With Time announcing their Person of the Year as the aptly named “silence breakers,” it has made it official that 2017 will be remembered as the year when the media finally shone its spotlight on the victims of sexual abuse, and gave them a voice to fight back.
And those voices were further amplified by social media and the subsequent birth of the #MeToo movement, which not only encompassed the ordeals of the rich and elite Hollywood celebrities, but also the common masses from every corner of the world and echelons of society.
This show of solidarity from across the globe drove men out of their positions of power. For the first time, the power dynamics were reversed. The shame of the harassment or rape wasn’t placed on the victim but solely where it belongs: On the abuser.
While the #MeToo movement was an effective way of supporting women and even men who ousted their abusers, we as a society need to take a step further, by not only outing the future Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys in our midst, but making sure we never have them to begin with.
We need this because abusive monsters are not created overnight. They are moulded into what they are by the society around them.
It’s the comments we make about women. How a woman is “asking for it” because of her choice of clothes or at what time she decides to leave her house.
It’s about the double standards with which we raise our sons and our daughters. It’s overhearing your classmates laughing off how a girl was raped at a house party. It’s about the normalisation of predatory behaviour, downplaying and victim-blaming of women (and men) who have gone through a traumatising event.
Where do the free passes come from?
This behaviour stems from toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity’s main dictate is to have men conform to a rigid set of behaviours and ideologies, to be what is considered a “real” man by shunning all things “feminine” and considering it as inferior -- which subsequently leads to women and their way of life being seen as inferior to that of men.
That could be by ways of suppressing emotions, or being encouraged to be as brash, aggressive, and controlling as possible, and it doesn’t help that the media and society seem to erase the sexual misconduct of men and put them on a pedestal solely on their merit.
What sort of message does this send to young boys? It teaches them that the suffering of women is second to the accomplishment of abusers
The vile actions of Louis CK or Harvey Weinstein were open secret in the world of entertainment. While these two men were finally ousted and shamed, there are still way too many men who have been given a pass.
Director Roman Polanski is openly known to have raped a child, yet seems to get a free pass.
Entertainers like R Kelly and Kodak Black, or even the President of the United States who openly boasted about groping women, instead of suffering the consequences of their actions, society simply decided to brush aside the misdeeds of these men, and to take the victims for granted.
What sort of message does this send to young boys? It teaches them that the suffering of women is second to the accomplishment of abusers, that women are nothing more than objects.
This is what gives rise to the pervasive rape culture in every society, and to eradicate this rape culture, one possible solution lies in Nairobi, Kenya.
Reversing social conditioning
Lee Pavia, the founder of the organisation No Means No, set out to show that even in a city where 25% of girls are sexually assaulted, rape should not be taken to be a part of everyday life.
In 2010, the organisation started courses on empowering girls through teaching self-defense classes and informing them about their rights.
No Means No also launched a program to tackle this pandemic by its root by teaching boys about consent and how to intervene during an assault, and most importantly, by challenging the prevalent attitudes that males had towards females. The results were astonishing.
The number of rapes decreased by 51%, and 50% of women were able to fend off an attacker, and the number of boys who intervened successfully during an attack rose from 24% to 70%
While these statistics are extremely encouraging, it doesn’t really come as a surprise.
The result of these consent classes just reinforces the notion that this pandemic is not a result of male biology, but that of social conditioning from an early age by family members, friends, and media personalities.
Boys need to be taught that there is no set of behaviour that defines a real man.
Boys need to be taught there is nothing masculine or feminine about being caring, compassionate, or expressing emotions.
Boys need to be taught that being feminine doesn’t diminish someone’s worth.
Boys need to realise that this rape culture can only be eradicated if we strive to be better men, and society would be all the better for it.
Rastin Reza is a freelance contributor.