What Would You Say to 500 Men If You Could?

November 24, 2022

Dr. Amber Moore is an expert on sexual violence, especially in the lives of young women, and a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Education (FoE). She shared her reflections on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with FoE Marketing and Communications.

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and when I was invited to write a reflection on the significance of this day, the first text that came up for me is Andrea Dworkin’s “I want a 24 hour truce during which there is no rape” (if you decide to read this, please do take heed of its content warning). Words near the beginning struck me deeply: “What would you say to 500 men if you could?” 

I have never had an audience of 500 men. However, I read this at the beginning of my PhD program in 2016, after quitting my job as a secondary English teacher in order to pursue academia. It was a difficult decision that I mourned for a long time, and sometimes still do. I thought about how while I never spoke to 500 (young) men at once, I did speak to sometimes 20 or so in class, four times a day, in a job where I was hired in part because my principal thought that what set me apart was having volunteered at a rape crisis centre as a hotline worker. During my six years teaching, I prioritized addressing sexual violence and rape culture through stories such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (see also Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Emily Carrol), spoken word poetry such as Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley’s “Lost Voices” and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, also drawing attention to activism such as the Slutwalks and events like Sexual Assault Awareness Month. My hope is that in speaking to my students of all genders, I somehow conveyed that violence of all kinds against women is everyone’s responsibility; or, said far better by Kai Cheng Thom in her book I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes From the End of the World, “The problem of intimate and sexual violence is not individual; it is cultural. That is to say, we are responsible for it. All of us. You are. Me too” (p. 65).  

And so, I began my PhD research, focusing on how teacher candidates responded to teaching and learning about a sexual trauma text set. Then, in 2017, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo Movement - work that had been ongoing for over a decade, suddenly surged in popularity through a necessary global reckoning. In fact, during my data collection, the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were ongoing and, reminded of Dworkin’s words, I thought about how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke to so many more than 500 men: the whole world witnessed her testimony. Now, here at SFU during my Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship and under the supervision of Dr. Elizabeth Marshall, I am analyzing fanfiction written in response to YA sexual assault narratives like the aforementioned Speak. Fanfiction authors (many of whom are adolescent girls, and young people diverse in gender identities and sexualities), are re-writing stories about girls’ experiences of sexual trauma and with their boundless Internet audiences, are affording victim-survivor characters new critical witnessing, solidarity, intimacy and even love. 

In addition to reflecting on Dworkin as I write this, my attention is also fixated on the present, with the recent news of the brutal murders of five beloved members of the queer and trans community in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is perhaps also an opportunity to attend to the ways in which queer and trans women especially experience particular violences; after all, this day comes on the heels of the Transgender Day of Rememberance on November 20th. The days are close together and as such, it feels important that this year we especially remember their connections. As we grapple with the complicatedness of these days, my hope is that we all take some time and think about who our audiences are - who listens to us, whether it be 500 men or otherwise, and what we might offer them to speak in solidarity with women everywhere.