Breaking Bad Silence explores male power

Danielle Sekerak

The first male-only discussion of rape culture at Villanova took place on October 9, creating an open forum for a diverse group of college men to explore the constitution of male power and the notion of male sexuality that contributes to sexual violence. 

A group of about 18 men sat in a circle in the Haverford Room to participate in the event “Breaking Bad Silence.” 

The discussion was aptly named: silence was absent as conversation, raw honesty and even some laughter replaced it.  

“You could feel the room changing as time went on,” said Timothy Horner, assistant professor in the Center for Peace and Justice Education. “Men were confronting each other and challenging each other in a spirit of investigation.”

The discussion was facilitated by Horner, Brian McCabe, campus minister for outreach and student formation and Ralph Gigliotti, assistant director for leadership programs within Student Life and a Sexual Assault Resource coordinator. 

These three men initiated the discussion by explaining what they were like in college and how this impacted their desire to host an event like “Breaking Bad Silence” at Villanova. 

“In college, I saw things and heard things and didn’t step up to do things that should’ve been done,” Horner said. “I have this sense of guilt of missed opportunities to be a part of the solution rather than a silent, complicit participant in a culture that invited or made it possible for men to operate with virtual impunity.”

Horner said he had no plan or agenda for the discussion but was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of topics that the men delved into—rape culture, issues of consent, the roles and responsibilities of bystanders, the objectification of women, fraternity parties, male party culture, male power, alpha males and male sexuality.

Horner said he appreciated the privacy that this all-male discussion created.

“The level of interaction was much more honest,” Horner said. “Men have had privileged voices for thousands of years. Their voices have been more honored than female voices in the public sphere. But this discussion involved male voices in a private sphere, where we weren’t imposing that voice onto women or trying to shape the discussion in a public sphere.” 

 A candid conversation about sexual violence and rape culture is not easily achieved, especially at colleges where this issue is controversial. 

“It demands a vulnerability and openness that may not typically exist when you bring together a group of college men,” Gigliotti wrote in an e-mail. “At its core, when we discuss sexual violence, we are really speaking about the dignity and worth of the human being.”

According to Horner, the discussion did not solve the problem of sexual assault and rape; but that was not its intention either.  

“The discussion was an exploration of the phenomenon of how difficult it is for men to self-monitor and how the admiration of a woman’s beauty can become destructive,” Horner said. “My role was to make sure the men didn’t slip into those tried-and-true safety nets of self-victimizing.”

Horner has been working on this idea—a male-only discussion—for years. He wanted the conversation to solely focus on male accountability. 

“We did not talk once about how women can avoid sexual assault,” Horner said. “In fact, we did not talk about women at all.”

Horner said that his long-term goal is to change the way that males view themselves so that the overall objectification of women can be changed. 

As a researcher on genocide, Horner said he has always been interested in the connection between power and rape. 

“How people define rape culture is idiosyncratic,” Horner said. “There is no consensus on what it means. But what is consistent is that men gain power with other men through their sexual activities with women. It’s not about the women or the sex. It’s about the power.”

Horner said that the men at the “Breaking Bad Silence” event understood that the idea of sex gets devalued when men use it as a way to gain favor with other men, and the media and the entertainment industry’s mistreatment of women perpetuates the problem.

“These practices are thousands of years old,” Horner said. 

The men also discussed how the concentration of males in fraternities and athletics amplifies this hyper-male culture of power.

“Men feel pressure from other men not to be virgins,” Horner said. “If they can get a girl from a sorority with more ‘points,’ for example, they gain power.”

With two teenage sons of his own, Horner sees what his children go through, and he wants to negotiate what it means to be a man for not only for his sons’ sakes but for other college males in general.

“I feel for these guys, for this age group,” Horner said. “These men are in formation. They’re still deciding who they want to be as men. If there are better men in the world, there will be less oppression of women.” 

The Public Safety Annual Security Report documented that there were seven cases of on-campus rape, one dating violence case, and 35 stalking cases in 2013. 

In 2012, there were nine sexual assault cases reported on campus, and in 2011 there were six.

 “Villanova’s problem with rape is not more or less serious than other colleges,” Horner said. “By and large, we have the same problems as everyone else. But we can’t dismiss the fact that we still have that problem.”

Gigliotti agrees that the issue of sexual violence and rape culture needs to be taken more seriously.

“As one of the Sexual Assault Resource coordinators at Villanova, I would encourage our students to familiarize themselves with the resources available for victims of sexual assault, including the on-call SARC,” Gigliotti said.

The Office of Health Promotions website maintained that a member of the SARC team is “on-call 24/7, 365 days a year for any Villanova student who needs support following an incident of sexual violence. 

If someone isn’t sure whom to talk to, calling the on-call SARC or reaching out to a familiar SARC team member is a good place to start.”

Horner said that he believed this male-only discussion was necessary for men to work out a vocabulary so that they can then move forward and create a dialogue between genders. 

“There is something valuable for men to be able to talk about issues in a space that is safe,” Horner said. “And the biggest hurdle we have is ignorance. Many guys are acting like they think men are supposed to. But that is why we need much more attention on the male side. We can’t wait for things to happen; instead, we need to have more education about it.”

In the future, Horner envisions having a series of talks with both genders present. He stressed the importance of breaking down the walls between men and women. 

Before that can happen though, Horner said men need to perform an examination of their culture.

“I want men to dare to evolve,” Horner said. “I want them to dare to have the courage to redefine masculinity. This is an uphill battle that requires support, and we must support each other. We need to redefine a new way of thinking about women as collaborators instead of competitors to male power.”