Community members participate in a march for Take Back the Night on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Take Back the Night was a sexual assault awareness event. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

Kumar: A wider perspective on sexual harassment, assault

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Feminism has strived to end sexual assault and harassment but never will unless men are included in the conversation.

By Michelle Kumar

michelle-kumar@uiowa.edu

In the recent #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative, the problems of sexual assault and harassment have received the attention they deserve. The movement and initiative champion the idea that women shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to call out people who have sexually assaulted or harassed them.

However, the conversation shouldn’t stop there. What’s missing is the voice of men and the idea that women can be the perpetrators of sexual misconduct as well. Of the men who have come forward, they have largely been glossed over. I don’t see anyone talking about Terry Crews or Anthony Rapp. Moreover, Melanie Martinez is barely on anyone’s radar.

These movements have done some amazing things, but they’ve failed to address the broad scope of misconduct. We cannot solve this issue without bringing more viewpoints to the table as well as dealing with the culture that allows misconduct to occur. This means acknowledging victims alongside changing the behavior that allows misconduct to happen. Instead of dictating what should feel wrong to other women, it needs to be clear to everyone that if there is not a yes, then it’s a no. When we take specific allegations and generalize them for all women, we lose women who either feel the situation would be consensual or women who can’t identify their experience in the allegation.

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We aren’t going to change rape culture or society by only focusing on women have been attacked by men. We can drag hundreds of men down and still not make a dent in the problem. This cannot be the case if we want to destigmatize assault and harassment. We need to create a culture that champions strong women and encourages them to step forward if they’ve been hurt. We also need to tell men that strong is not all they have to be, that they, too, can step forward and be believed.

#MeToo and Time’s Up can make greater strides if we make men a part of the narrative as well. Sexual misconduct involves both the victim and the perpetrator. This means believing women as well as changing the definitions of power for men and letting them know this behavior is not acceptable. Society’s views on masculinity are not a justification for sexual misconduct but rather one of the beliefs that needs to be changed. We need to reverse our culture of thinking and start targeting behaviors that enforce hyper masculinity, because that is where inequality breeds and sexual misconduct starts.

These movements and initiatives should not be exclusive, but these divisive attitudes make it so. We have only focused on the heterosexual situations and not taken steps to change our culture and its way of thinking. Instead of alienating the many different voices who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, we should let them join us and broaden our view of the problem, because it is never too late to fight for what is right.

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