Last week I participated in a show addressing sexual violence called CockTales, written and produced by Whitney Mackman. The show was originally conceived as a counterpoint to the Vagina Monologues, with the spin being that participants read a collection of monologues and dialogues mostly written by men that address toxic masculinity and its role in the prevalence of sexual violence in our culture.
There were some concerns raised by some students that (1) this is a one-dimensional view of sexual assault, when the problem is bigger than male on female violence, and (2) that the readings would serve to normalize toxic behavior or, worse, glorify “reformed” perpetrators and thereby encourage problematic behavior by other men. The campus newspaper, The Tulane Hullabaloo, covered the controversy in article published here: CockTales tries to unpack toxic masculinity, raises concerns. Their coverage was very good, and I thank the writers for taking on this difficult story! (One small note: the linked video was not actually a part of the show this year.)
In the interest of fully describing my decision to participate in CockTales, I would like to share the full set of questions and answers from my exchange with the Hullabaloo reporters. I would also like to post a video of the Ted Talk that was the basis for my reading at the event. I hope that this can be a part of many conversations that need to place on campus and that it serves to elevate this important issue in the minds of everyone in the Tulane community.
Hullabaloo: How did you get involved with this event?
Just luck mostly! Whitney teaches creative writing courses in Gibson Hall near my office and so we have run into each other many times. We have had some great, wide-ranging conversations. For CockTales, she needed someone to read a certain monologue and apparently thought of me. I looked at the piece and thought it had a number of important ideas, so I was happy to join in.
How do you think CockTales can influence campus? In what ways do you hope CockTales will encourage discourse?
What I like about the piece I am reading, and the others I have seen so far, is that they are provocative and confrontational in addressing toxic masculinity while simultaneously being constructive in showing how we can all be a part of changing our culture for the better. And because many of the monologues are written by men, largely for men, I think it has the potential to spark important conversations in places where there has been too much silence.
I recently looked again at the results of the 2017-18 Campus Climate Survey: over 30% of women reported being victims of sexual assault; 96% of those perpetrators were men; and over 75% of the perpetrators were described as either “Romantic Partner” or “Former Romantic Partner.” We need to find as many ways as possible to reach out to young men to help them understand the urgency and the proximity of this problem. The language of CockTales is coarse at times, but it’s meant to resonate with young men in a way that I hope helps wake people up. Sexual violence is not an abstraction; it is happening within your social circles. And the change that is needed requires work from all of us.
Are there any specific themes the show highlights that resonate with you?
The role of language. In the monologue I am reading, the writer touches on how language plays such a crucial role in shifting the blame for violence from perpetrator to victim. It leads people to think that sexual violence is a women’s issue, when in fact, the issue is overwhelmingly the behavior of men. I think people have a tendency to underestimate 1) the work that words can do to make people feeling marginalized and “othered” and 2) how much we inherit the use of certain phrases from people who deliberately constructed them to euphemize terrible actions and to protect people who hold power. I think that changing the way we talk, and the way we permit others to talk around us, is a good first step that anyone can take as a “bystander.”