2015 needs to be a better year for gender relations and men behaving badly. Nick Ward gives us a clue how, and he wants your help.
2014 was a tough year for gender relations and men behaving badly.
In Canada, the once beloved radio host of Q was arrested on multiple counts of sexual assault for what he called “mild 50 Shades of Grey” behavior. On an even larger scale, although no charges have been laid, Bill Cosby’s accusers now number well into double digits. His alleged crimes involve drugging women before assaulting them. While these two men of show stole most of the headlines, Ray Rice grabbed his share after unloading his considerable strength and power in a right hook on his wife. In public and on video.
While 2014 might have been a particularly bad year, it seems that athletes like Rice are always at the forefront of headlines involving beating, raping and otherwise treating women like garbage.
And yet, as a lifelong participant in competitive sports, most of my inner circle of friends and family use athletics to better themselves, inspiring their teammates and friends through hard work and leadership.
Growing up in the rugby world, I was exposed and embraced the culture of competition on the field and the debauchery off the field. Most of my early years in the rugby community were frustrating attempts to square my pseudo-feminist upbringing with the alpha-male lens that I saw my friends “scoring” through.
On one hand I desperately wanted to experience the sexual “success” I perceived my teammates were experiencing and on the other I had my progressive and feminist-positive upbringing nagging at me. I grew up with a third-wave feminist mother who drummed into my consciousness the politically correct (back when PC wasn’t always a pejorative term) messaging of “no means no” and anti-rape culture.
The lesson was simple: Explicit consent or no sexy time. Period.
While this upbringing served me well in being respectful to women in general, I lacked the social skills to navigate the sexual marketplace. This led to frustration that often manifested itself towards women as manipulation, dishonesty and passive aggressive temper tantrums when I didn’t get the sex I wanted. Or any sex at all.
I know that without my Mom’s lessons ringing in my ear I could have behaved even worse, perhaps like the men mentioned above. And yet, by finding role models of older men who were both sexually respectful and successful I was able to find a greater sense of peace with who I was and also the women around me.
What I now know to be true is that both tracts of education were crucial. On one hand the staunch, feminist-inspired teaching of my childhood with the practical and, on the other, “how to talk to women you want to date” guidance I picked up from older peers.
The short version: Be polite, courteous, gentlemanly and direct.
Men and boys need to lead the charge for change in this area. It’s up to us to stand up for a world where everyone gets to be sexually expressed and where no one is left hurt as a result.
There are two reasons why this is the way it should be:
First, it’s just the right thing to do. There’s no way that good men and boys can stand by and let our gender be dragged through the mud by thuggery and violence. It’s not who we are and it’s not the legacy we want to leave behind.
Our father’s father’s great battle was to open up the world (or in some cases have it opened up for them) to women. Whether in the workplace or society in general, women are out of the house and taking their rightful place in the world.
Our battle is to break the cycle of abuse, rape and disrespect. Forever.
And, there’s an enlightened self-interest argument here. If women felt safe, if the word “slut” lost it societal sting, if a woman could trust that with a stranger or her life-long partner, she could opt out of sex without getting hit, mocked or killed, I guarantee our locker room stories would be richer and based on actual sex instead of the sex we wished we were having.
And women? Well hopefully they would have better stories too.
So what? What can we, as athletes do?
As part of the athletic community, I say that we can make the biggest difference. For better or worse, athletes are seen as role models.
Boys and teens look up to us, and the behaviour we model will have a direct impact on how they see themselves and how they treat women.
My intention is to help foster a conversation with young athletes that empowers them not only to speak up when their peers act or talk in ways that aren’t positive but to create fulfilling the relationships they want.
If you’re an athlete, a parent of an athlete, a coach, or official, I want to connect with you. Who is already doing this work? How can we work together? I’m at the very early stages, and I want to hear from you.
You can contact Nick at [email protected] or drop him a note in the comments below.
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Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison