An Arizona State University rally against rape culture has been criticized for actually promoting rape culture because it encourages men to respect women — and respect for women should be “a given” and not have to be encouraged.
Two organizations, a women’s group named “WOW Factor!” and a men’s group named “Man Up,” have hosted the “Rally for Respect” at the university annually — but an opinion column in the school newspaper last week raised troubling concerns about the rally and the groups involved.
In the column, student Kaelyn Polick-Kirkpatrick said she had been listening to video statements from the 2013 event and was disturbed to hear things such as, “That 300 men have pledged to respect women on campus is something really great” and “when the men were doing the pledge to respect women, I was thinking wow, this is really cool.”
“Are we really rewarding men for respecting women?” she wrote, comparing the rally to “handing out gold stars to mildly decent human beings who probably don’t even realize the organizations they are part of are full of sexism and misogyny.”
Polick-Kirkpatrick explained that this “sexism and misogyny” was evident in the group’s names: The “WOW” in the women’s group title stands for “Women of Worth,” implying that women cannot have any worth unless they join the group. The phrase “man up,” meanwhile, reinforces “masculinity that inherently degrades feminine identities.”
Although these complaints may seem extreme, many people seem to agree with them. Comments on both the column and the Facebook post sharing it included “It had to be written,” “Perfect in so many ways,” and “Thanks for writing this article! Someone needed to articulate what we were all thinking!”
Other commenters joined in attacking the groups. One slammed group members as lacking “common sense” or “the brain cells to check their very own names for misogynistic and slut-shamey phrases.” Naming the men’s group “Man Up” is “like creating a group promoting racial equality and naming it ‘The Confederates Had It Right,’” one wrote.
Dan Coburn, a 2011 ASU graduate who got involved in the group’s work as an alumnus, tells National Review Online that he hears these kinds of accusations often.
“It’s not something our organization is not used to,” he says in an interview. “It’s pretty common for people from similar standpoints to criticize [efforts like Man-Up] the way they do.”
Coburn says that the problem with Polick-Kirkpatrick’s criticism is that it comes from focusing on a “personal connotation” of the group’s name “as opposed to an actual logical philosophical discussion of the purpose of the organization,” which is, of course, to reduce sexual assault.
“It’s important because nobody should have to feel unsafe on the college campus, in their college experience,” he says. “Everyone should be able to experience their time in college and not be afraid of being sexually assaulted.”
The 2014 Rally for Respect was held in September.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.