In his speech accepting the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, activist and author Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” When it comes to ending sexism and sexist behavior, there is a culture of careful neutrality among men.
For men, taking a stand against sexism means having to care. It means acknowledging that, as men, we benefit from a system that is unjust and have in some way contributed to it. It means we have an obligation to end it.
Here at UNC, clinging to neutrality silences men in both the student body and the administration. For men attending college, taking a stand against sexism can be difficult. It could mean calling someone out for making a rape joke, intervening in a potential fight or confronting a friend about abusive behavior toward a partner. It means bearing the social costs of holding each other to higher standards.
In the workplace, confronting coworkers, especially employers, for sexist behavior could be even more costly. It might mean a threatening work environment, or being passed over for a promotion.
Confronting sexism is not necessarily easy. But for men, the ability to overlook sexism and sexist behavior — and to remain neutral when we are confronted with it — is a privilege that women and men who do not fit the picture of traditional masculinity do not have.
During the past few months, survivors of sexual violence at UNC have started speaking up about systematic mistreatment at the hands of the same administrators who made the policies for responding to sexual assault. Two weeks ago, three students, one former student and one former administrator submitted a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights.
According to the complaint 01/50f8ca9bc71da, the administrators charged with handling cases of sexual assault did not receive sufficient training to do so.
Furthermore, experts in preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus were not given input in the writing of the new sexual assault policy, despite sending a letter to the chancellor and University Counsel calling for it over a year ago.
Sexism is a social construct, systematically reinforced over and over by men who benefit from it. The culture that enables perpetrators of violence is the same culture that the policies of these administrators reinforce. Most men are not perpetrators of violence. But they do empower these perpetrators. Survivors demand acknowledgement and change. All sexist men ask from others is to do nothing.
It’s time for all men at UNC — students, faculty, staff and administrators — to recognize the privilege of neutrality, and the obligation we have to do what we can to prevent the injustices of sexism at this University. We must take sides. Choosing neutrality means siding with oppressors.
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