Teen starts club to encourage male peers to join the conversation about ‘rape culture’
It was by chance that Ezugo Ononye found himself on the Sage Hill School campus in Newport Beach the same weekend as a women’s empowerment summit in April last year.
After finishing work on a project, he happened upon GEMFest, a celebration of young women that encourages the pursuit of entrepreneurial interests, and noticed “how much fun everyone was having there and the positive impact it had on students.”
He decided to join the Girls Empowerment Movement chapter on campus to try to “make a difference” for the young women in his community.
He eventually turned his attention to his male peers.
Ezugo, a Sage Hill junior, continues to serve on the Newport Coast private high school’s GEM team in web development and as a financial co-manager. But he founded Boys Against Rape Culture in November to take on a larger conversation about “rape culture” and the male role in it.
The term emerged from the feminist movement in the 1970s and is loosely defined as an atmosphere in which societies tend to trivialize or dismiss violence against women or blame them for it.
“A lot of people don’t look to men as allies to the [feminist] cause,” Ezugo said. “It shouldn’t be unusual to have a guy talk about problems that we’re perpetuating in our society. So, I felt that by starting BARC and working with GEM, I can show there are a lot of male allies to the feminist cause.”
He said the club is a space for boys to talk about topics that normally would be considered taboo. He knows the conversation can be uncomfortable, but that’s necessary, he said.
Meetings typically feature experts invited from UC Irvine and elsewhere in the community to speak to groups of about 10 to 15 students about rape culture. Previous topics of the meetings, held every other month, focused on sexual harassment in the workplace and at school, consent and healthy relationships.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in late 2018 that up to 80% of women experience workplace sexual harassment.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience sexual violence or attempted assaults in college, and about 31% of females age 14 to 18 are victims of sexual violence or assault.
Feminist movements such as #MeToo and the Women’s March have gained traction in recent years.
“I think men should be very involved with conversations about rape culture,” Ezugo said. “I don’t think they should overpower women and take away from their stories, but I feel that men should have conversations and talk about these situations and give their view on them.”
Leslie Frankel, a Sage Hill junior and member of BARC, agreed.
“It is not only women who should be promoting their fellow women,” she wrote in an email. “If men help women in their path to women’s rights, it is a larger support group that is advocating for action.”
She said she feels safer on and off campus because of BARC, knowing she has male classmates who support “the safety of their female peers.” She added that the organization has empowered her to speak on behalf of her friends who “might not have the courage to do so themselves.”
For BARC member Zachary Decker, also a junior at Sage Hill, the club was an “entry to a deeper understanding of women’s struggles.” Since joining, he said, he has come to “face and understand” the movement and his place in helping the cause.
“A large part of the problem with the rape culture today is the stigma around bringing it up to talk about,” Zachary said. “I think it was great of [Ezugo] to take the first step in starting the conversation, and I’m sure it will inspire others to do the same.”
Ezugo said his club and GEM are considering a collaborative event where students could talk about the feminist movement.
“I feel that men are largely one of the causes of perpetuating rape culture and … that the media covers the men that [cause harm], not the men that are helping,” Ezugo said. “I wanted our Sage Hill community to be highlighted as helping with the #MeToo movement and feminism altogether.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.