Self-Reflections of a Jerk Turned “little bit less of a jerk”: My journey into Anti-Violence Advocacy

By:  Sacchi Patel

Co-Founder MasculinityU

It was six years ago that I completed my first Fall semester at Syracuse University, now I’m on my final one. Self-reflection isn’t the most natural thing in the world, but the doctoral program applications that I’ve been filling out so tediously have required personal statements and letters of purpose.  As a result, I’ve been forced to take some time and reflect on my journey from high school, through undergraduate work, and onto my final year of my master’s degree pursuit.  If there was one thing I realized it is that I’ve changed drastically in the last six years.

This blog post is only the story of my personal journey. I don’t think my work is any more or less important than that of other advocates. I’m just looking to describe my role as a member of a team of amazing people who are committed to this cause. It’d be self-centered to think that I was a trailblazer. Plenty of men  have been standing up against violence for a while now.  Even more women have been trying to raise awareness and get others to join the cause since the outset of this movement.  There have also been transgender, gender non-conforming individuals who have also been part of the struggle.  At 23 years old, I am putting myself “out there” as a middle-class, heterosexual, Indian-American, able-bodied, man of color.  I have learned a great deal about myself and my oppressed and privileged identities.  There is one solid fact that stands out: I have a lot to offer.  I have a lot to learn.

I began my journey in high school growing up in a rather affluent area in New Jersey called Whippany where only 1% of the entire population lived below the poverty line. It was 90% White, 9% Asian, and less than 1% Black (2000 US Census).  I was involved in everything from jazz band to varsity basketball to soccer.  The sports teams I played for were highly popular (and highly successful) and propelled me into the “popular group.”  With this popularity came a great deal of privilege (or rewards for hard work as I then saw it then): friends, respect, news reporters, admiration, interest from girls/women, free lunches or dinners, and not to mention the occasional “free pass” with some of the teachers. Oh, and the rumors…they were the best part.  They were almost always false… but they were ALWAYS “good” rumors (or at least what a high school guy would consider a good rumor).  I let people think they were true. I believe all that was said about me and thought I deserved the special treatment. There was no reason to ever question why all of these rewards were being presented to me.

Without a second thought, I let my ego inflate further and moved onto to Syracuse University to begin undergraduate work as a pre-medicine, biology major.  I aspired to be a plastic surgeon.  I claimed this was so I can help people, but part of me was influenced by the early seasons of the show Nip/Tuck.  I had seen movies and heard that college was going to be “just like American Pie” and I couldn’t help but be excited. I did whatever I could to gain popularity and fit in.  I could reinvent myself right?  So that’s what I did.  I went around with the collar on my polo literally popped, acted stuck-up, and acted like I was tough and stoic all of the time.  This was especially true while I was on the basketball court in the gym trying to play a pick-up game to prove that I had skill.  This is what I valued.  This is what I thought needed to be valued.  Was it too much to want to fit in?

Wearing a mask and pretending I was this false person was tiring and uncomfortable.  It was hard being a jerk constantly.  It was hard disrespecting women to gain respect with men.  It was hard never showing emotion.  Oddly, I couldn’t be happier that this was such a difficult task for me.  You see it was easy for me to let it go.  But now where do I fit in?

I was fortunate enough to meet one of my best friends that I made in college while playing basketball one day.  He approached me and complimented my game-winning three-point basket in a pick-up game that he was watching.  I immediately thought this was out of the ordinary because another man had never really gone out of his way to compliment me and make me feel good.  He told me that he was involved in a men’s group that dialogue about violence against women.  My first instinct was to  question his sexuality or intent, but instead of putting him down we formed a friendship that exists to this day.

When my friend asked me to check out AMI: A Men’s Issue, I went.  I felt comfortable about being there.  I learned about myself as a person and as a man.  Because what did I know about masculinity?  Apparently nothing. I owe it to this student group for transforming me into the man I truly always wanted to be.

Women began to see me as a “safe” man on campus. AMI worked closely with the S.U. Rape: Advocacy, Prevention, Education (R.A.P.E.) Center and this was publicly known.  One-by-one those women whom I was friends with started to disclose that were raped.  I remember being completely devastated when the first friend told me.  I felt so badly that someone had made the decision to do something so hurtful to her.  I wished that this would never happen again.  But then it happened.  This time to another friend.  And another.  I was only 19 going on to my second year in college and already three women in my life had told me about incidents that would change their lives forever.  Iit would also change mine each time they would tell me.  It happened again and again.  As I entered my senior year, I had literally lost count of my friends who had been sexually assaulted or raped on the same campus where I took classes; The same campus where I played basketball; The same campus where the perpetrators walk next to me?!  Could Syracuse University be so unsafe that people (particularly women) were being raped as such high rates?  What was so unique about SU that this was happening?  –Nothing.  I quickly found out that this is happening all around the country.  What is wrong with our country?  –A lot.

