Allies Address Assault

With spring a month away and snow still covering campus, “skirt weather” seems like part of a distant future. Yet for a group of Boston College men, a chilly Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to don that particular item of clothing.

Last Thursday, male volunteers stood in the academic Quad between classes, wearing skirts as part of “Don’t Skirt the Issue,” an awareness event coordinated by Allies, aimed at ending gender-based violence.

“We are calling on you, the men of Boston College, to take a stand against sexual assault and violence against women,” read the event’s description on its Facebook page. “We are tired of living in a culture that blames survivors of sexual assault, and we need our male allies to step up and help in the fight against gender-based violence.”

According to Melanie Courtemanche, vice president of Allies and A&S ’13, the idea for the event originated over Winter Break. After a young woman in India was gang-raped on a bus, eventually dying from injuries that she sustained during the assault, Indian men held a protest in response to comments from politicians implicating her outfit as a cause for the attack.

“Over the winter break, our president, David [Riemer, A&S ’14] had run across a story about these male protestors in India, who wore skirts to protest some comments from some political figures about a famous rape case in the country,” Courtemanche said. “The figures said something about how the survivor had been wearing a skirt at the time, and had implicated that as a possible contributor to the rape case. So these men stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this treatment anymore.'”

The event also coincided with “V-Day,” and the One Billion Rising movement, a global effort to end violence against women and girls. Started in 1998 by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, V-Day is an ongoing campaign to put an end to gender-based violence. One Billion Rising, an event whose name references the statistic that one in three women (or around one billion) will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, took place around the world last Thursday, and consisted of women coming together to demonstrate collective strength. “Don’t Skirt the Issue” was held on the same day, bringing another dimension to the event.

“The idea of our event was not, obviously, to end gender-based violence by having men wear skirts,” Courtemanche said. “It was really making violence against women and gender-based violence an issue that men cared about too. So we really wanted to make people aware that it’s an issue that should be affecting men and women, not just women-because it’s often considered just a women’s issue.”

About 35 people were involved during the day of the event, including those who had signed up to wear skirts, and those who were present to give out more information. Additionally, according to Courtemanche, about 12 male leaders on campus agreed to be photographed in skirts before the event for use in Allies’ promotional materials.

“We received, actually, a lot of really positive responses,” Courtemanche said. “Some people obviously kind of had weird looks and didn’t really understand what our campaign was about-but for the most part, people were really receptive to what we were doing.” She said that a few passersby thanked Allies for taking the time to bring the campaign against gender-based violence to the community’s attention.

“It wasn’t for men to stand up for women, but for men to stand up with women, and to basically just say, ‘Enough is enough,'” Courtemanche said. “We really don’t want the idea of our event to be that we need men to save women from gender-based violence-instead we just want it to be something that men care about, and that they’ll stand beside women and fight against it.”
Courtemanche expressed her appreciation of the support that the BC community showed for the event, and said that Allies would most likely host the campaign again next year.

“We received phenomenal feedback that we didn’t expect,” she said. “I expected it to be this short, not really noticed campaign, but it ended up being a lot bigger than we thought it would be. It was great to see men come out in solidarity with women.”

About Eleanor Hildebrandt 92 Articles
Eleanor Hildebrandt was the 2014 Editor-in-Chief of The Heights. She liked puns then and it's a safe bet that she likes them now. Follow her on Twitter at @ehhilde.