Often buried by the turmoil of health care reform, immigration bans and allegations of collusion with foreign powers, the political sphere contains another pervasive issue: case after case of men silencing, undermining and degrading their female counterparts. From male senators repeatedly interrupting Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, to more recently, Rep. Darrell Issa referring to Rep. Pramila Jayapal as “a gentle lady” consumed by “naivete,” the issue of male voices eclipsing women’s is an ingrained part of politics.
But as prevalent as the issue of men speaking over female colleagues is, another problem arises when men remain silent. Despite an overt and oversized male presence in state assemblies and essentially all positions of power, there’s a pervasive culture of silence that extends from public service to everyday life.
At a time when male presidents, executives, news anchors and thousands of other men sexually harass and assault women, when predominantly male “Bernie Bros” and “Trump Trolls” degrade women on and offline, sexual assault once again dominates the news cycle, with harrowing tales of abuse and countless victims at once horrifying and confounding the country. But almost as disturbing is the silence that follows, from the male perpetrators to male bystanders.
How can you start a dialogue about the one in 12 college men who commits acts that met the legal definition of rape, when 84 percent fail to see their actions as illegal? How can we proactively begin to prevent one in five college women from suffering rape or attempted rape? How can we restructure our organizations and cultures when only 13 percent of military males who are sexually assaulted go on to report the crime, leaving 87 percent of cases not only unsolved but also unheard of?
This silence, whether due to apathy or stigma, spills into other realms of society, juxtaposed with the noise coming from prominent males in politics, entertainment and the news. The real growing divide in America represents the disparity in participation between the common man and men in prominence, the gap between the soundwaves of the overspoken and the silence of the apathetic.
In 2016, while 63.3 percent of women voted, only 59.3 percent of men cast a ballot. And this gender disparity of several percentage points reaches all the way back 1984. Men dominate news networks, editorial pages and the halls of legislatures across the country; only 19.6 percent of Congress is female, and 65.4 percent of news network supervisors are male. But at the most fundamental level, with the building block of democracy, men fail to participate.
This lack of presence spills out into the community as well. A poll commissioned by The Chronicle and New York University’s George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising found 71 percent of respondents at nonprofits reported that their CEO was male and 69 percent said that their organization’s board was predominantly male.
Yet this domination and overrepresentation of males at the top of nonprofits hardly trickles down to community engagement for the rest of us men. The same poll revealed 66 percent of respondents reported that their organization’s staff was comprised mostly of women. And according to 2005 data from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 33 percent of females volunteer, compared to only 26.8 percent of males.
And despite a lack of statistics curated for our campus, we see national trends unfolding here as well. My committee for Undergraduate Student Government’s Community Affairs branch last year featured a 4 to 1 ratio of females to males. My Friends and Neighbors volunteer group was 75 percent women, and male applicants to the Service Student Assembly’s Executive Board were a decisive minority. These statistics in isolation may pose as anomalies, but together they represent disconcerting discrepancies in terms of how we males interact with and give back to our communities.
They say actions speak louder than words — but the silence is deafening when we won’t speak up for women in the workplace, when we don’t show up to the polls and when can’t be present in our communities. For males, the “dude discourse” presents more style than substance, but it’s about time we know when to not only sit down but also to stand up, and when not only to take a backseat but also to speak up.
Alec Vandenberg is a sophomore majoring in public policy. His column,“It Takes a Village,” runs every other Monday.