As a community, we’ve been working to address sexual assault and misconduct on our campus. We’ve gotten the administration to start releasing hard data. We’ve gotten them to make a website articulating the University’s policies. We’ve even gotten President Bollinger to address the community at large. Yet, as much as I support and applaud our recent efforts to change the administration’s policies, I cannot help but feel that we are only addressing half of the problem.
As students, there are things that we can and must address within our sexual culture and ourselves, that extend beyond the roles and responsibilities of the University administration. To make our campus a safer and more sexually healthy place, we need widespread change within our men.
Although sexual safety is often couched as a problem that pertains mostly to women, the statistics say otherwise. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 99 percent of convicted rapists are male. Meanwhile, as President Obama stated in a recent speech, one in five women are raped at some point during their time at college. This is a problem, undeniably, of men and by men, and men must take a more active role in combatting it.
Male readers, how frequently have you heard a friend say something objectifying, and in turn seen yourself say nothing in response? How many times have you found yourself boasting about your sexual exploits?
It is something all men—including myself—are guilty of, at one point or another. At the end of the day, men want to impress other men. We don’t want to ostracize ourselves by being the only one to speak out against objectifying speech or behavior. We grow up hearing and then repeating the mantra, “Be a man.” We are told that we need to be aggressive. We are told that we need to have lots of sex if we are to earn any respect.
The media, in turn, present an emotionally detached womanizer—a troubled hero entitled to success and the woman of his choice—as a man to admire. It gives us the archetype of the young charmer who, in spite of his misdeeds, eventually learns from all of his sexual blunders, often without consequence.
Regardless of how vocal their peers are on a day to day basis, men internalize these values. We come to root our self-worth in the opinions of other men and in the amount of sex we have. We become content to sacrifice ourselves to stereotype. We rationalize and make excuses for our behavior. We are some of the smartest men in the world, and we go to one of the best schools in the world. And yet, when it comes to sex, we allow ourselves to be driven by our basest impulses, when we are so obviously better than that. The men of this campus—and men everywhere— shouldn’t accept reducing themselves. We can control ourselves. We can have respect for others.
It is time for us to take an active role in policing the harmful behavior of other men, for us to become the most vocal critics of sexually harmful behavior. It is time for us to understand that persistence is not boyish and cute, that getting someone drunk is not an acceptable method of hitting on someone, that we are worth more than the amount of sex we have.
If we want a better school, if we want better lives for ourselves and our classmates, we need to do more than change the way we talk about sex in classes and hallways. We need to change how we talk behind closed doors. We need to change the way we act at bars. We need to become the most active members of the effort to stop sexual violence and to speak up to each other, even when it is difficult. Above all else, we need to change the way we think of women, and even more so, ourselves. A masculinity based on sexual accomplishment is unfulfilling for men and harmful to women. If we want to make our campus a safer place, that’s the first thing we need to change. The rest will follow.
We are already making so much progress. But until we change the way we value ourselves as men, until we find the courage to stand up to the little things, in the small situations when things seem most innocuous, it will not be enough. We owe our classmates and ourselves more than the disappointment of falling short. We owe it to ourselves to find a more fulfilling definition of masculinity than the one we have now.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore and a member of the Columbia Review’s editorial board.
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