking to them? Or are we looking at their body parts?
Are we comfortable in a room of women? If not, why?
Does challenge from women hurt our ego?
Do we think of men first when thinking of inspirational leaders? If so, why?
Do we as men honour women’s knowledge as much as men’s knowledge?
When we think of warriors do we think of hyper masculine men?
Do we honour the peacemakers as much as we honour the warriors?
When men say oppressive things about women do we challenge them?
Are we making the connections between different forms of oppression?
Racism, sexism, and homophobia along with all isms and phobias are cousins in one big oppressive family.
We men have to take action and “speak up” when seeing oppression directed at women, and anyone. We men have to know the issues, be informed, do our research, offer support, recognize our male privilege, and do some self reflection to challenge ourselves and our assumptions.
Checking ourselves is an ongoing process with lots of mistakes, mess-ups, challenges, and epiphanies, but it’s worth it in order to help men, women, people of all genders reach an equal state.
Men, let’s wake up and stop hiding behind the walls; it’s our responsibility!
This article was originally published in a different form as part of my column “The Condor’s View” in The Window, September 2007, when I was a student at University of Toronto.