(Original post is from 2017; last updated April 2020)
RE: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Charlie Sheen, Tony Cornish, Louis CK, Dan Schoen, Donald Trump, and far too many others.
In my ongoing quest to break out of the thinkpiece cycle (where things happen in the world, and my first impulse is to write an essay to let people know “here’s what I think about THIS,” because there are plenty of other/better people doing that already), I figured I’d try to share something practical. What follows are some poem/videos, links, and resources for people trying to teach about consent, healthy sexuality, and dismantling rape culture. Feel free to add more in the comments.
One initial note, just something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the links/resources that “work” for people who already agree with us aren’t always the ones that will “work” when trying to convince others. This is especially true with poems, which are sometimes designed to get the already-sympathetic audience to make noise. That is not to say that preaching to the choir is bad (it isn’t), or that it’s everyone’s responsibility to always be educating others (it isn’t), or that there’s a clear line between audiences who “get” it and those who don’t (there definitely isn’t). It is to say, however, that it’s important for us to be intentional when we’re trying to figure out what tool might open up a space for dialogue and growth in a particular setting.
1. A Few Poems
Clearly, “here’s a poem” isn’t going to be the best approach for every audience in every situation. But I think these videos are valuable because they focus on narrative– people telling their stories and attempting to reframe how the larger culture tends to approach these issues. A poem, followed by dialogue, can be a great entry point for deeper understanding. These poems are not my choices for “the best” poems on this topic; they’re poems that do specific work that may be useful in educational spaces; find more at my database of poems on various issues.
- American Rape Culture by Desireé Dallagiacomo & FreeQuency: This poem may be useful as an entry point into this discussion because of the sheer volume of its examples, and how it moves from those song lyrics into an exploration of the larger culture that both drives, and is driven by, those specific examples. The poem addresses the cumulative impact of rape culture, which is an important concept for people to grasp as they begin to learn more.
- Friend Zone by Dylan Garity: I’ve always appreciated the work that this poem does, how it seems to genuinely be written for the people it claims to be speaking to. The first half of the poem “humorously” explores the “friend zone,” before the second half of the poem dismantles it by really digging into what that concept represents in terms of male entitlement, ownership, and rape culture.
- Sons by Terisa Siagatonu & Rudy Francisco: If we can understand rape culture as a force that is fundamentally larger that individual instances of harm, more complex than just victims and perpetrators, that’s a first step toward understanding what we can actually do about it.
- Paper Dolls by Sierra DeMulder: I’ve shared this poem a lot over the years, because it’s an example of a poem that isn’t just “about” rape culture, but has something very specific to say about it. This is a poem how our society treats survivors, what is expected of them, and how we can do better. A potential pairing with Know Your IX’s “Supporting a Survivor: The Basics” resource.
- Unsinkable by Anna Binkovitz: In my experience having conversations about these issues with men, one hurdle that comes up over and over again is our inability to understand “violence” as anything less than literal, physical harm. This poem, through both personal narrative and extended metaphor, shows the danger in that.
- Pigeon Man by Jamila Woods: This is a poem that addresses street harassment, but also does a masterful job exploring the idea of power, and how gender violence is rooted less in sex and more in power– and powerlessness. By talking about something very specific, the poem is able to build a case for a much bigger idea.
- The Aesthetic of Rape Culture by Blythe Baird: Part of the value of these videos is that a lot of them use personal stories to present counter-narratives, to dispel myths. This poem could be useful in spaces where the discussion is about how the “stranger in the bushes” archetype hides the reality that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim/survivor already knows, including partners (especially in situations where statistics don’t tell the whole story)
- Action by Guante: I wanted to write a poem that did two things: first, it’s a challenge to men to talk to other men about sexual assault, proactively and preemptively; second, it’s a poem that implicates all of us– rape culture is so much bigger than victims and perpetrators. It’s about how we all draw from, and contribute to, gender violence. It’s also about the power that we have– as a community– to do something about it.
- Consent at 10,000 Feet by Guante: Specifically, the second half of this poem, which attempts to directly address the questions that come up in conversations about consent– the whole “what if” stuff and “grey area” stuff. My hope is that the metaphors help drive home what a healthy zero tolerance policy for gender violence (which includes rape, but also includes things like catcalling and other forms of harassment) might look like.
- Finally, a separate database of poem/videos exploring the connections between masculinity and violence. To really disrupt and dismantle rape culture, we have to understand its roots; we have to understand how so much of this starts with how young men learn about masculinity solely through the lens of power, domination, and control.
2. Other Resources
These aren’t poems, but are resources that may be useful as supplementary materials.
- To get it out of the way right away, here’s that “Consent/Tea” video that seemingly everyone uses. I think there are limits to its usefulness, particularly when it’s just shared with no followup. It may work as a first step to a deeper conversation, though, or even as a “so what was good and not-so-good about that video?” discussion starter.
- Let’s Talk About Consent: a three-minute overview (made by NYU students) about what consent really means. It doesn’t use any clever metaphors, but it’s brief and straightforward; potentially a good followup to (or replacement for, depending on your audience) the tea video.
- The Rape Culture Pyramid: I’ve usually seen this visual used to make connections between “small” acts/habits and the larger reality of gender violence. That’s an important connection to make, but this visual can also be a great way to begin to talk about solutions. In the same way that small acts/habits sustain rape culture, small acts and changes in habit can begin to disrupt and dismantle it.
- Listening to What Trump’s Accusers Have Told Us by Jia Tolentino at the New Yorker: This piece is about Trump, but can very much be read as a piece about powerful men in general, and the many obstacles women face coming forward with stories of assault and harassment.
- This Is What a News Cycle That Holds Sexual Predators Accountable Looks Like by Stassa Edwards at Jezebel: Explores the common response of “I’m just worried this might become a witch hunt.”
- Dear Men: It’s You, Too by Roxane Gay at the NYT: On the importance of men taking responsibility for shifting the culture.
- Mariame Kaba on Democracy Now: Makes the connection between domestic violence and mass violence: “We… tend to minimize private violence and focus on the spectacular examples of public violence. But if we don’t address that private violence, then we are going to continue to see public violence in the ways that we have.”
- Voices of Men’s “11 Things Men Can Do:” I recently performed at their annual event, and am struck by how robust this collection of links, videos, and resources on a range of action items is.
- From #MeToo to #WeConsented: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Consent by adrienne marie brown at Bitch Media: This is a great read, drawing together recent events with a larger exploration of consent and consent culture.
- Chanel Miller’s victim impact statement. Miller’s memoir, “Know My Name,” is also one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years.
- How Do We Build a Culture of Consent?: This is a project I’ve been working on; check it out both as a zine, and as a full episode of the #WhatsGoodMan podcast.
Again, there are many other good links and resources; feel free to add more in the comments, or make your own list like this.