Men and Boys Need to Breakthrough the Silence

F to the Third Power

Emilio Picayo


In our high school feminism class, we have had many people come speak to us about the campaigns and work they have done in the feminist movement. We have had all kinds of people, from Padmini Iyer, who has done research on gender and sexuality in schools in India at the University of Sussex in the UK; to students from New Delhi from the Tagore International School who started Breaking Barriers, which is the first Gay Straight Alliance in India; to the founders ofShe’s the First.

However, even though we have had all of these amazing people come speak to us, Breakthroughwas my favorite group. Both Anita SenGupta and Ishita Srivastava came to our class to talk about their work.

A photo of our feminism class with the women from Breakthrough who came to speak to us. Photo Credit: Lexie Clinton

Breakthrough, which is based in New Delhi and New York, is an organization that works to end gender-based oppression and violence, and encourages us to change our culture so that violence against women is unacceptable. One of their campaigns, Be That Guy, really spoke to me.

The Be That Guy campaign is a campaign that encourages men to speak up when they see women being treated in an unacceptable way. They have created a few PSA’s encouraging men to be the ones that really step up and help make this change. 

One of Breakthrough’s PSA’s depicts a man getting ready to slap a woman’s behind, and as he is about to bring his hand down, the camera cuts to somewhere around 20 people who see what is about to happen look upset, but choose to do nothing and just watch. It then cuts back to the man about to bring his hand down, but the person next to him grabs his hand before he can do so, giving him a disgusted look.

This PSA specifically spoke to me because of how it showed so many people who did not approve of what they saw about to happen, but chose to not say anything. These people are called bystanders. The more I thought about how often people are left as bystanders, the more I realized how realistic this phenomenon is and how often it happens. There have been multiple instances when I have seen injustices about to happen but stood by because I didn’t want to get involved.

The day after Breakthrough came to speak to us, I saw an inappropriate comment on social media that I found disgraceful and unacceptable, so instead of sitting back and not doing anything because it “wouldn’t make a difference,” I spoke up and called the guy out who wrote the comment out for his ignorance.

I began getting very angry, but realized what was happening and redirected myself to get my point across more accurately. I shifted the tone of my voice to make my comment less angry, and more loving and educating. I didn’t want to make the person I was responding to feel like I was attacking them, but rather help them understand what was going on and why what they were saying was wrong.

I think that we can’t just yell at those who don’t understand feminism or why what they are doing is wrong, because that is one of the largest misconceptions about feminism. There are some who believe that feminists think “all men suck” and would rather start a fight than a discussion, and this stereotype is part of the reason that so many people are not on the side of feminism today.

Recently, with the whole I Need Feminism Because… meme going around on social media, I have read quite a few different reasons why people need feminism.

One reason that I saw made me cringe because of how bad I felt that someone could be so ignorant. A guy I am friends with on Facebook said, “I need feminism because I should be able to flash my tits and not be called a slut.”

He made it very clear that he was mocking this meme, and he received a few negative comments because of it. While I do think that it is important to call him out and explain why what he said was wrong, attacking him would not get anything accomplished. In order to truly make him understand what he did and get him to change his opinion, we need to teach him and have a discussion with him, treating him with kindness and care, not hatred and anger.

While that post was very upsetting, I am fortunate enough to be friends with a guy who goes to the same school as the other guy previously mentioned, however this friend has a much different mentality. He said, “I need feminism because it’s easy to ignore sexism when it’s in our favor.”

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He then went on to call out the other guys at his school, which is one way to be a male ally on issues of sexism.

I’m proud to know that there are other young men out there who are aware of the injustice going on and want to make a difference. While my friend’s Facebook status may not do much, it is a start and will begin to spread the word. It’s what we do with the base that he has established that will really shape our future and our contributions to society.

When my classmates and I ran our assembly for the International Day of the Girl, I knew that I wanted to speak about Be That Guy and male feminism.  We had also previously gone to see Slut: The Play, a play about a girl who is raped in a cab by two of her best friends.  In the play, a third friend of hers is in the cab, but just sits there and does nothing.  My classmate, Diandra, and I decided we wanted to write a scene that we felt was missing from the play.  We wrote a scene from the perspective of the main girl’s friend, Tim, and what was going through his mind during the assault.

