Despite supporting survivors, working against rape culture, and participating in the local feminist community for years, I had never really thought of myself as an activist or even as someone really worthy of speaking out. I felt unsure of myself, and didn’t want to be a know-it-all white guy speaking up just to feel important. But this sense of myself has recently begun to change.
I was moved last November after reading about Jen Kirkman, a comedian profiled on Jezebel who went on a Twitter strike until there was more public support from men about online harassment of women. She created the site MA’AM: Men Aligned Against Misogyny to give men a space to speak out and voice their dislike for sexist behavior. Jen described her frustration with her male friends’ reluctance to publicly challenge other men’s hateful, belittling comments (such as: “shut up, jen, you’re a bummer, go back to being hot or maybe funny for once in your life”), instead sending her private messages to voice their discontent. However, as the article’s author asserts, “Private assurances of support don’t cut it anymore. It’s time for the dudes to step up, speak out, and call out the creepers and the critics who’ve made the web such a uniquely hostile environment for women who dare to be smart, to be political, to be funny.”
This article was the first time it clicked that it was actually important for me to speak up online. I had always stayed away from the comments sections of articles, turned off and intimidated by the depressingly consistent pattern of misogynistic and hateful comments. However, Jen’s words made me realize that abstaining from speaking up allowed these comments to go unchallenged, and I wanted women like Jen to know that I appreciated and supported them. I started voicing my support and dissent for online articles and comments. I started commenting on Youtube videos that had sexualized pictures of women, calling out the images as part of rape culture. For example, I joined one internet conversation, commenting on the harm caused when LEGO sets marketed to boys encourage creative building, but LEGO sets marketed to girls are hair salons that encourage girls to “get primped and pretty and have some serious salon fun,” “shop for makeup and hair accessories,” or “gossip out on the bench by the scenic fountain.” It felt good to share my thoughts and exhilarating to feel that I was developing a voice.
Another influence leading me to be more outspoken is Jackson Katz and his book The Macho Paradox. Jackson has been an anti-men’s violence activist for over two decades and many people know him through the documentary Tough Guise, which he helped create. A hallmark of his work has been his emphasis on men taking sexism and gendered violence seriously and treating them as issues relevant to their own lives, not just women’s. He calls attention to the staggering level and intensity of men’s violence against women as a grisly reminder of the dire stakes we are up against, a necessary reminder to me that sexism is more than just dehumanizing stereotypes but that women’s lives are very truly on the line. Remembering the level of men’s violence in the world helps me work past the worry of making someone uncomfortable by calling out sexism; witnessing Jackson Katz passionately speak out against this violence helps me know I’m not alone.
Standing up against sexism and gender-based violence isn’t easy. I think it’s important for us to talk about how difficult it can be to challenge people in our lives around the issues of sexism, violence, and oppression. One reason I am so drawn to the words of author bell hooks is because she speaks so poignantly about our holistic experiences and the need for community and love in our lives, as well as to the pain and isolation she and other activists experience going against the grain.
While I have only just begun raising my voice, and know that I’m not doing it perfectly, it feels good to start. There’s a lot worth standing up for and being loud about.
Reuben Gelblum was our Administrative Services Coordinator for 3 years. He has recently left the Center to pursue the Master of Social Work degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and continue raising his voice against sexual violence.