KU, Alcohol, and Sexual Assault

Last week this story about consuming alchol and sexual assault among KU students made the rounds. You can check it out by clicking the link here if you have not read or watched the video yet. The article is  disturbing on many levels.  In my opinion, it really highlights the unhealthy attitude college culture and American culture in general has surrounding consuming alcohol  and sexual activity.

A couple of things stand out to me. One is the lack of empathy that the guys particularly have for their female peers. There seems to little concern about their feelings, health, and general safety. While they may “talk” like they would look out for them, their actions and attitudes convey otherwise.

Another thing is the lack of responsibility put on display by this students. Their attitudes are very much about living in the moment, consequences be damned.

And lastly, the guys seem to almost always want the night to end in sex. Their intent for getting drunk, paryting, “having a good time”, is to find someone to have sex with. If they don’t then the night is a bust. The intent of the women is not necessarily the same.  This is extremely significant when it comes to consent. If the guy is getting drunk in order to have sex and the girl is getting drunk in order to have a good time with her friends, then their behavior and attitude about sex is going to be a bit different.

Environments like the ones on display in the article are ideal situations for serial rapists. A lot of vulnerable potential victims and not a lot of engaged active bystanders. I think that rather than telling girls not to get drunk or go to these parties we should look at why these environments exists. What is going on in our culture and on our campus that this is a normal Thursday, Friday, Saturday night? Why do the guys feel they need to get “black out wasted” in order to have sex? Why is the guy’s biggest of becoming a rapist not a cause for an alarm to go off and change his behavior?

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The Frustrating Life of Female Singers: To Darlene Love Workin’ It to Miley Cyrus Twerkin’ It

There’s an excellent documentary currently in theatres titled Twenty Feet From Stardom.  It tells the story of how the sound of modern music changed during the fifties as female, African-American entered the scene as background singers.  The title refers to the background singers who were talented enough to be solo acts but were content with standing in the shadows of some the greatest singers of the past six decades.

One of the singers featured in the film is Darlene Love.  Some may know her from her annual appearances on the David Letterman Show, singing her Christmas hit, “(Christmas) Baby, Please Come Home.”  Film lovers may know her from work as Danny Glover’s wife in all of the Lethal Weapon movies.  But she was also the voice behind many of the big hits produced by Phil Spector.

Part of the film tells the story of how she first became known in the music industry for her background singing.  And when she finally had the opportunity for stardom as a solo act, it was just as quickly stolen from her when her work was attributed to girl groups such as the Shirelles.

The film is so wonderfully entertaining and uplifting, I’ve seen it twice now.  But I couldn’t help but compare the talent, stories and struggles spotlighted in the film to today’s singers.  Especially in light of the recent Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke/MTV Video Music Awards train wreck…er, performance.

Several years ago, I realized I am no longer the audience for the VMAs.  I’m too old and too far removed from a lot of today’s music to know or even appreciate the performances.  But after the airwaves and Internet were flooded with comments about what happened, I wanted to take a look and see what all the fuss was about.

I went in knowing two things.  I know Miley is trying awkwardly and desperately to prove to the world she is no longer Hannah Montana.  Miley, along with her handlers, are trying to demonstrate she is now a young adult.  One step in the process is to market and brand Miley as an edgy young woman, trying out new things in life and in her music.  Do an Internet search of the words “Miley” and “twerking” and you’ll find plenty of examples of her attempts to achieve street cred.

I also knew the performance on the show of her current hit, We Can’t Stop, segued into collaboration with Robin Thicke on his current hit, Blurred Lines.  Robin is currently facing the backlash against his song, and video, and its alleged misogynistic treatment of women.

What I didn’t know was how creepy I would feel after watching their performances.  I didn’t like the fact Miley was scantily clad and got more scantily clad as the performance progressed.  Nor did I appreciate her objectifying the humungous derriere of one of her dancers.  And it felt really creepy to watch as she stood in front of Robin, bent over and “twerked” into his crotch.  I don’t even remember the singing because I was too distracted, and disgusted, by Miley rubbing that foam hand all over her body.

