Reaching boys and helping to mend their broken world views—or making sure they’re never broken to begin with—can no longer be a niche of feminism.
In the few days since the shootings at Isla Vista, a national conversation about men, masculinity, and sex has emerged. It’s not the first time we’ve had such a conversation; in the aftermath of Steubenville, a number of fantastic writers published powerful, soul-searching pieces. Both in the aftermath of Steubenville and now, the conversation has missed one key element: What are we going to do to end violence against women?
I stumbled across pick-up artistry the way I imagine most young men do. As a socially awkward, insecure, pubescent teenager (I would only later learn how redundant that identity was), I began to desperately want female companionship and I had no idea how to go about attaining it. Worse, I was certain that I had fallen far behind the curve, that everyone else had figured it out. It felt like finding a girl was the single most important thing in the world. And I was a miserable failure.
Now, at 30, I have enough distance from that raging cauldron of hormones to know how ridiculous I was. It’s equally ridiculous to think that young boys are the only ones whose bodies start demanding sexual attention during puberty. But we’re the ones taught there’s something wrong with us if we fail to get the girl. And that’s why boys and teens turn to pickup artistry—because they’re responding to a need, real or perceived—and it’s not enough for us to simply leave these boys to the Internet to tell them how men should pursue romantic relationships with women.
I know, because I was there, searching online and finding tips for how to talk to girls. I found Tucker Max. I read articles in Maxim. It didn’t work. So I complained about women in the way men everywhere casually complain about women, in the way our culture teaches us to complain about women. Women are confusing. Why do women fall for jerks? The “Nice Guy” trope hits seriously close to home for me, because I remember feeling like a genuinely nice guy that just couldn’t find a girl to like him.
And then I went to college and danced along the precipice of alcohol, late nights, and sex. The same kind of nights that lead to 1 in 5 women being raped by men. What kept me from falling over that precipice?
Empathy is what separates us from the biologically single-minded beasts that misogynists want us to be. I learned empathy from my parents, and it was rooted in my Christian upbringing. They taught me that loving my neighbor meant an honest, ongoing effort to understand their pain and their struggles. That it meant that the most important piece of being a good person was to make every effort to do no harm to anyone else, whether I could understand their pain and struggles or not.
Sadly, too many people, religious or not, are taught judgment, and not empathy, when it comes to women. For women, we demand proof a woman was not at fault (for anything, really) before we empathize with them. And so we blame them when they’re assaulted, we shame them for their sexual behavior, and we despise them for withholding the sex we’ve been taught we deserve.
Unfortunately, most of the writing I’ve seen has stopped there, just short of answering the most important question. What are we going to do?
If we simply rely on articles circulated primarily among the feminist community, we’ll be having this conversation again next year. We’ll continue to watch, heartbroken and angry, as violence against women remains an everyday fact of life.
Or, we can actively support organizations that are seeking to change how we teach boys about masculinity. We can push organizations to connect empathy with sexual relationships. We need to enlist parents, teachers, coaches, and pastors in the fight to teach young men and boys to empathize with women.
Reaching boys and helping to mend their broken world views—or making sure they’re never broken to begin with—can no longer be a niche of feminism. It has to be a core part of our strategy to eradicate sexual violence against women. And if we take on that burden, we just might find that we’ve raised the next generation of feminists.
Tahir Duckett is the Founder of ReThink, a D.C.-based non-profit that runs grassroots level anti-sexual violence campaigns centered around redefining consent and sexual entitlement among men and boys. Find him on twitter at @TahirDuckett.