Stephen Montagna's comments
from the 24 Hr. Truce kick-off
April 21, 2006
[the following is the complete text of a speech planned for the 24 Hour Truce Without Rape event planned as part of the Madison community's observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month; for reasons of time, a shorter version of these comments was actually presented]
Good evening, and thank you for being here (in the rain, no less). I want to thank the Rape Crisis Center and the coalition of community organizations for putting this event together. It’s an important and significant event. As has been mentioned, there’s a particular connection between Andrea Dworkin’s speech, her call for a twenty-four hour truce to end rape, and the formation of Men Stopping Rape, so my calling this event important may come across as self-serving, but I truly mean that it’s important for the community as a whole.
When we say 24 Hour Truce, the intent is to make people realize that 24 really means “24/7”; that is, real consent means that nobody controls what happens to your body but you, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Period. End of story. Nothing that a person does or says removes this right. Human beings, in other words, have the right to change their minds.
This is a step in a new direction – historically, we’ve seen our country and community struggle with this concept of consent; on the one hand, we agree that without consent it’s rape; but all the while the definition of what consent is seems open to interpretation, and too often that interpretation remains moored to archaic beliefs. These archaic beliefs presume, as we often say, that “boys will be boys”, and if a woman is in any way “provocative” (and of course what constitutes a provocative action is open to wide interpretation), men will simply do what men do. Essentially, we blame women for male arousal; we make them accountable for it, and the behavior of boys and men goes, for the most part, un-examined, un-critiqued, un-questioned. This is how dominant cultures remain dominant.
Dworkin’s speech was not a “pie-in-the-sky”, wishful thinking, “aw shucks, folks, wouldn’t it be nice if rape didn’t exist” rant; it was a mandate; emphasis – man•date, a call for men to start to realize that, in Dworkin’s words “you damn well better believe that you’re involved in this tragedy and that it’s your tragedy too”.
For decades, the community at large treated sexual assault as a women’s problem – they’re the ones doing the complaining, so they will have to do something about it; when asked about prevention, most university representatives, and government officials would cite rape crisis centers in their midst or on their campus, or point to self-defense classes available to women in the community. Yes, these things are important, and these resources exist today only because of pioneering and tenacious women who lobbied, raised funds, and continue to fight for their existence. But these are not prevention, they are intervention; these alone are not the proper response for a community that wants to end sexual violence; there must be prevention, and in a world where the overwhelming amount of violent crimes are perpetrated by men, this means doing primary prevention with men and boys.
Doing this prevention is a good thing for the boys and men too; it’s good news for us, fellas, because this stuff is hurting us too. How can it not? On athletic fields, in locker rooms, classrooms, and board rooms we are bombarded with language meant to goad us into performing at a higher level – run faster, jump higher, work harder, “be all you can be”, and the threat dangled in front of us should we fail to achieve is that we are like women; in other words, in a world that preaches that women and men are equals we still tell men they need to be better than women. Simply being male is no protection; one is always on the verge of being “accused” of being one of “them”. I’ll spare you the specific language for the moment, but the words I’m thinking of, if I said them, would be very familiar to all of us; we’ve made it acceptable for men to put down each other by using slang terms that refer to women’s anatomy; the sub-text is clear – being female is not a good thing to be; how can we bombard males with these messages, and then expect them to go out on dates with women and communicate with them as equals? How can we expect it not to be damaging to us – to our sense of self respect and our ability to relate to other men – our fathers, our brothers, our teammates, our sons?
It’s 2006, can we please find ways to motivate men that don’t have to rely on the old trick of demeaning women? Is it true that the only way to encourage boys and welcome them into manhood is to juxtapose masculinity sharply with the feminine, so sharply that we reinforce the belief system that females are second-class human beings? And in such an environment, as Dworkin pointed out, how could men not also become afraid of each other? “Men,” we say, “are dangerous.” Is that the only way for men to be effective in our culture – to remain dangerous, a threat?
Men Stopping Rape, and indeed the Madison Community at large, is at the forefront of this new approach to prevention efforts – primary prevention: doing educational outreach to boys and men. In collaboration with women’s organizations we’ve started to get boys and men thinking and talking about these topics in a new way. Thanks to the DELTA Project, three Madison schools have MENS clubs, and we hope to see that number grow in the future. But more is needed. We need our university and public school administrations to step up to the plate and recognize the importance of offering programming on sexual violence prevention to all their students. We need a legislature brave enough to find the funding to support such programming; and we need a community wise enough to change its language to reflect the equality that we profess to believe in.
In closing, I’d like to remind us all that when we say we want a twenty-four hour truce in which there is no rape, we’re not just referring to a cessation of hostilities; the point of a truce is not just that you back off – it is time for reflection, time for re-evaluation. During the next 24hrs, I call upon the men in the community to reflect upon how the culture instructed them to think about and treat women. I call upon you to envision a sexuality that is based on consent, cooperation and mutual pleasure rather than one of dominance, aggressiveness, and role-playing. In the words of Andrea Dworkin, “I dare you to try it. I demand that you try it. What else could matter so much?”