Miley is going through what a lot of girl singers are forced or coerced into doing.  I call it the Olivia Newton John or ONJ transformation.  I started calling it that after I saw the movie Grease.  Before that movie, Olivia Newton John was a singer from Australia, singing country/pop/folk tunes.  Her career was doing well but it seemed to take off after she was in the movie, Grease, with John Travolta.  Throughout the film, she was wholesome Sandy, a high school girl in bobby socks and poodle skirts.  But right before the end of the film, she turns into SANDY, replacing her bobby socks with high heels, tight black stretch pants and bare shoulder blouses.

And it seems like right after that, her career went through the same transformation.  She went from albums with titles such as “Have You Never Been Mellow” to “Totally Hot”, which was the album after Grease was released.  She went from wearing earthy-crunchy, loose-fitting cotton dresses to skin tight leather pants and tube tops.  And since music videos were just coming on the scene, it gave her marketing team an excellent opportunity to capitalize on the new and improved ONJ.  She sang her provocative lyrics while wearing exercise shorts and headbands while flirting with men in Speedos.

In the film, Twenty Feet From Stardom, this ONJ transition is played out with the appearance of the Ike and Tina Turner Review.  Scenes early in the film show female background singers in long dresses or tasteful skirt suits.  But when Tina hits the stage, the dress code is short skirts and high heel boots.  A professor who provides commentary during the film made a very distinct point.  Ike tended to dress like a pimp and forced Tina and the backup singers to dress up as his “ladies”.

That’s a sad fact about the music business – it’s run by men.  There are very few women who have a voice other than in front of a microphone.  So a lot of female singers are told, in order to sell CDs and seats at concerts, they must sing provocative songs, dress provocatively on CD covers and perform in provocative costumes on tour.  But male singers do not have that same obligation thrust upon them.  With the recent VMA performance, it’s Miley who is wearing next to nothing while Thicke is dressed in a black and white Beetle juice suit and shirt.  It was Lady Gaga, who during her performance, went through about 6 costume, makeup and wig changes before finally ending up in a thong and a pair of seashells.  Meanwhile, the majority of male performers during the show were completely dressed, if not, overdressed.

It’s unclear as to whether the VMA performance was purely for shock value or just meant to be an interesting collaboration mash up between two currently controversial artists and songs.  What message does it send that Robin Thicke, at 36, just stood there singing as a 20 year old girl twerked in front of him?  But what message does this send to young girls who have dreams of stardom, fame or just to sing?  It’s not right if a guy treats you as a sex object but it’s okay if you act as such?

I’ve heard this new form of objectification described as the “new feminism”… apparently because women are choosing to or consenting to being objectified instead of men subjecting them to it.  As a guy, this doesn’t make sense to me.  It’s like saying a gunshot wound is OK because it was self-inflicted.

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Dr. Phil, Alcohol, and Consent

Dr. Phil’s (yes, that Dr. Phil) tweet this week about whether or not it is ok to have sex with a drunk girl created quite a stir in the internet community.  The buzz and backlash the tweet casued was/is certainly well deserved,  especially when you consider that roughly half of all sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use by the perpetrator, victim, or both (Abby A, et al, 2001). 

In an ideal world consent would always be clearly understood by both parties involved in sexual activity.  The presence of alcohol, however, often complicates, confuses, or simply impairs the process of consent.  How drunk is too drunk? What other factors are involved beyond just alcohol consumption? What are the rules if both parties are drinking?  These are tough questions. 

One thing, however, I feel that often gets overlooked in the discussion of alochol and consent is the fact that alcohol is often used as a tool to facilitate rape. In fact, it is the number one drug used to facilitate a rape.   Catch that? Alcohol is the preferred go to drug for rapists to aid in perpetration. I feel that this fact alone should cause us all great alarm .

