The following speech was given at the 22nd Annual Take Back the Night March, on April 18th, 2013. The words that Michael Gillespie shared with the crowd were powerful and profound.
SACIS TAKE BACK THE NIGHT
Michael D. Gillespie, Ph.D.
Eastern Illinois University
I will start with the obvious: I am a white, educated, middle-class, heterosexual male who has been afforded the comforts of unjustified privilege in the United States. These privileges provide the sense that, every morning when I wake up and walk out the door, I do not have to fear for my economic, social or physical security. I do not have to worry about from where my next nutritious meal may come. I do not have be concerned with dressing a certain way or about being pulled over while driving because of my skin color. And I surely do not have to worry when walking on campus or through the streets of Charleston alone at night that I could be attacked by someone exercising the ugly side of this unjustified privilege.
There is an awful sense of masculinity in our society that affects the mentality of not only heterosexual men, but of women, the LGBTQ community, persons of color, and the economically disadvantaged. This mentality is all-encompassing, all pervasive, and embedded in all aspects of our lives from popular culture and mass media content, to religious, social, and political doctrine, wage structures, welfare policies, and all other social institutions.
This has an academic name, hegemonic masculinity, but I can also refer to it with more common terms such as sexism, Genderism, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, and so on…
So why do I speak out about this aspect of our social fabric? More specifically, why do I consider myself a feminist?
First, I do not do this to own a cause, or control a movement. I do not do this because, under the specter of white male privilege, I feel the need to dominate the fates of others.
I do this because the issues and mistreatment of marginalized groups are not solely their responsibility and not solely their fight. When women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and the poor are mistreated, it belongs to all of society.
Domestic violence and sexual assault are not just women’s issues. They are my issues.
Poverty and hunger is not just issues for the poor or near poor. They are my issues.
The mistreatment of gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, transgender, and other marginalized groups with non-dominant forms of sexual identity are not only their issues, they are mine.
Documentary film maker Byron Hurt recently wrote on his blog, “We are all responsible for progress and social change. It should not be the sole responsibility of members from any oppressed group to demand and fight for equality. White people have to courageously stand up for the rights of people of color. Men have to boldly support women’s rights. Heterosexuals have to speak up for gay rights. The rich must fight for the poor. Citizens must advocate for immigrant’s rights. And so on and so on. There should not be the expectation that oppressed groups do all of the heavy lifting to achieve equality. Members of each dominant group must be willing to be shed some level of privilege and entitlement, for the benefit of society.”
This is me shedding my privilege. Fully.
When I shed my privilege, it becomes clear that real men are, and real masculinity is, not the marginalization of non-heterosexual males, but a celebration of all humanity. When I watch boys and men try to prove themselves through the dominant masculinity of our society by mistreating women and queers, ostracizing other races, creeds, and orientations, I realize, as John Stoltenberg did, that these “men” do something negative to me, too.
This is why I am a feminist.
Stoltenberg writes, “I want a humanity that is not measured against the cult of masculinity. I want a selfhood that does not reject fine parts of myself just because they are not manly. I want courage to confront the things men have done in the world that are damaging to women and that are also leaving no safe place for the self I hope to be.”
I could not have written this more clear myself.
As men, as human beings, as people who have relationships with women, whether they’re our life partners, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, friends or kin we effect and are effected by their issues. We cannot sit back and watch the world hold them back, simply because it is the easy and comfortable position afforded by privilege.
We cannot be hesitant to speak or act against sexual violence because we are afraid to break the code of hegemonic masculinity – the code of manliness. Being in power and being in control is not an option. No one has the ultimate power, no one has ultimate control.
As an activist, as a pro-feminist male, I am here to say that being a real man does not stop at recognizing my privilege and shedding it to a group of sympathetic listeners. It is a calling that necessitates speaking truth to power – to let other males see that, for example, generating policies for handling sexual assault and violence can be, and are, entrenched in institutions that are sympathetic to the dominant male creed of power and control.
Policies and programs should be written and developed that not only listen to victims and survivors, but also which respect and appreciate their perspective and are directly informed by their experiences.
Procedures should foremost protect the persons that they exist to serve – based on their needs – not the needs of the institution.
This does not take the form of a standard party line that exclaims, “Don’t get raped” or “don’t put yourself in a position to be a vicitim.” It is the rewriting of a culture.
This does not boldly say that “sexual assault is not a problem here, this is a safe place” in order to placate current and potential students and their parents or community members.
It does boldly say that if one person, one woman, one man, one human being is unsafe, then it is an issue for everyone. It is the rewriting of a culture.
To quote radical feminist Andrea Dworkin, “Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us.”
Speaking tonight I hope to provide an example and a perspective to begin this cultural revision. So that I can give another voice, as an activist for women’s rights, for women’s equality and social justice causes, to say it’s not OK to think that way; it’s not OK to talk that way; it’s not OK to engage in any action that physically, socially, mentally, culturally, or institutionally harms ANYONE. It is okay to work, honestly and opening, to stop the crimes of injustice and inequality.
Denying that these issues exist does not make them go away. It makes our voices louder.
Blaming the victim does not provide due diligence to the gravity of the harm that sexual assault has on the individuals who experience it. It makes those of us who fight stronger.
Silencing one’s self, by not calling truth to power, and therefore helping to deliver the message of injustice and inequity, is the inability to shed one’s privilege. This may sound extreme to some men. This is clear.
This work is natural to some, like myself, who will always answer the call to work for those among us, whether female, male, straight or queer, a human, regardless of color, a person or family struggling to make ends meet; anyone marginalized and disrespected for their unjustified position in our social world that is pushed aside to make my unjustified privilege comfortable.