As a White Ribbon Ambassador, I am committed to the elimination of violence against women. As a young man, it is not the physical assault or the slap that I have witnessed. Rather, the violence I see is far more insidious. Words as well as acts can be coercive and this often goes unnoticed in the repertoire of social interaction. Calling a woman a ‘slut’ or jeering as they are being sexualised, reflects how women remain, in some circumstances, objects for denigration. People often say women ‘choose’ this or impliedly ‘consent’ to it, but the danger of such rhetoric is that violence against women becomes a burden for women to deal with not men.
While gender roles and expectations in youth groups are changing, young men still privilege being assertive and active in social situations and position women as passive participants. Perhaps a really disturbing example of this was in a popular men’s magazine, in a quiz titled 'Are you man enough for her?'. One of the questions allocates ‘10 man points’ for having sex with a woman when she has told you she doesn't want to (because she wants to get to know you first). Although framed as a joke, the emphasis on aggression here points to how these inane forms of popular culture can promote a violent idea of masculinity.
For young men the challenge is how to address the more complex questions of harassment, coercion and objectification. The emotional scar from being repeatedly called a ‘slut’ or coerced into acting a certain way can be as equally damaging as a punch or a slap. As White Ribbon Day supporters, it is up to each of us to educate others on the diverse forms through which violence against women manifests. Changing youth perceptions about violence against women requires much more than a policy change, it requires a change in our cultural infrastructure, where young men and boys are educated in order to respect the inherent dignity of every woman.