How do we wrestle with the fact that alcohol is such a common tool for rape? What do we do to address that issue? How do we educate, challenge, and engage men so that they aren’t using alochol as a weapon of sorts but are instead stepping up and looking out for their peers?

Maybe those are the questions that Dr. Phil should be tweeting.

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Excuses, excuses, excuses, …Man Up! Ortiz

I’m a sports fan and I have been a fan of Major League Baseball since I was a kid watching my hometown team (the Kansas City Royals) during their glory years of the 70′s & 80′s. But it’s hard sometimes to reconcile athletes’ bad behavior on and off the field, and this recent incident with David Ortiz (see video below, courtesy of MLB) in no way makes it any easier.



A lot of people take the angle of ‘what does this behavior teach kids?’ and it’s true that a lot of kids idolize baseball players, especially Ortiz. And there have been multiple cases in which young athletes attempt to prove themselves in poor ways because they have seen their idols do the same on ESPN and other national sports TV broadcasts. Ortiz was ejected from the game and MLB is still reviewing the case in order to decide if further punishment needs to be dealt out. (Update: Ortiz will not be suspended).

But a lot of grown men are influenced by Ortiz’s actions as well, not to mention that many sports writers have already given Ortiz immunity for his actions because “he is a good guy”, “it was a bad call“, “he is too important to his team“, “he does great community work“, “he has tenure and deserves respect no matter what he does“…Ok, that last one has never been said but he has been in the league for 17 years and he thinks that the umpire was disrespectful by calling that game the way he did.

This is the problem: when Ortiz or other male athletes act poorly (let’s be real here) abuse objects and people in the lives on and off the field and then excuse the abuse by blaming others it provides a bad model for other adult and young men of what is acceptable, healthy masculinity. I think Ortiz is a better man than this and I hope with some time to reflect on this that he will Man Up! by taking responsibility for his actions and apologizing to fans young and old as well as to the umpire that his behaviors were directed towards. If he can’t step up to that plate, someone needs to teach Ortiz that only he is responsible for his behavior.



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Turnabout is Fair Play?

Not everything in life is black and white.  Sometimes the line between the two becomes blurred.

Take for example THE song of Summer 2013.  Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines just set a record on the Billboard 100 chart for sitting at the top for 7 consecutive weeks.  It’s a catchy song, with a rhythm reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up and a few samples of Michael Jackson’s signature “Oooooo!” exclamation.  But it’s the lyrics creating a lot of the buzz around this song.  All over the Internet, there are articles and debates about its misogynist tone.  With lyrics like, “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it, you know you want it”, many are saying it sounds “rapey”.


That new awkward adjective recently added to our vocabulary.  It’s a word used to describe a man or situation giving a woman the feeling she could be sexually assaulted.  I first heard the term at work when a group of us were discussing exercise alternatives.  We were discussing the stairwells as an option to stay in shape when the weather is too hot or cold.  One of my female co-workers said, “Oh, no.  I don’t use those stairs.  They give me a rapey feeling”.  This was the first time I heard it.  Since then, I’ve heard it used to describe shopping areas, sections of the city, certain men, and now, this song.

Adding more fuel to the fire surrounding this song is the video.  Or, at least, one of the videos for the song.  There are actually two.  The one with the semi- naked women is the one causing controversy.  In it, Thicke, rapper T.I. and producer/musician/singer Pharrell Williams, perform the song while topless or seemingly naked women dance around them.

In response to criticism of the video, both Thicke and the director, Diane Martel, have expressed their intentions.  His was to intentionally be degrading to women.  Since he has always been “respectful” towards women, he took great delight in going to the dark side.  And Martel’s goal was for the women to be in control in order to disarm any sort of predatory feel to the song.

