April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every two minutes in the United States, a man rapes a woman – and it’s usually a woman he knows. Those of us who know victim/survivors of sexual violence know the toll it takes on them - yet there continue to be numerous examples in our popular culture of blaming rape victims, glorifying rape culture and apologizing for rapists’ behavior.
This year, Sexual Assault Awareness Month seems to be starting with two such examples. An American University article newspaper column berates women who "cry date rape after you sober up the next morning..." http://www.awolau.org/2010/03/30/why-is-the-eagle-so-hostile-to-feminists/. A video game profiled on CNN puts the gamer in the position of rapist - the gamer gropes, molests and then rapes a teen girl in a subway station in order to win the game: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/03/30/japan.video.game.rape/index.html.
No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Anti-rape activists won’t be surprised by these latest examples of rape culture, nor by their tired justifications (“it’s just a game, feminists are anti-sex and have no sense of humor”, etc.). Neither the game nor the victim-blaming column are unique – both basically are a restating of traditional misogyny and male supremacist beliefs.
What is exciting to me is the immediate, almost universal anger and condemnation of both by the online feminist community. Videos can go “viral” and so can activism – Facebook status updates and emails from across the world are condemning both. Women are writing with boldness and outrage – men are writing that this is not just a “woman’s issue,” calling for men of conscience to speak out against rape and rape culture. And even though the CNN article states that it’s only “women’s groups” that oppose the rape game, it turns out that men are (finally) speaking out in greater numbers – speaking out against rape and rape culture.
One example is the new Facebook group, “Ten Thousand Men Supporting Women’s Anti-Violence Groups.” Inspired by Pat Eng of the Ms. Foundation for Women, this Facebook group encourages men to donate money or time to their local rape crisis center, domestic violence program, or national anti-violence group.
Ms. Eng delivered a keynote address at the first National Conference for Men’s Anti-Sexist Groups last year – during her keynote, she encouraged male aspiring allies to “show, not tell” their commitment to ending gender-based violence by making a financial donation to such groups. Most of these groups, Eng argued, are facing budgetary emergencies because of the economy – men can help by making a simple donation. The concept made sense to some male attendees, who contacted Eng and started the group. So far, it has just over 1000 members, at least some of whom have made donations to both their local groups and the Ms. Foundation.
My friend Matt belongs to our Boston chapter of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism http://www.nomasboston.org. He told me, “if women make 78 cents to every man’s dollar, shouldn’t we men tithe 22 cents for every dollar we make?” Agreed – and what better place to send that money than our local rape crisis center!
Facebook users of all genders are encouraged to join the Ten Thousand Men group at http://www.causes.com/tenkmen. Then invite your Facebook friends – specifically, those male friends who don’t normally do this kind of work. Even if they can give $5 or $10, it helps – and it may be the first step in what becomes a lifetime involvement.
Outrage and organizing against sexism and rape culture is also not new – whether face to face or on the Internet. But I’m impressed and hopeful about the use of the Internet and social networking to organize an articulate response to these latest outrages. Perhaps if people of all genders raise our voices in this manner, some day rape will not happen every two minutes – it’ll happen hardly at all.
Ben Atherton-Zeman is a feminist, actor and husband living in Maynard, MA in the United States. He is the author of the one-man play, “Voices of Men” and can be reached through his website, http://www.voicesofmen.org.