A Critique of #NotAllMen

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A lot of feminists have a bee in their bonnets about the hashtag campaign “not all men,” on the grounds that it detracts attention from the conversation asserting that men cause certain problems, and because, as they argue, exceptions don’t disprove the rule.

I suppose I’m glad that there are folks out there who at least acknowledge that ALL men aren’t responsible for the ills caused by some, but I maintain that #NotAllMen, far from being a distraction from a more important conversation, isn’t good enough at absolving men as a group from blame for social ills.  “Not all men” still implies that a significant enough proportion of men behave in these ways (oppressive, sexually aggressive, violent, etc.) to discuss it as a male behaviour in the first place.  The overwhelming majority of men do not do these things.  This would be like rebutting the racist statement “black people steal!” with “not ALL black people steal!”  This rebuttal would be questioned on the grounds that most black people don’t steal, and describing stealing as a black behaviour at all (rather than a human behaviour that anyone can engage in) is still racist.

#NotAllMen isn’t good enough because it still implicates men as a group, or the majority of men.  It doesn’t communicate the reality that the group responsible for the problems described is not a significant proportion of men, but rather a tiny minority of people consisting of men and women, and it’s just as sexist to describe rape or violence as a male behaviour as it is racist to describe theft as a black behaviour, regardless of whether or not you acknowledge “exceptions.”

I suppose hashtag campaigns aren’t meant for clarity or nuance, but far closer to the truth would be something more like #ASmallProportionOfMenAndWomenAreViolentAndDangerousButMostPeopleSimplyArentLikeThatSoWhileWeShouldCertainlyAddressItWhenItDoesOccurYouCanStillGoAboutYourBusinessFeelingRelativelySafe.  I know, it just don’t roll off the tongue the same way.

So, while the above meme is clearly presenting the image of throwing a bone to men’s advocates and those who oppose the feminist narrative, it still manages to maintain the overt sexism of any claim that all men do engage in the aforementioned behaviours.  OP is essentially saying that as long as she acknowledges that there is at least one man in the world who doesn’t, it’s okay to continue to describe men as a violent group whose behaviours justify fear, distrust, and hatred from women.  This is like saying, “I acknowledge that SOME Jews aren’t greedy!  I’m not an antisemite!  I just want to address Jewish greed as a social problem!”

If you follow my posts, and if you read the studies I link to, by now you probably know that the vast majority of men aren’t violent toward women, and that the small proportion who are is comparable to the proportion of women who are violent toward men.  I shouldn’t need to remind you that violence is not a male problem.  It is a human problem, with perpetrators and victims on both sides.

Sure, all women have met a male asshole, but this is a disingenuous way to frame the phenomenon of assholery, let alone the phenomenon of violence.  All people have met assholes of both sexes.  The existence of male assholes says no more or less about maleness or men as a group than the existence of female assholes says about femaleness or women as a group, just as the existence of some number of Mexican rapists in no way justifies Donald Trump’s implication that this behaviour characterizes the Mexican people.

By now, over the course of my blog, I’ve probably repeated most of these points ad nauseam, so I want to talk about another problem related to the debate between the #NotAllMen folks and the #YesAllWomen folks.

“All women” is a ridiculous claim.  This meme and a truly astounding number of people I’ve spoken to assert with a straight face that most or all women have had experiences with individual men that caused and justified fear.  I’ve written at length about the popular and horrendously inflated violence numbers that are peddled to us by the media.  The wildest of these is the infamous “one in three” statistic, followed closely by the “one in five” statistic, whose studies suffer from severe definitional skewing, double standards applied to classification of men and women who perpetrate or are victimized, sensational reporting, focus on unreliable lifetime data, biased or small samples, poorly worded survey questions, and a number of other methodological problems and biases.  But even if we take the highest and most skewed statistic, 1 in 3, at face value, this still falls remarkably short of “all women,” or even “most women.”

This is important, because there is a very popular narrative that male bad behaviour toward women — everything from disrespect to discrimination to violence — is institutionalized, culturally acceptable, and ubiquitous.  Women are taught that they should be afraid of passing strangers, that they should be cautious when men approach them or are in the same spaces as them.  We’re taught that strangers want to hurt us, that there are gatekeepers throughout education, business, and academia who seek to prevent us from success.

We are taught to expect men to hurt us, even though the majority of men won’t hurt anyone, and the majority of women won’t be hurt.  We are taught to expect to be paid less for the same work, even though apples-to-apples comparisons show that in much of the country the truth is the opposite.  We are told to expect discrimination against us that harms our careers, even though only ten percent of women, according to Pew Research, believe they have ever had a negative impact on their career due to gender discrimination, and even though some studies indicate that many women enjoy discrimination in their favour in the workplace.  We are taught that we live in a culture that condones violence against women, even though the reverse is closer to the truth.  We are taught that the criminal justice and social work systems will treat us with disbelief and ridicule if we try to report violence victimization, even though these systems are so dedicated to protecting women from men that it routinely treats male victims as perpetrators, and even though we lock away enough innocent men that one small organization has already identified and exonerated hundreds based on pre-existing DNA evidence alone.  We are setting women up with expectations of harms they are unlikely to encounter, and this itself harms women.