As we live in a world where any images caught on film can go viral in 15 minutes, it didn’t take long for parodies and mash-ups of the song and video to pop up on YouTube.  You can find a wide range out there from the Cosby version to the Bill Clinton version.  There’s even a couple of versions where the roles are reversed – it’s the men who are being objectified by women.  However, you won’t find the men showing our private parts.  They are either wearing a skin tone thong or black biker shorts.

Is Mr. Thicke’s song misogynistic….or is he just another R & B crooner with “swag”?

Does the video denigrate women…or does it empower them?

Should we (men and women) be offended…or stop being so serious and just dance to the Song of the Summer?

That’s the real problem with blurred lines – there’s no definitive answer.  Depending on perspective, it could go either way.

For more information about the backlash, the song, the video and parodies, click on the links below.



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Man Up, Don’t Cry, Toughen Up… Stand Your Ground

Much has been discussed recently about the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case.  So much, in fact, that it is hard to say anything that has not really already been said or posted or tweeted or shouted. A recent post on missrepresentation.org , the organization we told you about last week producing a new film, takes a view on the case that is outside the realm of legality and race.  I encourage you to read it here because it is about masculinity.

The post argues that the alteraction between Martin and Zimmerman was the outcome of unhealthy, traditional masculinity.  That “prove yourself and dominate others” type of masculinity that is so pervasive in our culture. The type of masculinity that encourages violence and rape.  Both people involved seemed to buy in to this type of masculinity and not only buy into it but live by it. In fact, I don’t know very many gunowners who don’t buy in to that type of masculinity.  And, though it wasn’t the deciding factor in the case, it seems that the now famous or infamous Stand Your Ground Law protects that type of masculinity.

The name of the law itself is one of those catch phrases that gets thrown at boys and men regularly.  Along with the usual, “man up”, “don’t cry”, “take it like a man”, “fight back”, etc.. “stand your ground” is entrenched in a masculinity that is equated with violence and fighting back.  Ideally, we all would live in a culture where we felt safe in public and private places and spaces.  A world where no man or woman would have to stand their ground and if they did there would be a host of bystanders, including law enforcment, to step in. But we don’t live in that world.

The masculinity that seems to rule the day encourages men to be on both the defensive and offensive at all times. Rather than than seeking to help a stranger, masculinty says be afraid of the stanger.  Rather assuming the best in another, masculinity assumes that the other is out to get me.  Rather than living humbly and empathatically, masculinity takes everything personally.  I don’t know about you but, to me, that type of masculinity does not seem like a good way to live. And I know because, like most men, I’ve played and sometimes even continue to play by those rules too. The same rules that ended in death in Sanford, FL.

What is it going to take to change the rules ?

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The Mask You Live In

A new Kickstarter campaign is under way to help produce a film about masculinity in America.  It is called The Mask You Live In and you can learn more about it here.  Based upon the preview this looks to be a compelling film in the same tradition as other great ones like Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Tough Guise. 

With unhealthy masculinity gettting so many headlines these days, I can’t help but wonder if we are at tipping point in our culture that will allow the next generation of boys to grow up in a more healthy environment. There certainly is no lack of evidence for what traditional masculinty leads to and with films such as these aimed at the media and society at large, social change is perhaps well underway at the societal level.

Now is a great time to get involved! Mentor a young boy, model healthy masculinity, support the film, smile a strangers rather than starring them down…there are a number of ways to break the chains of unhealthy masculinty.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!


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Who is to blame? NFL? Masculinity? or Hernandez?

Recent headlines of New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez’s arrest for possible involvement in a homicide have caused some to wonder again about what is up with men in our country.  A recent Kansas City Star article phrases the question this way: “Our world is better in a million ways…so why can’t we be better at raising men?”

While I applaud the Star for taking this angle in the Hernandez story, particularly because it aligns with the work we do at KC Man Up!, I have to wonder about other dimensions in this sad and increasingly common story.  For example, consider this angle from Time about arrests on the rise in the NFL post Super Bowl 2013.  Does the NFL in some way foster more violent behavior than other sports or than the culture at large?  And while the article points out that arrests in the NFL are much higher than among other top wage earners outside of sports, I would be curious to look at arrest rates for other professional sports.  Is there a sense among football players that they will get away with crime or that regardless of the outcome sports will welcome them back and fans will still love them. O. J. Simpson and Michael Vick come to mind.

