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What do the prime minister of India, retired National Football League punter Chris Kluwe, and superstar comedian Aziz Ansari have in common? It’s not that they’ve all walked into a bar, though Ansari could probably figure out the punch line to that joke. They’ve all spoken up for feminism this year, part of an unprecedented wave of men actively engaging with what’s usually called “women’s issues,” though violence and discrimination against women are only women’s issues because they’re things done to women—mostly by men, so maybe they should always have been “men’s issues.”
The arrival of the guys signifies a sea change, part of an extraordinary year for feminism, in which the conversation has been transformed, as have some crucial laws, while new voices and constituencies joined in. There have always been men who agreed on the importance of those women’s issues, and some who spoke up, but never in such numbers or with such effect. And we need them. So consider this a watershed year for feminism.
Take the speech Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave on that country’s Independence Day. Usually it’s an occasion for boosterism and pride. Instead, he spoke powerfully of India’s horrendous rape problem. “Brothers and sisters, when we hear about the incidents of rape, we hang our heads in shame,” he said in Hindi. “I want to ask every parent that you have a daughter of 10 or 12 years age, you are always on the alert, every now and then you keep on asking where are you going, when would you come back… Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are? After all, a rapist is also somebody’s son. He also has parents.”
It was a remarkable thing to say, the result of a new discourse in that country in which many are now starting to blame perpetrators, not victims—to accept, as campus anti-rape activists here put it, that “rapists cause rape.” That act, in other words, is not caused by any of the everyday activities women have been blamed for when men assault them. That in itself represents a huge shift, especially when the analysis comes from the mouths of men.
The Obama administration, too, recently launched a campaign to get bystanders, particularly men, to reach out to protect potential victims of sexual assault under the rubric “It’s On Us.” Easy as it might be to critique that slogan as a tone-deaf gesture, it’s a landmark all the same, part of a larger response in this country to campus rape in particular.