March 9, 2011

Experts Question Gender Biases and Norms

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Following several incidents of sexual violence on campus, two filmmakers came to campus Wednesday to challenge prevailing conceptions of masculinity, male aggression and gender roles.Following several incidents of sexual violence on campus, filmmakers Byron Hurt and Jackson Katz came to campus Wednesday to challenge prevailing conceptions of masculinity, male aggression and gender roles in an open forum, “Man Up: Tough Talk About American Manhood.”Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center, said the forum was a timely response to not only the issues women have faced with their safety in the last year, but also the role that men play in sexual assault. “Tonight’s event is a community forum that administrators have put together in response to some of the issues that occurred last semester,” Weiss said. “There have definitely been problems this year around women feeling safe and having access to the resources they need.”In November, three forcible touching incidents were reported by women within one week. Though Weiss said she does not believe the issue of sexual violence is worse at Cornell than at any other college campus, she said there are subtle changes individuals can make to increase women’s safety.“I think it starts really small. We need to shut down talks that objectify women or in any way contribute to an environment where violence against women is the norm,” Weiss said, arguing that Wednesday’s event, held the day after International Women’s Day, was part of this effort.Both Hurt and Katz have extensive experience in gender education. Katz co-founded Northeastern University’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program — a sexual violence prevention model used by the U.S. Armed Forces — and Hurt is an active anti-sexism activist, filmmaker and author who has lectured at hundreds of college campuses.“I think it’s important for women to see men speaking about these issues from a point of real concern, and for guys to see other guys that they can relate to discuss manhood publicly,” Hurt said at Wednesday’s forum.As an athlete and fraternity member in college, Hurt said he “learned very early on that it’s not cool to be a sensitive guy.”Hurt said that, since beginning to work with the program, “I’ve learned you don’t always have to ‘perform’ or be the ‘tough guy’ all the time … and I want to be able to show other guys that as well.” Katz stressed how important it is to focus on the evolution of men’s social behaviors in conversations about gender violence. He also spoke about how society has been desensitized to the objectification of women.“Even as the quarterback of the football team, Byron would say there were situations where he felt paralyzed, and he didn’t know what to do,” Katz said. “If the star of the football team said that, imagine how powerful the pressure is on men to stay silent [about gender violence issues].”Hurt said he found that simply speaking out against the mistreatment of women was a transformative experience.“The more I spoke out publicly, the more I had to question what I did privately as well,” Hurt said. “It became much more difficult for me to remain silent.”Eva Drago ’12, a member of the WRC, said that the forum was an important part of the process to change campus attitudes.“Both men and women need to learn how to respect and take care of each other,” Drago said. “Cornell is so decentralized; people fall into all these different groups on campus and I don’t think there’s a sense of unity. We need to learn to look out for each other, hold each other accountable and get more comfortable recognizing when a situation isn’t right.”Drago also stressed the importance of tackling the misconception that violence against women is solely a women’s issue.“[Sexual assault] really has a gender-neutral ripple effect,” Drago said. “For every woman who is sexually assaulted, there’s a brother, a group of male friends or a father who is affected by it. I hope the forum sheds light on the fact that we need men just as much as women to work on this issue.”Cornell’s Wingman 101 program, first initiated in 2008, was modeled after Katz’s gender violence prevention program. The program stresses a “pro-social bystander approach,” and is an ongoing campus effort that addresses men specifically, according to Gannett’s website.“It’s not that every single man is born a rapist or going to commit sexual assault, but the idea is that you have to watch out for your friends,” said Ted Saltz ’12, who is involved with the program. “If you see something suspicious, you should point it out.”“At the end of the day, speaking out makes us a stronger, healthier and better community,” Hurt said.

Original Author: Akane Otani