We have been taught to be paranoid in public spaces, on edge with male friends, suspicious around potential male partners, and to feel a complete lack of bargaining power with male employers and coworkers.  We are teaching our young people to live in fear, and I have met many women who have swallowed this narrative wholesale, who are very much afraid.  This alone is a crime against women.  There is no good reason to be afraid of an entire demographic of people, and I think we can all agree that part of a good life is being able to relax and enjoy your time, rather than being hyper-alert and fearful of others.

When I see this false narrative repeated over and over, and I see the number of women who believe it so wholeheartedly that they are desperately upset, I can’t help but wonder:

How many women are raped, assaulted, or discriminated against, and do nothing about it?  How many don’t report it, don’t go to the police, don’t talk to HR, and don’t try to seek help because they assume that what happened to them is so common and culturally supported that no one will help them?  We are teaching young women not only to be afraid of others, but to believe that there is no recourse for them if they are actually victimized.  Would you report your rape or domestic assault victimization to the police if you thought they’d blame you for it?  Would you talk to HR about sexual harassment or discrimination if you thought they supported it?  This BJS study shows that many women don’t, and that the proportion is growing of female victims of sexual assault who have this fear of the system.  From 1994 to 2010 the proportion of female victims who did not report due to the belief that the police couldn’t or wouldn’t help them increased from 8% to around 15%, almost doubling.  I imagine it is no coincidence that this increase seems to have coincided with an increase in the prevalence of activists claiming that we live in a culture that accepts or condones victimization of women, and that police and social workers routinely blame and shame women who report, claims for which in ten years of research and dedication to these topics I have found not the remotest shred of substantiation.

These toxic misconceptions aren’t just harming women’s ability to comfortably move through the world.  We are teaching women an ideology that, if believed, will cripple their ability to seek help if something terrible happens to them.  What a horrible thing to do to women.  This narrative of all men, or most men, all women, or most women, needs to be dismantled and set on fire, not just because of the flagrant misandry that underpins it, but also because of what it does to the quality of life of the women who believe it.

The fact that the harm done to women by this fear mongering and rampant misinformation isn’t a major feminist issue alone makes me highly suspicious of the feminist movement.

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On Gender and History

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I’m really surprised that I haven’t written on this yet, since it’s something that so fundamentally underpins my perspective on gender issues and relations. Unsurprisingly, my view of gender, history, and power is not the commonly accepted view. I don’t see men and women as part of a gendered hierarchy by which women are subordinated under men’s power. And even more controversial, I don’t think it has ever been that way.

Gender roles are and always have been a division of labour by biological aptitude, a set of reciprocal entitlements and responsibilities under which neither gender was objectively better off than the other. If women can be said to be oppressed by their expectation throughout history of motherhood and relegation to the household sphere of duties and childcare, despite their entitlement by virtue of being female to any protection and provision their male relatives could provide, then I see no reason not to say that men were equivalently oppressed by the expectation of hard and dangerous physical labour, providing for their families, and participation in war, despite being entitled to more overt political rights in some socioeconomic groups. Even in modern times, can we really say that the women who are not allowed to drive or leave their homes without an escort in oppressive theocratic nations are definitively worse off than the men who are tasked with going out into the very dangerous world and enduring hard labour to provide for them, or drafted into the military as adolescents or children? Gender roles aren’t unilaterally harmful. They’re restrictive and harmful to everyone, especially under pre-industrial or third world conditions.

Sure, women didn’t have individual property rights until fairly recently in history, but they had the right to occupy, use, and benefit from the property of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, who were tasked with providing them food, shelter, and protection. Women didn’t have overt political rights, but they ran their households, which gave them influence over their husbands and sons at home. Further, almost every woman had a household to rule, but very few men throughout history had the chance for any political power at all. Just because the tiny minority of politically or religiously powerful people in the pre-industrial world usually constituted far more men than women doesn’t mean that men had more power or advantage than women across the board. That tiny proportion of powerful men tells us very little about what it was like to be the common man or woman.  The average male peasant through the vast majority of generations had no more ability to influence his government or state than his wife did.  He had no more opportunities than his sister to become a lord or cardinal.

Under gender roles, women were expected to spend their days cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, and to risk their lives in childbirth. Similarly, men were expected to spend their days wearing out their bodies in fields. They were expected to risk their lives by protecting their families from intruders or wild animals, to go to war where many would experience indescribable suffering, and to be the last pulled out of a burning building. Yes, women were kept in the kitchen, patronized, and talked down to. But men were used as pawns whenever the king or lord wanted to squabble with neighbouring powers.  Women were treated, in many ways, like children, but men were treated like cannon fodder.  Both sexes suffered from a lack of freedom, respect, and human dignity, but in different ways.

