Published in The Martlet newspaper | March 8, 2002 | Circulation: 17,000
It’s late on a Sunday night and the downtown streets are almost empty, shadowy. No people, except me and a close woman friend, holding each other at a bus stop. I am close to tears and afraid.
Before I explain, let me say this: I am a man. That’s important, and maybe you’ll understand why.
You see, for the first time I was pierced by the possibility of a friend being raped in an alley of Victoria. And I was vividly aware that the problem isn’t Victoria: it’s everywhere in this culture.
My friend wanted to go pee in an alley near our bus stop, and left me to watch our possessions.
As she disappeared into the alley, I felt a chill deep inside me. What if something happened to her in the darkness? What if someone attacked her?
I wanted to go with her, just in case: but we had too many things to carry. I felt torn and suddenly very afraid. She returned, safe, a few minutes later, and chuckled about me being afraid. She thought I was joking – she felt perfectly safe. When she realized I felt seriously distressed, she hugged me and whispered: “It’s sad that we have to be afraid.”
We’ve talked about rape before, she and I. She tells me what it’s like to always have to fear it. Walking home from the bus, downtown, on campus, at parties.
It’s a reality that can’t be escaped. We live in a culture that allows rape to exist: a rape culture.
Lately, I’ve started to be afraid for my own safety when I walk home from my bus stop. But no, this doesn’t compare.
We’ve all been afraid, but I’ve never been afraid of being raped. You know what? I probably won’t ever experience that. I admit: I can’t even understand what being raped is like. It’s beyond my reality, and that, too, makes me sad.
How can it be that the reality of violence against women is so distant from me? It sickens me to think about how many men (myself included) are isolated from this violence. In suburban Victoria, it’s so easy to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Everything is peaceful, right?
Violence against women is everywhere.
In civil wars around the world, rape is a tool of war as terrifying as any gun or landmine. What kind of civil war do we live in? When men stay silent in the face of violence against women, we are by default siding with the violence.
There are many concerned men out there. Last fall, University of Victoria students Tuval Dinner and EJ Davis organized an anti-sexism workshop for men, and are planning a similar workshop this term.
“If you ask men if they think violence against women should stop, they’ll agree,” Dinner says. “But it’s easier to put blame outside ourselves, to say, ‘I’ve never hit a woman, therefore I’m not a part of violence against women.’
“That’s not enough, because the kind of society we live in supports and allows violence against women to exist. We are the ones that produce and reproduce that kind of environment.”
So what can you do?
Start with yourself. What attitudes do you hold towards women that treat them as passive, submissive or weak (attackable)?
Think about your relationships: Sex without absolute consent is silent violence (it scars).
On a larger level, the BC Liberals have slashed hundreds of thousands of dollars from rape crisis centres, transition houses and women’s centres. Being against violence means speaking out.
I often feel too paralyzed to act, to speak out. But that brings me back to the dark night downtown, terrified for my woman friend’s safety. I remember the sadness we felt, in each other’s arms, that we live in a society where terror is the norm.
In words that echo Martin Luther King, Dinner can perhaps say this better that I can: “If you live in a society where oppression exists,” he says, “you cannot be free regardless of which side of the line you’re on.”
I am a man. That’s important, and I hope you understand why.