Guyside: men and rape culture

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Guyside, men, Uncategorized, women's health | 2 comments

Two incidents have me thinking about serious and distressing things these days.

In the space of a few days, a university in my city had two “sex scandals” hit its campus. The first involved a private online conversation among four male executive members of the university’s student federation. The conversation centred on the female president of the student federation, and contained some quite vile words and sentiments. When the president was made aware of the conversation, she brought it to an executive meeting, where she was threatened with legal action by those she’d exposed. The conversation was then leaked to a blogger who wrote a post called “Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa.” Shortly, the four men resigned in the wake of public outcry.

Within a few days of this story becoming public, the same university suspended its men’s hockey program for the remainder of the season after it was announced that several members of the team were being investigated after an alleged sexual assault that took place on a road trip.

The university undoubtedly had a bad week. But I think that it was an up-and-down week for anyone thinking about sex and gender and sex roles who was aware of the discussion around these incidents, which to a great extent centred on “rape culture.”

Some people heard the term and recoiled. One talk radio host responded with the question “Are feminists saying the 20,000 men at this university are all rapists?” Others (myself included) tried to learn what exactly was meant by the term and what we could do. The best definition that I’ve heard of what rape culture is came from a friend and centres on the idea that rape, or sexual assault, is simply a part of life, and can be seen in behaviour like victim-blaming, minimizing, and objectifying.

I was a sometime participant in the “men’s movement” of the 1990s. While I never bought in to the whole “Iron John” thing, I did — and do — spend some time thinking about my role as a man and its relationship to the roles women play in society. It seems impossible to completely separate incidents of sexual assault, of online harassment, and, in the end, of the murder of women, from the social factors that form the expectations and behaviours of men.

And my horrified reaction to the online chat of supposed student leaders led me to wonder if I was turning into one of those curmudgeons who thinks that everything’s wrong with these kids today. But I don’t think that; human beings are probably a bit better today than they have been in the past, overall.

What I do think is that there needs to be a social change around the elements of rape culture similar to what’s happened around drunk driving. One example of how that has been done well is the “Don’t be that guy” campaign, first created by an Alberta-based coalition of community organizations and since used across the country.

The idea behind “Don’t be that guy” is simply stated: “put the onus on the ones responsible for the assault to be responsible for stopping it.” And as I’ve gotten to this ripe old age, I think that not only do I have an obligation to “not be that guy”, I want to help younger men to understand that sexual assault isn’t EVER okay. How do I do that? For me, there are two ways. The first is to model GOOD behaviour. To not make the rape joke (how can that be a joke?!), to not use actions or language to make women into sexual objects.

The second is to call out BAD behaviour. I think it’s incumbent on good guys (I count myself in that group) to act when someone starts to act out. It could be as dramatic as interrupting a physical assault, or speaking up when a construction worker catcalls a woman walking past. If nobody reacts to an action or a word, it can be interpreted as apathy at best, or approval at worst. I don’t want that. And if it means I have to shake myself out of my shyness or my comfort zone, that’s a small price to pay. The grandparent of all these movements is Hollaback!, and thankfully, there’s an active group here in my city.

What else can men do to combat this problem? There’s a lot of worthwhile thinking about this at The Good Men Project. What are your thoughts?


  1. 3-12-2014

    Love this post, Bob. The good guys need to be more than just good: they need to be VOCAL. When we’re only focused on the negative, we don’t even see the positive. And there are many of you.

  2. 3-13-2014

    Bob this post hits the nail on the head. I think in teaching good and positive behaviour in both sexes that is what will change things. I see women say things and they are never called on and that’s just as wrong.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *