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Be A Man, Not A Jackass

9 Aug

Hi everyone. I wanted to start this post off with a brief introduction. My name is Alex Girard. I’m a friend of Ali’s, one of her students and an occasional thug for the SAFE class.

Thanks Alex, for sharing your thoughts! Alex will be interning at The Daily Show this fall. We'll miss him in Madison!!

If you’re a regular reader of this or other female empowerment/feminist blogs, the concept of a man writing a piece for such a blog probably doesn’t seem like such a foreign idea; just look at the Blogroll on the right side of this page and you’ll see blogs like “Men Stopping Rape” and “The Good Men Project.” It’s certainly not a new concept, but I’m bringing it up because in my personal experience there still seems to be a broad class of men who confuse feminism with misandry, and any male contribution to gender equality discussions to be either some sort of “betrayal” or glad-handing sycophancy.

For the former, it seems that there are men who take the phrase “Bros before Hoes” as a broad social philosophy. Bros, mainly, who are coincidentally the same people who would use the term “Hoes” to refer to women. Maybe they think it sounds like a good idea because it rhymes.

Now to be fair, I’m not referring to the phrase as it’s ostensibly supposed to be used. Problematic wording aside, the original, idealized meaning of the phrase is that your relationship with your girlfriend or wife shouldn’t cut your male friends out of your life. Fair enough, but here I’m taking it here more literally as like the adult personification of throwing a “No Girls Allowed” sign on your clubhouse. Aside from Augusta, I mean.

They make it sound like normal, respectful relationships with women are some draining force that beats the masculinity out of you. The stereotypical “man of the house,” overbearing “macho” masculinity that’s fortunately been falling more and more out of cultural favor.

For an example, I was listening in on a conversation about relationships and people were discussing the often suggested date of having your lady friend over and cooking dinner for her or together. Maybe it’s because my dad did all the cooking when I was growing up, but I’ve always felt an impetus to learn how to cook well, and I enjoy dates like these because it gives me chance to show off that I’m more well-rounded than a sitcom character (which is more than I can say about some roommates I’ve had).

Turns out, nope, big mistake. Cooking dinner for a woman shows her that you’re willing to do anything for her, and that means the rest of the relationship is going to be her walking all over you. Of course you’d never want to do something nice for someone you like unless it’s because you’re a doormat. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the conversation.

Now honestly, I’ve heard this date recommended so many times that the objection to it was probably more of a half-assed effort to sound different rather than an honest argument for “willingness to cook” as a sign of weakness. At least I’d hope so. I brought this up to a female friend who told me, and I quote, “That’s bullshit. Knowing how to cook and clean will get you a girl so fast.” I’ll take her word for it.

More commonly when I hear men give each other relationship advice, they’ll recommend (and this is a line I’ve heard verbatim multiple times) being an asshole because “women like assholes.” I was under the impression that nobody likes assholes; that’s why they get called assholes. The issue here is of course a confusion between being a jerk and being a confident person.

I’ve kind of gone all over the place here, but the basic point I’m trying to make is that being nice doesn’t make you a doormat, it means you’re nice; being an asshole doesn’t mean you’re confident, it means you’re an asshole; and being macho doesn’t make you a man. That makes you an asshole too.

Men Who Want To Protect Women

15 Jun

Most fathers, brothers, boyfriends and more are good men who respect and care about the women and girls in their lives. Many of these men feel protective of these women and girls, and I can understand why. The world is not a very good place for women in a lot of ways. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

I’m concerned, however, that some men may have some poorly informed ideas about how to best support the safety, comfort and happiness of the women and girls they love.

Threatening, intimidating or fighting bad people doesn’t help women.

Often it’s just a joke, but sometimes it’s more serious. The sentiment of “If anyone messes with you I’ll mess him up!” is not only misguided, but could cause more harm than good.

1) Telling a woman that she essentially needs a bodyguard sends her the message that she is a victim who can’t take care of herself and is deeply disempowering, not to mention insulting.

2) Violence and posturing are the problems here, not the solutions.

3) Often the best way to stand up for someone is to help them stand up for themselves. My mother recently moved to Texas and several women there told her, “Oh I don’t need to learn self defense– my husband has a gun!” Her response: “Where is your husband right now?”

Instead of saying, “I’ll protect you,” try things like, “I”ll stand by you if you need to tell that guy off” and “No, you’re not overreacting. He has no right to treat you like that.”

