The Scarlet

Sexism isn’t only a women’s issue

Professor Chris Kilmartin on how men can challenge sexism

Daniel Juarez, General Manager

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Excitement and curiosity from both students and Clark faculty filled Jefferson 320 this past Thursday night as they awaited for the lecture of the hour: Challenging Sexism: How to Be an Upstanding Man. As shushes and silence made their way through the room, the Clark Psychology Department’s Professor Michael Addis faced them and introduced the guest speaker, former professor at the University of Mary Washington, Chris Kilmartin.

Taking center stage and displaying the first slide of his presentation, Professor Kilmartin immediately made it clear who exactly needed to step up not just for women, but for all oppressed groups in general. “The majority have a responsibility to stand up for the minority,” he began, emphasizing the influence that in-group members hold with each other. “Rich people need to stand up for poor people, white people need to stand up for people of color, and men need to stand up with women.”

        In explaining why some nice guys behave poorly towards women, Professor Kilmartin highlighted micro-aggressions that men commit so casually and ignorantly, which included calling adult women girls, using the word “rape” casually, isolating women by not including them socially or academically, and hitting on women in professional settings. After this, he went through possible barriers men face in standing up for women, such as a society-embedded belief that sexism is acceptable, diffusion of responsibility, lack of awareness of their own privilege, and a fear of disapproval from other men.

“I’ve done 25 years of sexual assault, sexual harassment prevention, and most of it has been in dealing with men,” Kilmartin revealed, “and I have yet to meet a college man – no matter how enlightened – say this: ‘A program about rape? I’m there!’” “Obviously, all this maltreatment is a moral issue,” he went on, “but my experience is that the moral issue is a poor entryway into the topic.” “A better entryway… is in light of self-interest,” he clarified this statement, “help them understand how it helps them.”

He went on, “if you end up running a tech-company, and it’s a hostile work environment for women, you’re going to have low productivity.” He followed this with another example: “The most diverse companies also turn out to have the most market-share.” Having made a solid point for how supporting women is also a benefit to all, he went back to the subject of why some men don’t speak up, but also how men can change that. “You have to intervene as a leap of faith,” he explained, “what you’re doing is planting seeds and you don’t always get to see those seeds grow.” Telling a story to better spell this out, he recounted a time when a friend of his shut down his catcalling companions during a lunch date with a simple “shut up.”

It wasn’t until long after this incident that he apologized to him in private and assured him that his display of discomfort had caused him to reevaluate his behavior. The accompanying slide to his story listed other ways men could help, some of which were learning about the privileges that come with masculinity, accepting feedback non-defensively, and taking sexism as seriously as any other form of discrimination.

        At the end of his lecture, Kilmartin opened the opportunity up for audience participation, asking the women and men in the seats what kinds of behaviors they would like to see men change, and which behaviors they would find helpful in negotiating their place in their daily lives. One audience member revealed that she’d spoken up on social media in reply to someone who had made a sexist comment about Jared Kushner. Having expected and prepared herself for backlash the day after, she was pleasantly surprised to see the individual recognize his mistake and apologize.

        With the lecture having gone into overtime, Kilmartin concluded his talk with a final bit of advice for the members of the audience: “When you see men performing the [disrespectful] role, do not sell us short, do not think that we are simple if we are conforming. When you communicate to others that we are simple, you are letting us off the hook, and I do not want us to be off the hook.”

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Sexism isn’t only a women’s issue