By Kevin Memminger, contributing writer
Photos from Harvard Gazette, Blackburn Center, and Unsplash
In the society that we live in today, there is an influx on the importance of inclusion. There are millions of people protesting social issues across the country, whether they are for them or against them. During the late 2010’s the #MeToo movement began, addressing sexual harassment, abuse, and violence that women faced with public figures, as well as average joes. #MeToo produced one of the most prominent feminist movements. The movement addressed and publicized accusations of harassment that women face every day, whether that be in their everyday lives or their professions. The #MeToo movement is faced with constant backlash, as the feminist movements continue to deal with criticism and questioning, primarily by men. In my opinion, this is one of the most detrimental perspectives from society and one that I am constantly questioning. Why is it that more men are not allies to feminists?
Since before I was born, there has been a normalized attitude amongst men that it is appropriate to treat women as if they are lesser than them. The late Tupac Shakur addresses the disrespect that women face in his song ‘Keep Ya Head Up’, his lyrics stating: “I wonder why we take from our women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women?” In the United States, this has been a societal function for men that is as common as going to a ball game. Social media depicts misogynistic views constantly, bolstering comments degrading women in every field, including athletics. Cat-calls, sexist jokes, unsolicited images, among tons of other things are ways that women are consistently harassed. According to an article provided by NPR.org, an online survey that was conducted by nonprofit Stop Street Harassment showed that 81 percent of women experienced sexual harassment. Verbal harassment was the primary form of harassment, followed by unwelcome sexual touching which is physical harassment. It is important to note that harassment does take place with men as well, but the statistics concur that it occurs to women in a vastly higher volume.
Oftentimes men who do not say anything let harassment slide, and the term “boys will be boys” continues to stay prevalent, as advocacy further strays. “Boys will be boys” does not mean that boys–who develop into men–are exempt from the consequences of their words and their actions. This starts as early toddler ages and continues into the working world. The danger of continuing to not punish boys severely at a younger age can result in the sexual harassment and sexual crimes that we see today. Men are molded by the ideologies of toxic masculinity and strive off of things such as “locker room talk” to display their masculinity to other men. This behavior and mindset not only has the power to ruin and rampage lives but can and has resulted in death. Yes, that may sound extreme, but this is the sickening reality that women have to deal with every single day.
I am a current student-athlete on the McKendree football team. Every Monday we have a team meeting and through this COVID period each meeting has been on Zoom. Coach Babcock typically brings in a guest speaker, and he had Beth Bowers, who is the newly appointed assistant director of athletics and the department’s Senior Woman Administrator, come and speak to us. Bowers told us a riveting story that highlighted sexual violence with student-athletes and the aftermath that proceeded such events. I was completely engaged the moment she began. The story was told with extreme detail and vivid imagery. As I listened, I understood the importance that this story had to Bowers and why she decided to share it with us. I was filled with empathy and began to question my teammates who may not have understood the importance of feminism in general.
I interviewed one of my teammates, senior defensive tackle Isaiah Ward. I chose to interview Ward for several reasons, including the fact that he is a member of the leadership committee for the football team and an advocate for women’s social justice. Ward is well-read on the topic of feminism, as he cites his discussions about feminism with Dr. Lauren Thompson and Dr. Robyn Swink, two well-renowned Professors at McKendree. Ward has a platform among the football team, as well as other male students in general. Ward was abundantly vocal in his stance on feminism.
“I’m all for feminisim—I am a feminist myself,” Ward said. “I like to advocate for women whether it’s the occupation, the wage gap, gender studies, social and sexual orientation, how often they get slut-shamed and men don’t…”
Ward discussed the importance of men’s language in general, not only when women are around. Ward mentioned the importance of word choice, as men need to correct and understand the underlying tones with the sexist and misogynistic language that is used every day. We also discussed the importance of not belittling women, how to support their viewpoints and thoughts, and how to become a better advocate to the women on campus, and women as a whole.
I truly believe that it is essential that men become better and more vocal advocates for the social injustices that women face. I believe that dialogues need to continue and that men must do a better job of educating themselves on these issues and addressing sexist commentary that they encounter daily. I value that listening is critical to the cause, and being empathic instead of playing the devil’s advocate. Feminism in general is a difficult topic to discuss, as there are many different facets that are involved. It holds individual definitions to different people. It is important to continue to use the platforms that are given and to learn how to empower ALL women. My hope is that men, myself included, continue the push forward as an ally for women’s social justice issues, rather than an adversary.