Warning women or girls to distrust men or to live in fear detracts from their quality of life.

Women don’t need to change how we dress or where we go in order to protect ourselves. Over 90% of violent crime is committed by men. Those men are the ones who need to change their behavior.

Rather than warning women or girls “what guys are like” or “how some guys think”, men who care about women should spend that time and effort talking to other men about how to respect women and how not to commit sexual violence.

Women: Expecting the men in your life to protect you is dangerous for everyone involved.

While women and children are most often the victims of sexual assault, men are much more often victims of violence in general. Women are taught to avoid conflict in our society, while men are taught that “a real man doesn’t back down from a fight.” That’s how a lot of men get hurt.

I would not want or expect any man in my life to take a punch for me, any more than I would want to take a punch myself. I write mainly about keeping women safe, but honestly one of the biggest social lessons a man can learn to keep himself safe is to avoid conflict. Repeat after me: “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.”

Tips for everyone to protect your loved ones:

-Don’t laugh at sexist, hateful or. If you can, confront the joker about why it’s not funny.

-If someone you know feels unsafe, don’t brush off their feelings. Encourage them to get out of that situation in their own way.

-Understand the warning signs of and .

-Recognize that nobody “asks for it” when they are raped or sexually assaulted. , including children.

-Empower your loved ones. Don’t let them underestimate themselves or put themselves down. Build their confidence by believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

SlutWalk Chicago Highlights

7 Jun

The Women’s Movement is BACK, baby! What an exciting day.

For those of you who have not yet heard about SlutWalk events popping up all over the world, these are marches protesting sexual violence and particularly the use of slut-shaming and victim blaming to justify sexual violence, rather than holding perpetrators accountable. Yes, there has been some controversy. See my previous post or Jessica Valenti’s wonderful Washington Post for more information on the debate around SlutWalk. See this for more on the ideology behind the Chicago event.

Ok, so while the weather reports warned of thunderstorms, thousands of protesters of all ages, races, body-types, backgrounds and genders gathered in Thompson Plaza in Chicago on Saturday, June 4 to march against sexual violence, against victim blaming, against slut-shaming and FOR women’s rights. The weather stayed sunny– and HOT– and it made me wish I was as scantily clad as some of the other activists around me. Yes, some were in lingerie, bikinis, and short skirts– people were dressed in all different ways, including at least one woman who marched in a hijab. I wore jeans (a very sweaty mistake) and a t-shirt reading “ASKING is the first thing I do with my mouth”. Others used bare skin as their message board to the world, writing things like, “This is not an invitation to rape me” or, more simply:

This woman was very nice. We chatted about sunscreen after the march.

Here are some things that I found really exciting about SlutWalk Chicago:

1) Holy MEN, Batman! There were tons of them, and they led cheers in booming voices that went a little something like this: “Gay, Straight, Black, White! All unite for women’s rights!” Heart-warming.

2) We ran into the Avon Walk For The Cure and sisterly love abounded!

We loved each other! Sisterhood!!

3) There were kids at the march.

Her sister's sign read, "I DARE U TO CALL ME ONE."

4) I wish I had caught this on video: A bus driver saw us, read our signs, beeped a funky rhythm and fist-pump danced at us until her light turned green. We fist-pumped right  back. It was awesome.

5) Most polite protestors ever. Sample conversations:

“Oh, excuse me! I didn’t mean to invade your space!” “You’re fine!” *warm smiles*

“May I take your photo? I love your signs!” “Sure!” “Thank you!” “You’re welcome!”

Speaking of signs, there were some great ones! I give you the beautiful, strong messengers of SlutWalk:

Blurry but I love it: "Just because I have BIG TITS doesn't mean I want to FUCK YOU!" Say it, sister!

Chanting: "Hey hey! Ho ho! Sexual violence has got to go!"

Powerful. "Nobody asked me what my rapist wore." This sign struck me the most deeply.

Haha I LOVE this one! Summing up the sex-positive messaging in SlutWalk.

Yeah, we've had ENOUGH!

No more victim blaming!

