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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Big “Pictionary”: One Female’s Perspective

When I think about what I want to say in a blog designed to get men active in the fight to end sexual violence, I find myself stumped. Not because I have nothing to say, but because I don’t know how to say it.

So, let me start with this: I have been blessed to have had some wonderful men in my life- kind, caring, generous, good fathers, husbands and friends. Men who would never dream of “taking advantage” of a woman or girl, just because the opportunity arises. Men who think rape is despicable and who would never physically harm a woman or girl. These men offer their female friend or acquaintance a ride home or a place to sleep if she’s had a bit too much to drink. They do this NOT to “get some”, but to actually make sure she is safe for the night.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that these men live in a world filled with excuses to objectify, degrade, make fun of, think less of, not take seriously….the women they exist with. They live in a world were this type of thinking is rewarded, and if they want to thrive in the world they live in (or so it may seem) they are to encourage, applaud, laugh, or at the very least just stay silent.

Let me give an example. I have several friends who are men. I’ve known them for years. We play co-ed sports together, we socialize, celebrate birthdays, have bar-be-ques, etc. I would consider these guys, in general, good guys, but often find myself picking my battles around some of them when it comes to their sexist jokes and derogatory or sexual comments about other women (most frequently having to do with her appearance).

One evening a female friend of ours hosted a bar-be-que at her condo. There were about 25 people there, five or six of whom were female, the rest of the group was made up men, a few of which were my friends and the rest were friends of friends. As the night progressed the group decided to play Pictionary, which was fun for awhile until one of the guys, who was actually a friend of mine, decided to draw a picture of what turned out to be a “donkey punch”. There was an immediate roar of laughter and energy from the crowd when the guys figured out what he was drawing. Like some of you reading this, I had never heard of a donkey punch. Apparently, this sexual act, which these guys (some my friends) were so excited about, is a very violent and degrading act. It involves punching a woman in the back of her head to make her pass out in order to increase the climax for him.

From this point on, the guys were practically fighting to take their turn at the drawing board, to illustrate other “funny” sex acts that were listed in a recent Maxim magazine. These acts involved urinating on a woman, putting feces on her face…and the list goes on.

This was the first time I have ever felt unsafe around men who were supposed to be my friends. I turned to one of them, whom I was most disappointed that he was laughing, and his response to me was “come on, Nicole, you don’t think I’d ever do any of these things”. My response was “How would I know by the way you’re laughing?” I asked him if he could guarantee me the rest of these men wouldn’t do such things. He didn’t respond. I mean if they are so excited about these images and are encouraging it to continue, how do I know that these men aren’t violent towards the women they are with? If they could be this disrespectful to women, in the presence of women, in the HOME of a woman, how do I know they won’t act on it?

When I started to say anything to the group, then I was just “that girl” who can’t take a joke, who needs to relax. Not ONE man acknowledged that this was, at the very least, disrespectful to the women in the room. The women who are supposed to be their friends.

I was afraid of the energy in the room. I was afraid because I knew that I was out numbered, that every woman in the room was out numbered by 4 to 1. I was afraid of my friends and, even more so, their friends.

And then I was PISSED that I had to feel this way at all. I WAS WITH FRIENDS! People who are supposed to take care of each other. People who you are supposed to feel the safest with.

I was pissed because that’s when I realized just how easy it is for sexual assaults to happen. It’s because of attitudes like these that cheer on sexual violence as a joke. It’s because the draw to join in on this “bonding” experience was apparently too strong for any of the men in the room to resist. I was scared and pissed because if one or more of these men decided to find a way to get one of the females, myself included, isolated and rape her, then she would be deemed at fault. “She should have known it wasn’t safe.”, “What did she have that many guys in her house for?”, “Why would she go to a party with mostly guys?”, “She drank some alcohol that night” “She put herself in that situation”.

And then I got sad. Luckily, these men did not sexually assault anyone at this party…but they did successfully reduce the women in the room to an inanimate object that they could fashion to look like and endure whatever they wanted on the pages of the Pictionary board. They did successfully instill fear, distrust and a loss of respect for the very men that I called friends.

I got sad because the voices of the women in the room were silenced. The voices of the women were silenced so much so that I saw at least one laughing right along. I was the only one trying to speak out, and I was dismissed.

I was sad because I know some of these men left to go out and proceed to sexually harass every woman who happened to cross their path. They did it just because they can and because there’s a social reward for doing so. I know. I witness it first hand just about every day.

I was sad because, though I believe my friends and most of the other men would not do these things they were illustrating, I knew that more than likely there were men in the room who just might if they had the chance. They just might, and now they have the support and encouragement from my friends to do so.

I was sad for the loss of respect I previously had for these men and for the loss of perceived respect I thought they had for me. In writing this blog, I realize that I have since never attempted to bring this up to the two men I was closest to. I imagine if I talked to them one on one, outside of the power of the group, that they would listen and possibly rethink their behavior. I guess, because no one seemed to care that night, I never thought to try.

I continue to have men in my life who I admire. Men who do speak up, who don’t join in when other men are degrading or objectifying women. Men who understand the stake they have in challenging these attitudes and behaviors. Like me, they sometimes have to choose their battles, but they know that they have the power to do something. They can remove the social reward for these things and make respect for women and each other the new norm. The bottom line is that I should NOT have to assume that I’m not safe with my friends, just because they are men! That’s not okay for my sake or for the sake of the men I care about…The men who Man Up!

Man Up! is asking men to take action, to remove the social reward for degrading, harassing and objectifying women.

Nicole Littler
MOCSA Director of Community Services & Evaluation


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience.
Unless we know our actions are offensive we will contiue doing and saying the same things. Your helping us be better men.

Mark Folsom said...

Wow,I am sorry that this situation happened and surprised that all the men joined in. I guess that is the power of a group. Victims that my unit encounter do sometimes put themselves in bad situations but this was not one of them. Ms. Littler and her female friends were with a large group of friends at a private residence. Men need to stand up for what is right. One of these men should have said, "Hey, this is inappropriate, lets do something else." Everyone needs to respect their fellow man/woman.

Capt. Mark Folsom
KCPD Special Victims Unit

Sam Meers said...

What a powerful post. Whether it is group-think, pop culture or the media — these are simply excuses. We, as men, must come to understand the meaning of character, that is: "What you do when no one is watching." We shouldn't need babysitters. We shouldn't need someone to point out to us that our behavior is inappropriate. And there really is no excuse. We all have the ability to understand when our comments, thoughts and behavior are inappropriate.

It doesn't mean we won't make mistakes. But at least if we're aware of the potential harm we can cause, perhaps we'll think twice

Thanks for sharing your story, Nicole.


sarah said...

I can related to the spectrum of emotions you describe as well. I have a number of men in my life who I consider to be "allies" in gender violence prevention and response. I'll have a number of interactions with these men that seem so encouraging---like they really get it. And then every once in a while these same men (often in a group-think situation) will engage in behavior far below standards they've typically displayed.

Witnessing or experiencing these "slippages" is very disheartening and frustrating. And in a setting where you aren't familiar with everyone or when men outnumber women, it can be scary.

I really appreciate that you shared this Nicole, and I am glad to see others who are appaulled and alarmed by this behavior as well.

Sarah McCoy-Harms
Clinical Services Liaison--MOCSA

Megan Nufer said...

Thanks for sharing with us this experience, Nicole. Sadly, I think many of us women run upon so many episodes similar to this we can't even recall them all. This is my first visit to Man Up! and I am excited to see what this site conjures up. Honesty with ourselves and others will serve us best, and help us to better understand and respect our brothers and sisters.