However a counter to this angle of the Hernandez story is that most NFL players do not murder people, or rape and abuse others. Most NFL players are probably pretty great guys.  So what else is going on? Could it be as the Star article suggests, a failure on the part of society or the family to raise healthy, non-violent men? Is the problem greater than the NFL, and even greater than professional sports?

Certainly it doesn’t take long to look at the staggering amounts of violence, both physical and sexual, in our country that is committedby men who are not professional athletes. Mass shootings, domestic violence, interpersonal violence, rape.  All overwhelming committed by men.  So perhaps our culture or families encourage men to behave this way. And while I certainly do agree with aspects of this theory, like say for example, that being violent is too intricately tied with being a man and encouraged in a myriad of ways in our society, I still have to wonder if something else is at work in this case. 

Because most men in our culture are not murderers or rapists, we have to be doing something right…right?

So is this just a matter of a person making a series of terrible, self-destructive and just simply destructive choices.  Is this just an Aaron Hernandez problem and not really an NFL or society or even masculinity problem? Does this have more to do with hate, anger, and power over and towards another human than cultures of violent unhealthy men? Can Aaron Hernandez be separated from his culture(s)?

According to some of the news stories Aaron Hernandez has had a history of violence and bad choices and some are not really surprised by his actions.  I wonder what the headlines would be reading if say Tom Brady had been arrested for connection to a homicide…

While perhaps Aaron Hernandez is the combination of all their theories, it still stands  that we all need to be better at teaching and encouraging men to be non-violent and also recognizing that violence is never a good way to solve conflict in our lives.

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Trying to Find The Humor

Recently, actress Jean Stapleton died.  Though she appeared on the Broadway stage and big screen, she was most famously known for her television work.  She was Edith Bunker, wife to Archie Bunker, on the 1970’s series All In The Family.  Though not always portrayed as the smartest member of the Bunker family, she quite often was the voice of reason and common sense.

Through the character of Edith, the production staff of the show was able to tackle many social topics.  Though it was considered a situation comedy show, Edith endured serious issues such as menopause and breast cancer.

She also survived an attempted rape.  I remember watching many episodes of the escapades of the Bunkers.  Sammy Davis, Jr. was in an episode, written to confront Archie’s bigotry.  And I remember the appearance of the Jeffersons before they moved on up to their own show.  But I also remember the Birthday episode.

While her family is preparing a surprise birthday party for her, Edith is trapped in her own home by a rapist.  She manages to elude his advances several times until he finally traps her one final time.  She manages to escape by removing a hot cake from the oven and tossing it on him.  She runs out of the house, to the party next door, all the guests yelling SURPRISE! as she burst through the door and into safety.  In the aftermath, Edith shuts down.  And her family tries to talk her into pressing charges, which she eventually does.

Even though I was a teenager, I was old enough to realize this was rare.  Rare to address this issue on television and on a major network.  Rare to have the story of a terrible attempted sexual assault woven into the punch lines of a sitcom.  Certain lines spoken by the characters resulted in laughter from the live studio audience.  But when it came to the scenes between Edith and the rapist, and the effects of crime, there were no laughs.

With the passing of Ms. Stapleton, I remembered the Birthday episode.  And I related it to the very sad current trend of comedians and comedy shows trying to make the act of rape a punch line.   I won’t take the time to site specific people, incidents or shows.  If you Google “how to make a rape joke” or “rape is not funny”, which hopefully you won’t, there’s more out there than you would imagine.  It seems to be coming from a younger generation.  It comes from a generation driven by the latest meme, YouTube post or viral video.  But it seems like insensitivity is what’s truly become viral.