After the march we heard speakers, slam poets, and even a (hilarious) ! (My frequent readers know how I love female comedians…)

Other highlights of the speeches, for me, were from the Chicago Metro YWCA with her “chat-sy about consent” which we could start practicing now “or, you know, forevs” as well as an organizer (whose name I didn’t catch- did you? Let me know!) from the . Emily’s talk was empowering, silly and sexy as she discussed my favorite topic: consent! From SWOP, I learned a lot about how sex workers face additional challenges from law enforcement in reporting rape, and also that many cities have or are considering creating laws that would allow law enforcement to assume a person was soliciting based solely on what she is wearing and where she is standing. Alarming!

I was too tired to attend the after party and after-after-party, so I got a Slurpie (7-11s everywhere in Chicago!) and took a nap. It was a sexy fun day, and I ran into some organizers planning to bring SlutWalk to my hometown of Madison! Stay tuned for more info on that as it becomes available.

I’d love to hear your comments/questions! And remember:

“Women’s rights under attack? What do we do?

STAND UP! FIGHT BACK!”

When we think of sexual assault, men are often seen as the problem. It’s true that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault (and violent crime in general, for that matter) is committed by men, but it is also important to remember that most men do not commit violence.

Many men, in fact, go out of their way to prevent violence (and sexism).  You go, men! Let’s take a moment to recognize how awesome you are:

In Milwaukee recently, a have come together to respond to a string of attacks against women in their community.

In Wisconsin in general, we have a lot of great men doing anti-violence work. trains law enforcement to approach sexual assault cases with sensitivity. works for the and is a long-time member of . Some fraternity brothers at UW-Madison take a class through the School of Social Work () to change the rape culture for which fraternities (and college campuses in general, for that matter) have become so .

In the blogosphere, shout outs to Thomas at and at .

Then there’s the men I every day. They are AWESOME! Shout outs to Clint, , Scott, Marcus, Ted, Will, Robert, Doug, Jason, Andy and Marco who volunteer their time to serve as practice attackers for my women’s self defense classes. Shout out to Troy who, when a kickboxing student bragged to him that he was “only there to pick up girls”, stood up for the women at our studio and shamed the guy so he never came back! (Funny side note- he was worried I’d be mad about that.) The men I work with are so respectful, one of my kickboxers was telling me how she feels more comfortable as a woman at our studio than at places she’d worked out at previously with “macho” instructors. I reminded her that we have male instructors too and she said, “Yeah but your male instructors are great!”

I asked some of these men and others to share their thoughts about how men can work against violence. Here’s a few of the responses I got:

“What men need to do is really pretty simple: reject this culture. I believe it’s honestly not true that men are biologically sexually aggressive. The rejection of this culture in its most exaggerated form is obvious in the constant ridicule placed on the “bro” stereotype by everyone else, but there is still that undercurrent that seems to sometimes seep into otherwise decent men.”

“I’m dumbfounded that I still meet men who believe that women serve two purposes: Cleaning the house, and making babies. Those kind of men will never listen to women and change their ways. They feel they are right because so many of their friends think the way they do. Men need to voice their opinions more, so that those men still stuck in the dark ages will realize they are in the minority and at least consider changing their views. It won’t change all of their minds, they’re too stubborn. But with time and pressure from the rest of society, their numbers will dwindle.”

“Aside from the obvious one – “don’t commit sexual violence” – men need to be aware of the social & cultural forces that suggest that sexual violence doesn’t happen, isn’t a problem, is a joke, etc. Men should talk about these things openly, with one another and with women. They should understand what exactly constitutes sexual violence – that it isn’t always a strange guy jumping a woman in an alley somewhere. They should see adult men treating their female partners with respect.”

Men absolutely must be a part of the movement to end sexual violence. I send so much love and appreciation to the men who are already there. I challenge women who are doing this work to reach out to  men as allies, friends and brothers and welcome them.

P.S. Shout out to West High’s (directed by my dear friend, teacher and mentor ). High school kids perform about racism, sexism and other issues like these to elementary through high school audiences. Check out this video of Benny and Terri discussing consent in front of a very awkward high school audience. It’s pretty darn cute.

Respect is SEXY!

12 Apr

bloggers Lori and Courtney wrote an excellentdiscussing Dr. Ogi Ogas’s (shame on them)which asserts that “gender equality inhibits arousal”. (Say wha??! I know, right?)

Their main point is that his science and logic is faulty, countering with the following stats:

A Rutgers University study d that feminism boosts sexual satisfaction for both men and women, and that having a feminist partner is linked with healthier, more romantic relationships, at least for heterosexual couples. A study published in the journal Sex Roles found that:

-College-age women who reported having feminist male partners also reported higher quality relationships that were more stable than couples involving non-feminist male partners.

