This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel with 11 fellow students to India to study human trafficking.
Throughout that time, I consistently felt ashamed of my male identity, and I experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt by association.
The truth is, I am guilty.
I am guilty, but I want to take ownership of my guilt and turn it into something productive.
Men are always using women. You can see it in our hook-up culture, in pornography and in our daily lives.
Sadly, we see this most prominently in prostitution.
While in India, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to some of the women who worked in prostitution.
I watched as my female friends connected with them. It was amazing.
Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, a genuine bond was still formed.
These women treated us like guests, making sure we had drinks before they did and even giving some of us gifts.
I didn't understand why they were treating us so nicely, until one of them said she was so thankful for the amount of respect we were showing.
She explained she couldn’t remember the last time she had the opportunity to just “hang out.”
However, throughout the exchange, the women were rightfully rather standoffish in my presence.
As women in prostitution, they, along with 3,500 others around GB Road and many more across the globe, face 11 to 25 “clients” a day.
That’s around 5,000 men a year.
Many of those men rape and physically abuse these women, treating them as if they are nothing but parts of a transaction.
How is it that one of the most intimate interactions between genders can be degraded to a transaction?
Don’t think this treatment is only present in India. It's everywhere prostitution takes place, and it has been that way throughout history.
After our time with the women concluded with pictures and hugs, the five women in my group and I walked down GB Road to experience a glimpse of what these women go through every day.
The only women we could see were the ones who occasionally peered out the windows of the brothels.
We stood out, to say the least.
I straggled in the back on my own so I could keep an eye on everyone in the group. I watched as every single man stared at my friends.
It looked as if they were undressing them with their eyes.
They shouted things, made inappropriate gestures and followed them like a pack of hungry wolves.
I felt so much rage.
I was overwhelmed with anger, and I felt the need to physically react to every single onlooker, especially the ones making gestures.
I’m not sure how much longer I could have gone without reacting in some way.
The sad thing is, this wasn't the only instance an overwhelming amount of attention was inappropriately paid to my friends.
Everywhere we went, crowds of men gathered around us in public places.
At its core, this isn't so different from what occurs in the United States.
The sexual objectification of women is commonplace, and it's perpetuated by an acceptance of the “boys will be boys” mentality.
Recently, one of my friends shared with me her own story of abuse at the hands of a man.
After a few short weeks of landing an incredible internship, her boss began to give her more responsibilities.
He then rewarded her with small gifts “as result of good work” and invited her to attend a weekend conference.
Initially, she was excited because her skills and hard work were being recognized.
But at the heart of that invitation was something much more sinister.
The first night of the conference, he opened the door between their hotel rooms.
He proceeded to push my friend up against the wall in her room and forcibly rape her.
After he was finished, he left her on the floor, crying.
As she shared her testimony, I felt that same sense of rage begin to swell in my chest.
He ripped away her worth and treated her as something for the taking, something voiceless and unworthy of respect.
He saw her as nothing but something he could buy off; he robbed her of her dignity.
Now, all I feel is shame.
I'm sad to say she isn't the first woman to share such a traumatic story with me.
But, despite everything these women have been able to share, they refuse to be victims.
All I know is their stories need to continue to be heard, and the guilt I feel as result is in some way necessary.
This isn't to say there aren't any men who challenge the norm.
There are men who respect women as capable equals, not just as mothers and housewives.
There are men who are capable of working for a woman without question.
There are men who cherish relationships and revel in the amazing opportunity they may have to walk beside a woman in friendship or in love.
Real men recognize the inherent dignity and worth of all.
This world needs more real men. This world needs more men who take ownership.
This world needs more men who see women’s issues as people’s issues.
This world needs more men who strive for holistically compassionate personhood.
In a world where men are the problem, men can also be part of the solution.
No longer should we view feminism as a zero sum game in which one side wins at the cost of the other.
Instead, we should proudly proclaim we stand together.
Male feminists should not be a rarity.
In the end, men will play a key role in creating lasting change on issues such as these.
Pornography and prostitution cannot exist without demand. Women and young girls would not be trafficked if men stopped buying sex.
Rape culture cannot exist if we stop accepting “boys will be boys,” and begin expecting “men to be men.”
I can't say for certain I know what it means to be a man, but I do know one thing: Whatever we have today isn't working, and it needs to be changed.
Men, we don't have to feel eternally guilty.
We can change, and our very humanity mandates we change.
After all, we share a common identity as humans.
We are all equally responsible in this fight for the dignity of all.