Here is an excerpt from the scene that we wrote and that we acted out as a skit during our International Day of the Girl assembly:

The doorbell rang and we heard Joey’s voice from the other side. I could already tell it wasn’t going to be one of those regular nights. Later we piled in a cab to go to Connor’s and I saw the glint in George’s eyes again. I tried to open my mouth to warn Joey, but no sound came out and the music was much too loud. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I realized that I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything. I just looked out the window and daydreamed. I didn’t want it to be real. It couldn’t be. I just sat in the cab, hoping that if I acted like nothing was happening, it would be just that.”

A photo of my classmates, Jaron (far left), Jayson (second from the right), and I (second from the left), reading the scene that Diandra (far right) and I wrote. (Photo Credit: Lexie

I personally wanted to write the scene because after watching the play and seeing the Be That Guy campaign, I knew that what had happened was not right.  I wanted to address the issue of “standing by” and make it known that what happened was not acceptable, and that bystanders should not be afraid to take a stand.  I know that I personally have been a bystander on multiple occasions, so to write about Tim’s feelings during the assault were real thoughts that I have experienced.  The scene was almost like a release for me.  It was an opportunity to finally let go of the idea that I could be a bystander, and that from now on, I have to be an up-stander.

I enjoyed learning about Breakthrough’s campaign so much because it applied to me and it is something that I, as a man, not only can, but also should do. As it was stated in the film Miss Representation, “Things have not changed as much as we think.” 

Breakthrough’s campaign is something simple that every guy can do and will really help women everywhere, and help to actually make things “change.”

The first step is being brave and making the effort to say something. It seems simple and like everyone could do it the next day, but that is exactly how it should seem.  The only issue is that while everyone might say, ¨Oh yeah, I’ll do that tomorrow, that’s easy,¨ the fact is, not many men step up.  

The whole idea behind the campaign is that we need to be that guy and step up, because although it seems simple and easy, more boys and men need to put their money where their mouth is and actually be that guy.

When Breakthrough came to speak to our class, they brought up another campaign of theirs calledRing The Bell.  This campaign is similar to the Be That Guy campaign in the sense that it encourages men to step up and speak up when they see or hear women being treated unfairly.  This campaign focuses more on domestic violence in the home and ¨ringing the bell¨ of someone’s home when you hear something happening.

This campaign also has a few PSA’s. One PSA shows a group of kids playing cricket, but all of a sudden they stop because they hear a fight in a house nearby.  The kids knock on the door, saying they lost their ball in the house. After the violent man goes back into the house and comes back to the kids saying he doesn’t have the ball in his house, one of the boys throws the ball up to himself as the team stands and watches the man’s reaction.

The point of the PSA is to show that even if you do not physically do anything, making it known that people are aware of what is happening makes a huge difference.  Just knocking on the door and letting the man know that these children knew what was happening stunned the man, and probably made him reconsider what he was doing. Here’s the video:

The two campaigns are very similar and help to incorporate men in the feminist movement, which is why I like them so much.

In my experience, I have found that feminists often want to incorporate men in the feminist movement. Men don’t often know how to help. With these campaigns, the “I don’t know how to help” excuse can no longer be used, and men who say they really want to help now have the opportunity.

These campaigns are important because as Breakthrough said, “not all men are violent, but most men are often silent.”

This line really spoke to me because the more I thought about it, the more true it became. Most men are not violent, but being silent may be just as bad as being violent. With these campaigns, hopefully we can help men speak up when they see or hear something they know is wrong, and end domestic violence and all gender-based violence against women all together.

Male activism is important in the feminist movement.  As the people who made feminism necessary, we should also be the ones who help to make it unnecessary.

Without male activism in feminism, half of the world’s population is completely ignoring one of the most important issues of today.  We need to take control of the situation and realize that what is going on is unacceptable and help make a difference.

I became interested in feminism because I thought about how I would feel if people were disrespecting my mother and sister, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to take it.  I think that if more men thought about it in terms of this, they would realize that disrespecting women in general, not just their family members, is utterly inappropriate.

As stated in the film Miss Representation, “How long is it going to take before somebody takes a stand?” We need to be the ones to take a stand and help make an actual difference.  We need to step up and fix what we started so that we can all be equal, and women will no longer unfairly be discriminated against.

Find the original article here.