-College guys who were themselves feminists and had feminist partners reported more equality in their relationships.

-Older women who perceived their male partners as feminists reported greater relationship health and sexual satisfaction.

-Older men with feminist partners said they had more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.

A dear friend of mine just discussed this very issue with me this weekend. Her current boyfriend is what I would call a feminist, whether or not he identifies that way. Before dating him, she was used to being with men who were socially and sexually aggressive, disrespectful, and inconsiderate of her feelings. She expressed that looking back, she doesn’t know why she was attracted to them because things are so much better with her current boyfriend. Since stats don’t have faces, I asked her if she would share her story… and she has some really powerful things to say:

When I think about my perceptions of sex when I was an early college student in comparison to what I think now, I can’t believe that the same person held such different ideas. I grew up in a healthy, respectful environment. It was taught to me at a young age that regardless of gender or sexual affiliation, each partner should be expected to treat that person as an equal with respect and love and that no one person be dominate over the other. I was involved academically in school, as well as athletics, and had many healthy friendships with both guys and girls. Just recently I have had one eye opening revelation-what we witness in the media and music, even if we had healthy upbringings with good morals instilled in us, can still persuade people to act irresponsibly, dangerously, and maliciously when it comes to sex….especially when alcohol is involved. In movies, songs, commercials….women are often objectified and men are often glorified when they can have several conquests with women. As a college student, I found myself that being submissive and giving in to men who were being forceful with me did not satisfy me sexually, but it satisfied an attention need and a normalcy need (or what I thought was normalcy). The feeling I had when receiving a text message inviting sex or when a guy at a party would insinuate sleeping together later made me feel wanted and needed. In all reality, I felt like shit the next day knowing that I was intimate with someone who typically knew nothing about me as a person and had no intention of knowing me in the future. But in the moment, I felt wanted and needed…and was happy to feel “sexy enough” to get a guy off. I have a hard time counting the number of times I really enjoyed ANY of those encounters myself. The only need I was fulfilling was my obsession with attention-a sign of my vulnerability and insecuirty. When I started dating the person I am with today, I found it odd that he wanted to actually date. We would have sex, like many couples do, but it wasn’t all we did, and it was different. It wasn’t expected, he never insinuated, he has never demanded or pushed limits. It was so different to me, and at first uncomfortable. That is sad to think about now. It is frightening that a respectful man who doesn’t push for sex or expect it was strange to me. I couldn’t believe he wanted to spend so much time with me, and that our sex life was more than just sex. He is concerned with my satisfaction more than his own, and I have found that I have learned alot about sexuality, what is healthy, and that women can really enjoy sex too! I know college is a difficult time for all, a time for exploration, but it is devastating knowing that some women feel they need to be in uncomfortable situations to feel wanted, and also that some men think they need to be forceful (whether physically or verbally) to feel powerful. This goes for same sex relationships, as I have a gay friend who was in a relationship for several months with a man who demanded he do things sexually that my friend was uncomfortable with…but went along with because he wanted so badly to feel wanted. In much fewer words, our media has a sad way of influencing our perceptions on what is normal behavior for dating and for sex. I am fortunate that although I have allowed myself to be put in situations I am not proud of, I now am dating a guy who helped me to really feel important AND sexy. Although I was having sex in college, I didn’t have a SEX life. I do now, with a mature man who is comfortable with himself and loves me unconditionally. People need to recognize rap music and comedians as crap entertainment, and not emulate what they portray.

“Nice Guys” Should Finish First

16 Feb

Sometimes people misinterpret me as a man-hater.  Not. True. I love men! I work with some of the most wonderful men in the world. These men volunteer their time as practice attackers for my self defense classes. These men respect people for who they are and what they do regardless of gender. These men would NEVER want to make a woman feel uncomfortable. That’s why these men would never approach a woman they didn’t know. They would rather die than be mistaken for a creeper.

What a dilemma.

To (straight) women who are ready to give up on men: Don’t! Don’t give up, but do change your dating strategy.

