Boys Will Be Boys: Taking Responsibility
Issue   |   Wed, 10/24/2012 - 01:59

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed and contributed to a conversation emerging within the student body (and engaging the school’s faculty) about sexual disrespect and assault. A lot of the focus of the discourse has been on the clear need for systemic and administrative change. However, I think that this ongoing conversation presents us with an opportunity to modify the way the men of Amherst think about sex and, more broadly, about our own gender.

First, I’d like to talk about victim blaming, an attitude that is perhaps more implicitly than explicitly present on this campus (misogyny has become rather uncouth in elite academia since Lawrence Summers quit Harvard), but is still present nonetheless. Blaming victims of sexual assault for their assault is offensive to me on two levels: I think the belief that anyone would ever willingly do something to invite violation, fully aware of this invitation, is nothing short of cruel; but more deeply, this line of arguing implies that the male gender is so base and primitive that they just can’t help themselves from raping — that the biological impulse toward sex is so strong in men that it eclipses all other functions.

Victim blaming encapsulates a larger social belief that the onus ought to fall on the woman to not get assaulted (as if she has some kind of control over it). I think it would be a lot better if we held the perpetrators of sexual misconduct accountable for their actions — “teach men not to assault.” But what does it mean, what would that lesson look like? We men of Amherst are in a unique position — because our gender is (9 times out of 10) the one that assaults, we have considerably more agency in shaping that lesson than the victims.

The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults on college campuses involve the consumption of alcohol. I think that men need to acknowledge that alcohol diminishes the capability to read and interpret social cues, and that there is risk present in this — it’s dangerous to not be able to understand what other people are trying to communicate to you (this advice isn’t necessarily male-specific, but it’s gendered in the interest of my larger point).

There’s a difference between attraction and objectification — to objectify someone is to deconstruct him or her to the most basic of all observable traits, to center the loci of identity and worth singularly on his or her capacity to give or receive sexual pleasure. I hear objectifying speech all over campus, and I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of it in my own life; it’s the messy mode of cultural thought we’ve been socialized into. But by acknowledging the larger implications of such a reductionist interpretation of human beings — namely, that men are desensitized to women through objectifying thought and speech — we can, as a community, move closer toward a place of equality and safety.

The things I’ve presented here are not new or radical thoughts, and I believe some parts of them go without saying. My goal isn’t to chastise or berate the men on this campus — not all men are rapists (or even rapists in waiting); further, we didn’t elect to be born men. But I am challenging you, the men of Amherst, to examine our presence on campus, to interrogate the ways in which we are privileged and to understand that the actions of some hurt us all. What do you value? I’m challenging you to think about what kind of a man you want to be. I’m challenging you to do better.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 14:06

I agree with all of this, I just wish it wasn't so gender specific. I think it's important to note that women can be aggressors of sexual objectifying, sexual assault, and rape as well. Women need to look at how they objectify one another and objectify men as well.

In assuming that only women are the victims of sexual assault, it makes it that much more embarrassing and shameful for male victims to come forward. It's not that the statistics of male rapes are astronomically lower than female rapes -- it's that they are astronomically less reported. And it's diction like this that makes those odds unlikely to change.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:28

Ryan is being specific in his argument. He says that 9 times out of 10, it is men who are the aggressors. Which means that 1 time out of 10, the aggressor is a woman. Of course there are men who are sexually assaulted. Of course women aren't the only people who need to feel comfortable enough to come forward about their assaults. But that's not what Ryan is talking about here and that's okay. If you want to talk about men, write a different article.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 14:23

What? Like really? How much is enough for this pathetic, hyper liberal, knee-jerk response of a movement? Now there's a problem with the male culture at Amherst?

My only hope is that Amherst doesn't have to become a shell of its former self for fear of an over sensationalized movement like this one.

Ryan Arnold '15 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:15

To answer your two most dismissively rhetorical questions -- yes, this is serious, and yes, there is a problem with the male culture at Amherst. I get the sense that you wish the school could return to those good ol' days where students would just keep their mouths shut and not be so damn "sensitive" about things like sexual assault and rape, but unfortunately, it would appear that the current student population has enjoined itself in active combat against such a culture of tyrannical silence. Sorry for your loss. My only hope is that people who are as opposed to equity and compassion and integrity and autonomy and literally every other thing that I hold to be true -- people who are as opposed to these things as you have so illustrated yourself to be are kept far, far away from the halls of this school.

