Detroit Lions Linebacker DeAndre Levy Writes Powerful Essay Linking Toxic Masculinity To Rape Culture

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When you think “tough” or “masculine”, its easy to conjure up images of someone like Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy. After all he plays professional football, and being an athlete is often considered the height of modern masculinity, right? What about when it goes wrong?

What happens when high profile pro sports cases like Ray Rice, Jerry Sandusky, Mike Tyson or even the numerous  college football rape cases start to become a more common association with masculinity, turning the idea of professional athleticism into a playground rife with rape and sexual assault, than it is touchdowns and Super Bowls?

Toxic masculinity and its link to rape culture and sexual assault is the topic of a powerful essay written by DeAndre, appropriately titled ‘Man Up’ on Theplayerstribune.com. He sets up the premise of his argument by claiming the more narrow and dangerous the idea of masculinity becomes, it turns into an ideal that cannot even exist without taking advantage of others.

“Man Up!”, “You Pussy!”, and “grow a pair” are just some of the common statements he points out which are often made to men if they fail to live up to the stereotypical notion of a man who never cries, never shows emotion, and equates anything done like a woman as “weak”.

“These are insults that are so commonplace that we have all encountered them at some point, be it on a playing field, in a locker room or in any other situation where being “strong” and “tough” is paramount. They’re all based on the generally accepted premise that the worst thing you can do/say to a man is to question his masculinity,” he begins his essay.

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“All of these statements are related to a man showing vulnerability or weakness, which is immediately connected to them being feminine. So taking things a step further, if appearing feminine has all of these negative connotations, how does that affect how men view women on a societal level?” he asks.

Since the opposite of weakness is power, DeAndre says one of the common ways power is connected to a man is through his sexual exploits. While he is specifically addressing the issue of rape and sexual assault within professional football, Deandre does point out this is a wider societal problem, not just a sports problem.

“The dehumanization and objectification of women are not issues that are specific to male athletes. They are societal problems. But they tend to be more associated with athletes in part because we are often idolized because of our athletic ability. In many ways, we’re considered models of masculinity, which is at the very root of a lot of these issues. So in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to use my platform as an NFL linebacker to discuss how we talk about rape and sexual assault — because not enough men are,” he said.

While outlining that assault takes on many forms (woman assaulting a woman, a man assaulting a man, and a woman assaulting a man) he purposefully focuses on men who assault women as it is the most common form. For him, the slippery slope starts with the lack of understanding around consent.

“Consent only occurs when a woman clearly says yes. Consent is not being naked, it’s not kissing, and it’s not touching or flirting. It’s a clear, freely given yes, which is not the same as the absence of a no,” he explained.

DeAndre recalls being a college football player and hearing stories from other freshman who would brag about sexual acts which he would later come to understand were gang rape.

“A decade later, I carry guilt for not acting after hearing a story (and many others) that painted a picture of what I would now identify as rape. This speaks to just how toxic and backward the culture around sexual assault still is. I was 18 years old — “man” enough to drive, vote and go to war — but somehow I didn’t have the courage, or the maturity, to see what they were talking about for what it was: a serious crime,” he recalled.

He also calls “bullsh*t” on the culture of victim blaming, where the emphasis on telling women not to get raped by not drinking too much, wearing certain clothing, and making it out to be a “woman’s issue”.

“Why are we not also focused on educating young men about the definition of consent and what constitutes rape? We’re essentially dealing with the problem by telling women to be more careful,” he said.

His message is right in line with the Obama Administration’s ‘It’s On Us’ campaign urging every bystander to speak up and step in if they see a situation where a girl is in trouble. The campaign even released a video featuring prominent pro footballers, giving a subtle nod to the pervasive culture that the sport is very well known for in the media. Deandre, too, is urging men to defy the conventional wisdom around supposed “masculinity” and instead change the idea of being a “man” into one where they are allies and support to women.

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“We need to teach young men how to be allies — explain to them the emotional and psychological effects that abuse victims often carry with them for their entire lives. We need men to understand that there are likely women close to them who have experienced an assault and never told a soul,” he said.

His newfound perspective on sexual assault and rape perpetuated by the hallowed professional sports industries in the United States came from a presentation on domestic abuse and sexual violence that NFL players were given. It opened his eyes and mind to the nuances of assault, how the “boys will be boys” mantra becomes an easy scapegoat for such behavior, and why it is so easy to blame or ignore victims.

“According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), seven out of 10 sexual assaults are never reported. When they are reported, almost 98% of assailants will never spend more than a day in jail. It’s also worth noting that four out of five assaults are committed by someone known to the victim,” said DeAndre.

Not shockingly, he admits that while girls are very likely to grow up being told how to avoid becoming a victim of rape or abuse, he was never told not to rape or sexually assault someone. He now wants to use his voice to challenge the culture in his professional and help other men become enlightened about this issue.

“Sexually “conquering” as many women as possible is expected and admired — so much so that there’s often a silent competition amongst groups of males over who can get the most women. An athlete’s sense of entitlement to a woman’s body is exacerbated because he has been idolized and put on a pedestal in a hyper-masculine culture,” he said.

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While he does admit ever man in society has the opportunity to take a stand against this epidemic, he really wants to see more football players flip the script on the common associations surrounding them and sexuality. His taboo-breaking essay is certainly reminiscent of the famous Desmond Tutue quote (pictured above).

“It’s important for men, especially in a hyper-masculine culture that breeds so many assholes, to stand up and challenge the values that have been passed down to us. This is not just a woman’s problem…I’m asking my fellow athletes to take this opportunity to step up. As professional athletes, we have the prominence in our communities to effect real change.”

He ends with: “When we talk, people listen. So in a sense, our general silence on this issue is condoning it. So let’s change that. Speak out with me. Man up.”

We are so thankful to see DeAndre speak up like this, when it could’ve been easy to just stay silent and focus on the more prominent aspects of his career. But instead he chose to lead by example and be part of a movement that is going to break down unhealthy and dangerous ideas of toxic masculinity, and replace it with one that treats every woman with respect, not like a sexual object.

To read the full essay click here. And if you are interested in learning more about leaders who are creating change around sexual assault and rape within male-driven industries like sports and the military, check out the work of Dr. Jackson Katz.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Photographer's 'Dear Brock Turner' Series Exposes The Cultural Failure Around Victims Of Rape - GirlTalkHQ

  2. Pingback: Violence Prevention Org. Working With Schools To Educate Teen Boys About Toxic Masculinity - GirlTalkHQ

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