Do the Work: Audrie & Daisy and Unlearning Toxic Masculinity


Originally published on Medium. Dara Khan lives, works and writes in San Francisco. He writes essays, film reviews and weird fiction. You can find him on social media @palakchaval.

Audrie & Daisy is a documentary film that was just added to Netflix. It’s about the aftermath of sexual assault in the lives of two different high school students. It’s an important film and I think it’s worth watching and talking about.

Audrie Pott went to Saratoga High School in California, where I spent four vivid, difficult and beautiful years and forged deep, lifelong friendships. It is jarring to see familiar sights like the quad and the 200 wing and the football field as the backdrop of a story that ended so tragically.

But I think it would be a greater tragedy to turn away from this, and to consider her story an anomaly. I know that it’s not; I think we all know, really, that it’s not anomalous at all. The “elsewhere” where we think these things occur does not exist. It is everywhere, because sexual assault is a systemic problem.

Chances are we all know someone who has been sexually assaulted, and if we don’t, it’s likely that we’re simply not aware. Shame, denial and silence are how this crime festers.

This issue is worth educating ourselves about, and challenging our preconceptions about, and talking about in our communities. The alternative is that we fail the members of our village who most need our help, which means we’re disproportionately failing women, and young women especially.

For the guys, especially: We need to step it up. We can’t just wait until we have daughters of our own to realize that women are human beings, with the same inalienable personhood that we take for granted each day. This should not be an epiphany. But in our culture, the devaluing of women’s lives is a poisonous reality, and it’s one that we all play into and help to co-create.

I don’t want to be part of a masculinity that defines itself through violence, control and treating others as objects.

I reject that completely. I don’t have a clear answer about what should replace it, but I do know that I can’t accept the values of any social fabric that dehumanizes and trivializes the lives of my friends, family, neighbors and peers.

I also know that unlearning these values starts with myself, with challenging my own beliefs and blind spots. That’s something I’ve had to commit myself to in the years since high school, and doing so has put me in touch with a lot of inner ugliness. But it’s also allowed me to heal myself, day by day, of that ugliness.

Do the work. Whether that means watching a documentary or doing your own research, searching your soul or having conversations with partners and family and friends, do the work. Even if you think it doesn’t make a big difference in your life, chances are it will end up making all the difference in someone else’s.

To explore the educational materials Futures Without Violence developed to accompany Audrie & Daisy please go here