I once asked a wonderful group of proven “nice guys” how they approach women. Almost in unison, they quickly responded, “We don’t!” So, where does that leave the women who are waiting for some nice guy to sweep them off their feet? I’m sorry to disappoint you, ladies, but the fact is you need to approach them. It’s 2011, it will be ok. I’ve dated plenty of really nice guys. Do you know how many of them asked me out? Zero. Do you know how many turned me down when I asked them out? Zero. You can do it. Nice guys are not scary. Even if they are not interested for some reason, you can count on them to turn you down nicely!

More obviously, if you really want a nice guy but always go for the cocky jerks– stop it. There is nothing attractive about disrespectful men.

To nice guys: You are the real men.  It takes strength and courage to stand up for what is right with so little recognition or rewards. I know you guys take a lot of crap for being nice and respecting women, and that is so wrong. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that and I thank you for staying true to who you are. It will pay off in the long run.

Now, go out there and ask out that person who has caught your attention! Don’t worry! The very fact that you are concerned about coming off as a creep means that you definitely won’t. All you have to do is be yourself because you are the best kind of man. Don’t try to be charming or suave. Do introduce yourself and strike up a conversation about neutral topics. Don’t lead with, “Can I buy you a drink?” Do offer sincere compliments if you feel like it. If you feel chemistry, do ask if you can call sometime and then call.  (You will win big points for actually calling.) I sincerely wish you the best of luck. You go guys!

If you are a woman and you go out dancing, you will likely feel the need to watch your back– literally.

The scene: You are dancing at a bar or club with your friends, having a great time, when all of a sudden you feel someone has creeped up behind you. A man is “grinding” his, ahem, pelvis, into your, ahem, rear end. Sound awkward? Alarming? Disgusting? That’s because it is!! And this happens more than you might think.

Just yesterday I overheard a conversation between two young women describing exactly this.

“…Yeah, we were having so much fun dancing! But then this creepy 40 year old man came up behind me and started grinding on me– well, actually I didn’t see him because I wasn’t gonna turn around and be like, ’Hello!?’, but then my friends pulled me away so it was ok…”

Two main points stand out to me about this.

First, I’ll address the men (and some lesbians, you know who you are):

It is NOT OKAY to touch someone without their consent. It is NOT SEXY to have a stranger “grind” on you without your consent. Finally, GRINDING IS NOT DANCING, and although it can be fun, you should probably get to know someone before you grind your junk on them. Call me crazy.

If you want to impress/charm/romance a woman, or even if you just want to get a woman to notice you, the above strategy is not the way to go. You need to learn how to do 2 things: 1) Dance and 2) ASK someone to dance. Just as I was getting worked up this dancing issue, I was fortunate enough to chat with one of my best friends who had a refreshingly different experience. This young man who she has been flirting with was at a show with her, and he walked up to her and he said, “Do you want to dance?” What a man. He won BIG points for that one. And then, if this wasn’t clear, they danced. They did not “grind”. Don’t know how to dance? Take a class or learn from a friend you trust. It’s a natural form of human expression, and anyone can do it.

Now for the women:

It’s not your fault that men are doing this these days, and we shouldn’t have to constantly be on guard, but if this happens to you (and it can happen to anyone, it has happened to me many times), you have the tools to address the situation.

Remember the woman I overheard? “…well, actually I didn’t see him because I wasn’t gonna turn around and be like, ’Hello!?’…”

My question to her– why not? What’s the worst that could happen if you turn around and say, “Hello!?”

This shouldn’t be our responsibility, and I wish things were different, but as it is– if you do nothing when a man does this to you, he learns the lesson that it is okay for him to do this to women because there are no consequences of any kind and his little friend gets some over the pants action out of the deal. Now he will go on to do this to other women, because it worked out pretty well for him the first time.

More importantly, how does it feel to stand there and let this happen? My guess is it leaves a lot of women feeling helpless, embarrassed, disgusted, and more. Can you imagine a different reality? What if it looked a little more like this?

Man creeps up behind for an anonymous grind.

Woman: (turns and makes eye contact) “Excuse me?! Do I know you? Don’t you know it is extremely rude to touch someone without asking?!” (walk away)

Personally, I just give ‘em a sharp elbow/eye contact/”Back OFF, buddy!”. Every person is different. To each her own. So think about what seems most natural to you, and if it seems scary to try in real life, practice it in your head or even out loud until you feel confident about what you would say in this situation.

Remember, if someone touches you without your consent and makes you feel creeped out, that is a RED FLAG, even if the person seems attractive in other ways. You can do better. Hold out for the one who asks you to dance.

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