Working closely with the S.U. R.A.P.E. Center, I learned that 1 in 4 women on college campus around the country are sexually assaulted or raped by the time they graduate.  As shocking as this was to me, I saw it right before my eyes.  As I looked into their eyes.  The eyes of each one of my friends who had been impacted by violence.

I wanted to do something.  If my friends were coming to me that obviously meant that I should at least have options for them.  I should have resources for them.  And I should be a good friend and support them however they saw fit.  Seeing women stripped of the power and control they so inconsistently held in the first place was upsetting to say the least.  I thought back to times when I felt that powerless and not in control.  I couldn’t really think of many times that happened.  I learned that though everyone can directly be victimized by sexual assault, it was almost always happening to women and by men.  Something needed to happen.  So if this is a problem that negatively impacts women then they should check their back seats next time they go to their car late at night, walk in groups, and let someone know where they are going at all times right?  Well I found that they are already doing that.  Well, then why hasn’t anything changed?  I discovered that men might actually need to join the cause to have things start to change.  If we can only control ourselves, then the potential victim or survivor cannot prevent a rape because they sure aren’t assaulting or raping themselves.  So we all have a role to play in violence prevention.

I changed my major and career path so that I can study how to truly prevent all forms of violence on an institutional level.  Working closely with the R.A.P.E Center and AMI, I was able to learn a great deal and it helped me understand that this is something I need to do.  Not just for my friends who have been impacted, not just for their friends, not just for my classmates, but for the people who I will never meet, for our future generations, and for myself.  I want to understand what it means to be a man without hurting others.  I want to understand what it means to be a good father without encouraging violence.

Not all men are jerks.  Perhaps the title of this piece is misleading yet intentionally provocative.  However, the fact of the matter is that men do face the possibility of waking up each day and being a jerk.  This is due to the power that we acquire just by identifying as men whether we want that power or not.  We are oppressive by nature due to the group we are part of.  Every single privilege that we are given has been served to us on the backs of women.    So I will offer some of the elements that I now live by while working as an Anti-Violence Advocate and a man who is against violence:

Educate other men.

Always continue learning.  We as men can never understand what it truly means to be a woman, or transgender, or any other gender identity, but we can continue to be open to listening.

Always remind yourself why you doing this work.  Are we in it to protect women and come to their rescue or are we in it to stand alongside woman and all folks united as one?

Always think about what people we are leaving out.

Always stand up for what you believe in.

I am not a hero, nor do I want to be, I am simply someone who should’ve been a part of this cause a long time ago.  There are many other people who have been doing this work and they are doing better work than I can ever do.  I am still a man whose gender has been responsible for so much devastation.  However, I am a person who will actively wake up each day and work hard to not perpetuate that devastation.

-Sacchi Patel

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16 thoughts on “Self-Reflections of a Jerk Turned “little bit less of a jerk”: My journey into Anti-Violence Advocacy

  1. Sacchi, Thanks for sharing and, even more, for growing. As the mother of two daughters I truly appreciate your views and willingness to change. My older daughter was murdered in 1997 and I will never recover from that. Oddly enough, one comfort to me is that she was NOT raped, telling you how much that would add to the infinite and indescribable damage that this did to my family.
    What you and Marc and other men are doing is so important to women but, even more, important to all of you who can learn to live within your own skin, share who and what you are, and become a complete human being.
    kudos.

  2. Regardless of what anybody else says on here this time or any other, you gotta know: you are a special person and you have made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. Keep striving and stay true.

  3. Hell yeah. This is what male privilege is meant for, let’s turn it into a constructive power!
    I love the distinction you make between “coming to their rescue” and standing united with no distinction. Keep it going!

  4. This is great Sacchi. Thanks for sharing. It is important for other men to know that its OK to have a history that isn’t perfect and that it is a never ending journey to educate and be educated, and be part of change.

    And I agree with The Don, you are an incredible person that is making a huge difference for the better! Just keep doing everything that you are and stay true to yourself and the work you are doing!

    I know that for me personally, knowing there are men out there like you , Marc, and all the other men involved in this line of work gives me huge hope for progress and change against sexual violence and violence in general for all individuals (women, LGBTQ, and men)

  5. “Every single privilege that we are given has been served to us on the backs of women.”

    And here I thought that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ahti Heinla were all men.

    • And each of those great men were given birth to, raised and nurtured by women. His point wasn’t to denigrate men but rather show that we are all stronger working together instead of against each other, or in spite of each other.

      Great reflections Sacchi and remember you’re never on this journey alone.

      • But the message wasn’t that we’re all in this together, it was that men owe a huge debt to women, because of the things other women have done for other men. Could you imagine the backlash if he had said that every single privilege women enjoy has been served to them on the backs of men?

        And really, men are “oppressive by nature?” That’s one of the most incredibly sexist things I’ve ever read.

    • BL1Y, you’re this blog’s most dedicated fan.

