As a society in general, it seems as though we often look to high-profile, public figures for guidance. These people have the power to make waves that reverberate through our culture and have undeniably lasting effects, whether for the better or for the worse.
Because of that, it is essential that we hold these people to a higher level of accountability, and that we not loosen our moral code simply because of fame or stature.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods and director of Conscious Capitalism, has recently proven exactly why this is true. Mackey released a statement last June pledging his loyalty to his friend Marc Gafni, an ex-rabbi accused of child molestation and using his position to extort children. Gafni said of one of his young accusers, “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”
In response, more than 130 activists, students, and professors have recently signed an open letter to Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, imploring them and Mackey to open a dialogue concerning sexual violence and rape. As of yet, there has been no response.
When I came to this university, so many expectations were thrust upon me. I was told to expect certain things, and along with “freshman 15” and “syllabus week” one of the many phrases consistently tossed around was “rape culture.”
The problem around rape and sexual assault is not something confined to college campuses, and fixing just one aspect of our society is not going to solve this problem. This is an issue ingrained in all areas of
culture, and rape is most certainly interwoven into the entire fabric of our society. This is not an issue with certain “rotten parts” of our culture, this is an issue with our culture as a whole, and it is our entire culture that will need reform if this issue is to be fixed.
If anything is ever going to change, we are going to need a total transformation in the way we think. We will need to look at our society and our culture differently. We will all need to stand up and declare that the safety of others comes before money, before institutional pride, before religion, before sports, before fame, before anything.
There is no doubt sexual violence is a threat that could affect anyone. It could be your sister, your daughter, your son, your friend — every area of our culture is affected, and if you are lazy in achieving the solution, you are part of the problem.
The problem expands beyond businesses and campuses. It affects professional sports too. Just look at Jerry Sandusky’s systemic abuse of children at Penn State University — one of the most notorious and infamous of such cases ever to surface. His abuses were widespread, and among his victims was his own adopted son, Matthew Sandusky.
In an interview, Matthew made it clear that he believes our culture’s largest problem arises when people tie themselves to a certain institution, and then feel obligated to protect that institution by whatever means necessary — even if that means silencing victims of sexual violence.
“People with money in the institution rally together to protect the institution, and they shun the victims, and they shun the people being hurt,” he said. “It happens at any type of institution — it could be a football team or a church or whatever.”
For this change to take place, a revolution in both cognition and belief must first occur. We must no longer consider if a young woman on a college campus really needs to carry around pepper spray while out on a walk, but instead consider the fact that she feels as though she has to, because that in itself should be more than enough to alert everyone there is a serious problem.
If this change in thought is ever going to occur, we will need people like John Mackey to stand up and take a definitive stance against sexual violence. Because like it or not, he has the public’s ear, and what he says does influence opinion, and can create change. Until he does this though, we too can take a stand. There is a Whole Foods here in Madison. Stop shopping there. Write to him, and let him know that either he promotes a society where everyone is safe, or he has no place here.
Living on a college campus, it is our responsibility to put an end to sexual assault and rape, but we don’t bear that responsibility alone. There is no “rape culture,” there is only “culture.” Nearly everything about the way our society is set up and how we act inherently promotes sexual violence.
As the leading activists, intellectuals and change-makers of tomorrow, we must be the ones to create the change in thought necessary for physical change to occur. This is not a confined or easily identifiable problem. This is not some bad limb we can just chop off and then get on with our lives — this is a disease. This is an infection that everyone has, and everyone bears the responsibility of. Either we all work together to find a cure, or we all go down.
Kort Driessen ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in neurobiology.