I get it.  There’s a fine line that comedy walks between what’s funny and what’s not.  Characters losing a dead body could be funny in a sitcom.  A comedian’s joke about a guy shooting himself in the foot can be hilarious.  But no matter how well a phrase is turned or a punch line is delivered, rape is NEVER funny.

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The Sexual Assault in Norwood, CO

A recent news story by Bloomberg News is covering an incident that occurred a year and a half ago in a small Colorado town.  You can read the very disturbing account here if you wish.  As the story relays, three older students sodomized a 13 year old student with a pencil on a school bus at a wrestling tournament.  Making an already terrible situation worse, two of the perpetrators are sons of the school wrestling coach, who also happens to be the school board president.  Additionally the victim is the son of the school’s principal. Needless to say this is a very small town. I should also probably mention that the perpetrators bound the victim with duct tape and kept him from leaving the bus.

There are so many dimensions to this story and the work that we do at KC Man Up!.  However we are going to focus on two aspects that really caught our attention.  The first is the notion that appears throughout the article and in the reaction of the community that this is simply a hazing incident.  The second dimension to this article that really caught our attention is the behavior of the perpetrators. Why are they engaging in something this grotesque?

So let’s begin. Is this hazing? Is this boys being boys in the world of high school athletics? A rite of passage to make one a better athlete and teammate? The reaction and by extension defense of the coach, the perpetrators, and other school mates and community members is that this is normal, it happens all the time, and is no big deal. In fact, the victim will be better for it because this is what it means to be a part of team. I was and still am in shock by the statements made by the coach, the perpetrators father, and others. They view sodomizing a child with a pencil as no big deal.

What kind of world do we live in?

Part of the reason I think they believe is that it is done under the cover of “hazing” or some ritual that is done in spirit of teamwork and school spirit, or to make one a tougher man. The notion that this is hazing is even reinforced by the title of the article and other articles about this case. They call is “school hazing” or “sodomy hazing” or just another “hazing incident”.  If this is in fact hazing, when did sexual assault become part of hazing?  But don’t be fooled by the messaging, this is not hazing.

Hazing typically occurs when older teammates initiate younger teammates at the start of the season. This incident occurred in February of wrestling season. For high schools across our country this is the end of wrestling season, nowhere near the beginning.  The victim was 13 and in 7th grade and acting as a camera man and team manager for the tournament. He was not wrestling on the team or for the team. Why not? Because he was in 7th grade and this was a high school tournament and the perpetrators were in high school.

While I do not condone hazing, this incident comes nowhere close to what hazing is or should be.  This is purely a sexual assault. Three older students exerted their dominance over a younger student in a sexual way. Let’s call it what it is and not be lead to believe it is anything less. Because calling it anything less than sexual assault minimizes the damage and protects the perpetrators.

Ultimately, this is about proving manhood and these young boys have bought in to a tired dominant story that manhood is directly related to having power and control over others. Hazing Sexual abuse is all about power dynamics and in this case (& others like it) these guys use power and control to sexually abuse, dominate, & humiliate this younger boy. Why? To show that they are tough, cool, better than, and that this younger guy is not. It is also likely that these guys were acting on some sort of vigilante mindset coming from either or both the father of two of the perps and the community as a whole as it appears neither cared for the former principal and his family. Their collective acceptance of this abuse as ‘boys will be boys’ and rallying around the perps rather than the victim displays a complete lack of empathy and callousness.

 Proving manhood in abusing other is not new. The term “sodomy hazing” is and the fact it has become a coined term only means that it has a become a trend. The Bloomberg article refers to several similar incidents across the country so it is clear that this story in Norwood is not an isolated incident. This should be alarming to us. Teenage boys sodomizing their peers are not harmless pranks or comical acts as the term “hazing” suggests. But just as alarming is the fact that whole communities are accepting these behaviors as normative behavior. Sexual abuse is not normal. Until we label these acts as such and punish accordingly, we will only see this horrible trend continue.

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