Those that know me know that I’m a pretty even-keeled dude. I don’t get overly excited or mad or disappointed or fill-in-the-blank about almost anything. And, in particular, I am not an advocate for public issues. I have my opinions and do my civic duty to vote when it matters, but I generally keep political or social perspectives to myself.
Today, I’m mad and sad and frustrated and disappointed about a public thing, and I just can’t keep it in. And, I believe anyone who is human with a pulse should be fired up too; although if I’m honest with myself, I feel guilty for staying silent on this topic for too long. We all need to stand up for what is right on this issue. Every single one of us must do something. In particular, I want to discuss the role of dads on this topic. More on that below.
But, first a back story…
There are three must-reads to set the proper context for this. Don’t read them now, but please, please go back to them when you finish this blog. If you only read one thing, then choose #2.
- This ESPN Outside the Lines Report
- This blog from a former Baylor student on her experiences with rape and the Baylor response
- This letter from Baylor University on the topic
The short version of the story is this: Baylor University failed to properly recognize, support, advocate for, protect and provide justice to several female students who were victims of sexual assault or rape. Their processes for preventing or adjudicating these attacks are broken which at best marginalizes these women (and really all female students) and at worst actually enable male predators to continue victimizing others.
And then, after being completely silent for way too long, the President of Baylor (the Kenneth Starr) sent a letter to the Baylor community discussing the reports a few hours before the kick-off to Super Bowl 50, when it would get buried in the headlines of that day. I would encourage you to form your own opinion, but in mine, that letter is completely tone deaf to the real issues at hand and gives me no confidence that the appropriate change is coming.
Before I go further, a few things:
- I get that I don’t have all of the information on this, and that “there are two sides to every story.” But, that is just an excuse for being passive and doing nothing. In this case, there is enough evidence to suggest that something is wrong and that the system needs serious fixing. Plus, we are talking about humans and rape. Even above murder, there may not be a single worse thing you can do to another human than violate them sexually. When systemic issues exist to enable rape, we need to run into action and not tip-toe (or hide behind a “review process” in the case of Baylor).
- This also is not about circumventing due process or suggesting that every male accused of rape is guilty. Everyone should be innocent until proven otherwise, but that is not the point here. The point is that the processes and biases in place should be set-up to prevent these terrible actions and, in the event that those fail, find and elevate the truth, not bury or twist it.
- I’m not throwing stones at Ken Starr or Art Briles or anyone in Baylor leadership positions, although I don’t appreciate how this has been handled so far. I don’t want them fired as much as I want them to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and then actually do something about it. We don’t need to throw someone under the bus; we need real action and then complete openness at every turn.
- This statement is not a statement about Baylor specifically. I would suspect that stories like the above could be written about nearly any major academic institution that can and should be doing more on this topic. This is about universities and schools and police departments and churches and any outlet that might provide a venue for these attacks or that might be a place where women seek shelter and help. Every university should take a stand and openly review its processes to make sure they are treating these situations with the integrity and diligence that they deserve.
The tricky part about this topic is that it’s uncomfortable to talk about and think about. In addition, many dismiss it because they think it is isolated to an evil part of society beyond the boundaries of their little world. It’s not. Recent stats show that 1 out of every 6 American women will be victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims). That means that at every gathering of your family or friends, no matter who you are, there are likely one or more victims of these atrocities sitting next to you or across from you at the table. The sad thing is that we are all enabling it to happen, either indirectly through passiveness or the subtleties of male/female biases or perhaps directly and blatantly as in the Baylor situation.
We need to stand up and do something about it. Men, I’m looking especially at you. You are dads and brothers and friends, and we need to act on this, not because women need us to protect them, but because it’s the right thing to do. Now what does that mean? This list is just the start, and as I become more educated on this topic, I will add to it.
- Educate yourself. Read the articles above. Follow the story. Become aware of the issues at hand. Understand why the long-promoted public service announcement against rape – “No means no” – is inherently messed up. Or, why the recent CDC advisory that sexually-active women should avoid alcohol altogether just reinforces the subtle, but ever-so-dangerous belief that all of this is somehow the fault and responsibility of females alone. It’s not the alcohol or how she dressed or acted or where she decided to go or with whom she decided to hang out or at what time. No… men should not rape women. Period. End of story. Put that down as a CDC advisory. Then once you’re educated, talk about it. Talk about it with anyone who will listen.
- Be aware of your own biases and work hard to squeeze them out of your words and actions. We are all guilty whether subtle or overt, including me. Stop objectifying or marginalizing women. Stop using the word “girl” or “woman” or “pussy” as an insult. It is not acceptable in any context, ever. Stop deferring to the men in the room in meetings or assuming a woman got to where she is because of her looks or her sexual behavior. Stop being silent when your male friends do the same or say jokes that cross the line. Stop. Just stop.
- Teach awareness to others, especially your children. Dads: don’t let your sons say, “You run like a girl” or “You throw like a girl.” Teach your sons to revere and respect women as equals so that they treat them that way in every situation. Teach your daughters to recognize and not accept these comparisons or laugh them off but rather to educate and bring awareness when she can. Role model this behavior with your spouse or partner and mother and sister. Consider the content and language to which your kids are exposed and don’t let them become numb to the sources of words and information and images that minimize these issues. How is this connected to rape you might say? I am starting to realize that any behavior that marginalizes women creates a subtle and perhaps subconscious trigger that, paired with the right sociopathic tendencies or personality traits, leads men to do things to women that cross the line or blow through it. It is not an excuse for anyone, but it is a way that we enable those that will be predators in very tiny ways.
- Stop glorifying athletes above all else. It is fine to be a fan, but we have to crush the culture that allows athletes to be above the law whether in high school, college, or the pros. Beyond the god-like status that star players receive, there is also an incredible amount of money and power involved. And from what I understand, rape is about power and control, not about sex. The more invincible the athletes feel, the more they are empowered to take what isn’t theirs. Changing the athlete-worship complex will require a huge cultural shift that will not happen quickly, but it has to start somewhere. Winning shouldn’t come at all cost, especially at the cost of the lives and well-being of our sisters and daughters and friends.
- Write Baylor and/or your alma mater(s) and demand change. As far as I’m concerned, this is a problem for every university. Write your university president and demand a review of existing procedures and resources to ensure they are comprehensive and effective. Encourage your fellow alumni to do the same. And, if it does not happen, follow up until it does. Your university could be the next in the headlines, but worse, another female could be a victim if we don’t do it.
Will you stand with me?
I know this list is incomplete, and that likely my perspective is still biased so I want your feedback and suggestions on this topic. The dialogue is ever so important. Please share your thoughts with us via comment below, by email at email@example.com or on twitter (@dadsondoody).