      I believe Sacchi meant by “privilege” not the privilege of the vote, or that of a cure for a disease (yes, I googled). He mentioned the concept of privileged vs oppressed groups, and I think that’s what he’s touching on. We have privilege at the detriment of women.

      As for “oppressive by nature”, personally it sounds like it goes a bit far. But he also makes the distinction that it’s because of “the group we are part of”, which may need some more definition to understand the statement. Anyway, I know on your blog you argued yourself a lot of things that men are, by nature, such as aggressive. Can you be aggressive without being oppressive? Aggression takes away from the aggressee. So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that you should be agreeing with him, yeah? Then it’d make sense if indeed that was one of the most sexist things you’ve ever read.

      • It’s is entirely possible to be aggressive without being oppressive, or taking away from anyone. For instance, competition is often aggressive, but tends to elevate the participants by challenging them and forcing them to improve themselves.

        And, I would like to know precisely what privileges I have that come at a detriment to women.

  6. Here’s one or two examples Bl1Y. How about the privilege of running for office without having anyone comment on your tie or haircut? Or managing a group of people without being called a bitch if you take a hard line? The privilege that men have has to do with appearance as opposed to performance. It has to do with being granted a status in the workplace that women too often have to work harder for and still may not attain.
    I’ve been reading a few of these blogs and wonder why you are so defensive and argumentative. Are you playing devil’s advocate ( a good thing) or do you truly feel that this conversation is based on some myth that only you understand and can dispel?

    • John Edwards and Joe Biden were both criticized over their haircuts. And, there are plenty of strong words used for overly aggressive men in the work place. I’m sure if you Google Donald Trump or Gordon Ramsay, you’ll find more than a few.

      And, I have not been granted any special status in the workplace. You seem to assume that by virtue of being male I must be some sort of upper-class executive with substantial political connections. I can assure you, I am not. In fact, the vast majority of men will never be managers or political candidates.

      Also, you have failed to establish how even if I had these privileges, they have come at the detriment of women. If I were more heavily scrutinized for my choice of ties, women would be better off?

  7. You asked for a single example. I gave several. I know nothing of you other than that you seem incapable of accepting the fact that SOME women are put in very difficult, if not impossible, positions by SOME men and that men are in the catbird seat when it comes to challenging and changing that behavior. If all men were to continue to take your positions, which are consistently contrary to this conversation, then nothing will ever change. I am very curious about your unwillingness to grant this point.

    • Yes, it is true that some women are put in difficult positions by men. It is also true that some men are put in difficult positions by women.

      The examples that I asked for were ones where the privilege men hold is the direct cause of the detriment to women. You provided no such example.

      If a business were to give all its male employee a 10% bonus (just for being men), they have received a privilege, but not to the detriment of women, who are no worse off for the men getting paid more. Likewise, if instead of the bonus to men, the company docks the pay of its female employees 10% (simply for being women), they suffer a detriment, but the men gain no privilege. The co-existence of some privileges and some detriments does not mean that they are causally connected.

  8. So, I gather that your selective logic tells you that there is no violence against women, that even if it were, men have nothing to do with it, and if they did, that it isn’t worth trying to change?

    I commended you for the possibility of playing devil’s advocate but, clearly, that is not the case. Your misogynistic and narrow point of view doesn’t make for much of a discussion. I’m willing to concede that sometimes “life ain’t fair” for men, too. That said, I don’t see many of them being raped, date raped, or as victims of domestic violence, which is what is at issue here.
    Locker room “humor” that makes women the butt of the joke is only a beginning and sets the stage for attitudes that too closely resemble yours and which then lead to the kind of denigration, humiliation and subjugation that result in violence. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it and I hate it. Please open your mind and listen. Your argumentative posing will never lead to any kind of real solutions or to the change that we seek. Try a little Gandhi.

    • As I said, I was asking for an example where the privilege men receive comes at a detriment to women. It is a fact that women are the majority of victims in rape and sexual assault cases. But, men generally do not receive a privilege because of this. I suppose you could argue that the specific perpetrators receive a privilege, but men at large do not.

      That’s not “selective logic” that’s just regular logic. If you have an example where the privilege men receive CAUSES the detriment to women, please state it.

  9. You can’t always put a measurable value on the privileges and detriments of men and women (and I use those terms loosely because not everyone identifies). Not everything comes down to monetary differences. However, the action of males receiving privilege that women are denied perpetuates the patriarchy that inarguably oppresses women. The occasion of one specific man receiving a privilege is not necessarily at the expense of one specific woman receiving a privilege, but the society that has provided the man with the privilege IS also responsible for the detriment of the woman. So they are in fact, causally connected because it is the patriarchal society causing both of them.

    On another note,
    It is not necessary to agree with every individual statement included by the writers on this blog. But I hope people don’t dismiss the entirety of what these guys are doing based on those few statements that don’t ring true across the board. Keep up the great work Sacchi and Marc!

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