Sonum (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 14:48

anonymous #2, are you serious? over sensationalized implies some kind of cheap scandal when this issue pertains to violent and unconsensual crimes not being properly dealt with by Amherst students or administration. this is not a scandal but a sad reflection of the larger reality elsewhere that needs to town. open your eyes and stop hiding behind an anonymous identity online. take a look at what is outside your little bubble and at your own ridiculous words.

Brigit High '12 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 20:01

While I'm sure you will dismiss this as a pathetic, hyper-liberal, knee jerk response, understand that indeed (!) there are men who believe in gender equality, sexual respect and maybe even that little word 'consent'. Open your eyes and get your dick away from whatever hole you were watching porn in. This is a real problem and I laud Ryan Arnold's efforts to acknowledge sexual assault as primarily a MEN'S issue, since 9 times out of 10 they are the ones committing the crime. As such, I believe it is part of the male burden to actively not rape, i.e. none of that 'implied consent', and encourage sexual respect among all genders just as it is part of female responsibility to support and educate male efforts to promote gender equality.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 00:26

Muslims should do better. Nobody willingly invites acts of terrorism. And thus as a Muslim, you should do better. all one and a half billion of you. Do better. 9 times out of 10, it's a Muslim who commits terrorism. Victim-blaming encapsulates a larger social belief that the onus ought to fall on the attacked. I am challenging you, the Muslims of Earth, to examine your presence on the planet. 9 times out of 10. Not cool. Do better.

My goal isn’t to chastise or berate the Muslims on this planet — not all Muslims are terrorists (or even terrorists in waiting) [but again, 9 times out of 10, they are, ;) am I right or am I right]; further, they didn't elect to be born Muslims. But I am challenging you, the Muslims of the world, to examine your presence on Earth. What do you value? Seriously, like, what do you value? I’m challenging you to think about what kind of a human you want to be. I’m challenging you to do better.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 12:41

Hey, anonymous #3, what does it feel like to argue in favor of rape?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 18:59

hey anonymous #4, he wasn't arguing in favor of rape so much as the misdirected and ignorant blame piled on Amherst men by the letter, your response and pretty much all females on campus. oh, shit, sorry, was that a generalization toward females? darn.

sat·ire [sat-ahyuhr]
1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 21:49

^cue token patriarchal dismissal.

ahab (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 23:34

"oh, hard! that to fire to others, the match itself must needs be wasting!"

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 01:46

I am a woman who graduated from Amherst 15 years ago. When I was a student, there was definitely a small male subculture at Amherst (mostly a few sports teams) that were misogynistic and that had a reputation for objectifying (and mistreating) women. However, the overwhelming majority of the guys I knew, lived with, and went to class with - those that I would consider the larger male culture - were not this way at all and viewed women respectfully as equals in all ways.

My question to current students: what is the dominant male culture on campus today?
My question to administrators: what responsibility do you take for not addressing this dangerous subculture decades ago? And how are you going to ensure that the underground frats and the hyper-male sports teams do not infect the entire campus body again with their misogyny and hate crimes against women?

Jared Price (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 02:22

Your writing is gold. I'm glad you're around to review my stuff and achieve more A+'s. I know you're already aware of my feelings on this. I look forward to revisiting the conversation in more detail.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 03:04

"...[T]his line of arguing implies that the male gender is so base and primitive that they just can’t help themselves from raping — that the biological impulse toward sex is so strong in men that it eclipses all other functions."

It is so refreshing and gratifying to finally hear someone make this point. I've been waiting to hear it ever since someone said, in making his point about rape and sexual harassment about five or so years ago, "If you leave a piece of meat in the street and the cats eat it, you don't blame the cats." Obviously the outcry that ensued about comparing women to meat was justified. But there needs to be an outcry about comparing men to wild animals. It's no less insulting and no less harmful.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/25/2012 - 10:26

People can criticize his argument all they want, but if nothing else, the distinction between attraction and objectification needs to be outlined more clearly in everyone's mind (regardless of gender) and I believe he accomplished this.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/11/2012 - 17:32

I graduated from Amherst in the 1980's and am a little confused about how sexual assault is handled on campus. A good portion of the discussion around this issue relates to how the school handles sexual assault allegations. What I do not understand is where the criminal justice system comes into play. Rape is a very serious crime and I don't understand why Amherst is involved in cases that are criminal in nature. Certainly I can understand that Amherst would dismiss a student facing criminal charges for an assault committed on campus . But in reading these stories I don't get the sense that the police are involved. Is this true and if it is true why are they not involved? Thanks for helping me understand this better.