Male voices are necessary part of campus dialogue on sexual assault

Michael Jensen

Sexual violence is a tragedy that 1 in 5 women experience in their lifetimes, often in college. A recent AAU study found 19 percent of female undergraduates at UT have reported a sexual assault. The study has its critics, and the exact number of women who are sexually assaulted is heavily disputed, but the unfortunate reality of sexual violence on campus is not. 

Although victims are disproportionately women, men are also sexually assaulted and in both cases men are usually the perpetrators. Whether they’re aggressors, victims or bystanders, men are fundamentally connected to sexual assault. The dangerous ways male gendered expectations contribute to sexual assault cannot be ignored. Preventative efforts must acknowledge this without unjustly vilifying men in general. 

People don’t exist in a vacuum, and an overlooked root of gendered violence is the effect gender norms have on men. Don’t cry. Never show emotion. Never back down from a fight. The toll these familiar words take on men is alarming. In the US, men lag behind women in educational attainment. Across the world, men have overall lower life expectancies, experience higher mortality rates for leading causes of death and are disproportionately responsible for and victims of violent crime. These appalling statistics result from the negative way gender expectations influence men’s behavior.

Sexual assault is an emotionally charged issue, often making level-headed dialog maddeningly difficult. Government junior Allie Roberts expressed her frustration with the way men are demonized and the way women’s experiences are trivialized.

“Whatever ‘national dialogue’ we’ve been having, it’s not working,” Roberts said. “If anything, it’s erasing reality and antagonizing relationships between the sexes by demonizing men and infantilizing women. The list of hypocrisies and vitriol present on any side of your run-of-the-mill campus rape debate is tireless. At what point did reason take a back seat to righteousness?”

Many members of the UT community are actively reaching out to men on campus. Voices Against Violence, a program that aims to prevent sexual assault on campus, recently introduced MasculinUT — a new initiative confronting the role toxic masculinity plays in sexual violence. Erin Burrows, a coordinator for Voices Against Violence and spokesperson for MaculinUT, said she believes the initiative will make students safer.

“People of all genders are impacted by cultures that promote restrictive and unhealthy masculinities,” Burrows said. “The root cause of sexual violence is a choice to harm others in a culture that condones it.”

Campus sexual assault is often framed as a women’s issue — and it is. However, it’s also a men’s issue which directly affects male students and the people they care about. To prevent violence on campus, students of all genders need to have an open and honest dialog that demonizes none and benefits all.

Jensen is a nueroscience junior from the Woodlands. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.