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What it means to be a “Man of Strength”

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April 8, 2014

“Pray not for easy lives, pray to be stronger men.” President John F. Kennedy once said these famous words while the United States sat on the edge of nuclear war. Of course, at the time he was referring to strength in reference to national resolve and fortitude. In his gendered statement he was expressing desire for Americans to hold strong to national values of freedom and peaceful compromise.

Our modern world is sitting on the edge of a very different type of abyss. This is one formed not by nuclear bombs, but by a culture that has been systematically damaging the way men and women interact for decades. This culture is one that is too tolerant of objectification and dehumanization of women. Evidence of this tolerance can be seen everywhere from sexist advertising on televisions in the media to the very language we use to discuss sexual assault and rape. Every week there are news stories on the pervasive sexual violence. And every week we experience a new national tragedy as the discussion turns to the circumstances surrounding the incident and not the culture that allowed it to occur.

Fighting against rape culture is not something that is done with diplomacy or negotiations. Rape culture is not perpetrated by men who wear a specific uniform, or who hide underground during the day before leaving to commit sexual assault at night. Rape culture is perpetrated by those who probably are unaware of what that term even means. Rape culture is something they were born into, and view as the norm. As a result, attempting to stop rape culture requires explicit action being taken against the societal norm. And conversely, by not taking any action there is implicit acceptance of the norm. There is no middle ground. Every individual who is not actively working to stop sexual assault and rape is allowing it to continue.

Being a strong man today means putting oneself against the social current. It means stopping a friend from taking advantage of a drunk partner. It means saying something when you see clear signs of partner abuse. It means standing up to those who victim blame and make insensitive jokes about violence. And it means being informed on what consent really means.

Somewhere along the way, John F. Kennedy’s prayer for stronger men was lost. Perhaps it was during one of his episodes philandering with other women while married. And now it is too late to just pray to be stronger men. We need to become those stronger men. Stronger men who are willing to stand up with women on issues of reproductive rights. Stronger men who will not tolerate rape culture. Stronger men who will raise the next generation of boys to respect and care for women and not treat them as objects. In today’s world these stronger men will be the factor that changes the tide and keeps our society from allowing sexual assault and dating violence to continue.

Authored by Alex Karmazin.  He is the leader of Men of Strength at American University which is currently in its Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Week.

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