A student texted this sentence to her sorority sister about me while I was recently giving a sexual violence awareness talk at their university. Those words are, literally, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. The young woman who received the text told me this particular friend who wanted to be my BFF “usually doesn’t come to things like that.”
“Things like that” are exactly the events we need all students to attend. One in five young women will be sexually assaulted during college and sorority members are “74% more likely to experience rape than other college women.” Silence and denial that “it won’t happen to me” put students that much more at risk.
I sometimes get nervous that people don’t want to hear what I have to say. My presentations are filled with graphic examples of sexual violence and discrimination. I talk about what is inherently wrong with our culture where men and boys are expected to put down and physically harm women and girls in order to feel like they belong among “real men.”
Such “male bonding” over degrading and hurting women is particularly endemic of fraternities and sports teams — the ultimate campus “alpha dog” clubs. I strongly disagree with some advocates calling for the closing of fraternities. Men are given so few places where they can openly express emotional ties to other men. That said, we must change how men are allowed to bond in these organizations beyond humiliating other men through hazing and abusing women with rape and assault.
Still, I worry I alienate people as an “angry feminist” and “man hater” when I name patriarchy as the primary fuel of our dominance and control-based society. I fear people see me as pointing fingers instead of breaking the silence of sexual violence, which is my ultimate intention. I want my speaking out to give space and agency to others who may be scared to do the same.
Thankfully, my intention was fulfilled at this speaking engagement. I learned multiple people sought services for sexual assault and violence the day after the event and, even though I already have a BFF, I certainly made a lot of new friends.