“I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I am for justice, no matter who it is for or against.” – Malcolm X
Joshua Phillips has been actively advocating against sexual violence since 2003 when he joined Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates at Central Michigan University. Since then he has had the privilege of presenting countless programs on his campus and throughout the United States. Because he situates sexual violence as a cultural issue, his education philosophy is that we must be actively against sexual violence instead of passively for it.
Between his undergraduate and graduate work Joshua took a year to volunteer in Camden, New Jersey working at homeless shelters and after-school programs. When he returned to CMU in 2007 for graduate work, he and two fellow advocates attempted their own active resistance against sexual violence when they created the group East Coast Walkers. In the summer of 2008 the East Coast Walkers efforts were manifest when they successfully completed a 1,800 mile walk from Miami to Boston to raise awareness about sexual violence. Josh’s hope is to use stories from the walk to inspire others to creatively engage in everyday activism in an effort to create dialogue about social justice and the issues that affect us all.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
Sexual violence is a complex issue. Therefore, to help me better understand it and my role in helping to end it, I have come up with 2 assumptions.
1. Sexual violence is a cultural issue that is historically and systemically rooted in our collectively created perceptions of gendered bodies. And sexual violence happens because of how we have taught gendered bodies to interact with one another through traditional gender roles and popular culture messages.
2. Sexual violence disproportionately happens more frequently to females and is perpetrated more frequently by males. As a male who is not a survivor of sexual violence, I have zero experience with understanding what it is like to go through a sexually violent attack nor do I understand what it is like to live with the fear of feeling targeted or threatened by sexual violence because of my gender.
Given these 2 assumptions, the conclusion that I come to is that when it comes to the issue of sexual violence all I am is just one more struggling man trying to figure out the answers and helping out in any way I can. More often than not, helping for me starts by listening to the stories of the women who have been on the forefront of this issue for a great deal longer than I have. Furthermore, I also find myself in the role of a follower more often than in the role of a leader. For me to try and lead the fight against sexual violence only succeeds in recreating dominant gender norms.
With that, know that I am not advocating that men become less vocal, less assertive, and less proactive. I think men should be all of these things - especially when it comes to educating other men and voicing their opposition about sexualized and objectifying images in our culture. All I’m asking is that men continually look for guidance as to how to better combat these issues by seeking input from fellow female advocates, engaging in critical dialogue, and educating themselves by reading the works of those who have come before us.
In the end, I return to the knowledge that I do not have all the answers. I am just one struggling man trying to educate others about the issue of sexual violence. What I do know is that I cannot stop for fear that I may be wrong in my methodological choices and that there is far too much work to be done to ever dismiss or undercut the efforts of anyone trying to help. At this point, I return to the quote offered by James Baldwin and ask that you take your time in contemplating it more completely:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”