The word “patriarchy” gets used a lot to describe this division of roles, but it seems simplistic and disingenuous to refer to the above scenario as a system of male dominance and female subordination or a system where men benefit at women’s expense. Men and women benefited in ways, but men and women were subordinated to their roles. Men benefited by having some property and political rights, and having their homes taken care of. Women benefited by having a near-guarantee of protection and provision, and exemption from compulsory projects like the draft. Men were subordinated to a role that destroyed their bodies in wheat fields and risked their lives on the battlefield. Women were subordinated to a role of labour in the home and the more dangerous labour of bearing children.

But neither of these roles were implemented out of spite. In a much older world, they were necessary. We didn’t have factories, breast pumps, baby formula, tractors, or many of the other modern conveniences that allow practical mobility along the gender spectrum. We had women, who could bear and nurse children, which made them incredibly important but also very vulnerable. And we had men, who were built with far more muscle mass and bone density, and thus the physical strength and constitution to dig ditches, work iron, build walls, and fight wars. Thus, over millennia women and men were separated, as they are in the rest of the animal kingdom, into roles that were suited to them by their respective unique physiological abilities. A man couldn’t stay at home and feed the baby even if he’d wanted to, and a woman couldn’t go out and lift heavy things for 16 hours, physiologically speaking. (Women could do less physically demanding jobs, though, and in fact, brewing and weaving were common enough female professions that the surnames Webster and Brewster have been historically passed from mother to daughter. Baxter – for bakers – is another example, and midwifing was a more or less exclusively female profession for most societies.)

Then the industrialization happened. Up sprung the factories, allowing traditionally male work to be done by just about anyone (including children – there’s a downside to everything). It is no coincidence that this was when feminism also sprung up.  However, by the time most women were physically able to do what had been men’s role for all of human history, it was a long established norm that each gender had their sphere, and ne’er the two shall meet.  So, like any other harmless deviation from long-established norms, they had to fight for their right to mobility across those spheres, even though the physiological barriers no longer applied. Which is to say, women weren’t kept out of male spheres because they were considered “less than.”  Women were kept out of male spheres, and men out of female spheres, because we had a very specific, socially enforced, bilateral division of labour.  You’ll notice that now, 150 years later, there is no stigma for women working outside the home, but men who want to do what was traditionally women’s work (from nursing and childcare to being a stay-at-home dad) still face a great deal of stigma and ridicule.

This is because when feminism arose, it sought to eliminate women’s gendered role, and the disadvantages associated with it. I am glad we have had a movement to liberate women from relegation to the home. I’m glad I can vote, choose any profession, go to school, buy a house, and use birth control. I’m glad for Roe v. Wade and the Equal Pay Act. But I am so disappointed in the unilateral nature of the movement that gave us these things. The feminist movement took a one-sided look at a complex and bilateral problem, and addressed half of it, the half that affects women.

Without a broader gender equality movement exploding into the mainstream sphere as feminism did, men are still held to exactly the same traditional male roles, from the trivial (it is normal for women to wear pants, but men cannot wear skirts without severe judgment) to the extremely disadvantageous: men’s historical role as protector means that men alone must sign the draft registry, although muscle-dependent swords and shields have long since given way to tanks and jet planes; and similarly men’s historical exclusion from the female sphere of childcare means that men lose the majority of custody battles, while still being expected to foot the bill for their children’s care, even though men could just as easily be the primary parent or women the primary breadwinner in today’s society.  Men protect, and men provide, and there’s very little else that they have the opportunity to do, because we have done nothing to change the role they filled when feminism started to address women’s.

Men also face a tremendous amount of disadvantage due to schemas associated with being seen as the actors, protectors, and aggressors of society.  For example, every criminal justice bias we point to as evidence of racism also affects men. Because men are seen as aggressors and agents, people who do not need protecting, people who commit but do not suffer violence, they are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced than women. Men on average receive 63% longer sentences than women, when controlling for the crime, criminal background, and other relevant factors. Women, on the other hand, are regularly dismissed as perpetrators by judges who do not believe such a thing could exist, or who know that no jury will convict a woman. This disparity evokes the days when a man could be arrested for his wife’s crimes or held responsible for the debts she incurred before marriage. Men were, and still are, viewed as actors and do-ers, while women, any time a man is involved, are viewed as beings to whom things are done.

This is especially troubling when we get into issues of domestic and sexual violence, which, due to the prejudices I listed above, we view as male-perpetrated acts of violence against women, even though they are committed at least as often by women against men. There are only two men’s shelters in the US, so when men seek refuge, they are regularly turned away. When men call domestic violence hotlines seeking help, they are routinely referred to batterer’s programs. When they report victimization to the police, they are about as likely to be assumed the primary aggressor and arrested as they are to be assisted. Never mind the disappointingly prevalent police officers who will unabashedly laugh in your face if you try to tell them a woman raped you.  This is a clear manifestation of the traditional belief that men can and should take care of themselves, be stronger than those who would try to attack them, and protect others.  A man who cannot defend himself from an assailant is not a protector, and thus renders himself invisible or worse.

For some background information, the MRM is fundamentally a human rights movement that seeks to dismantle men’s traditional roles, not a group of outdated traditionalists as the popular myth suggests. An MRA is necessarily opposed to gender roles, which are the cause of most of the issues we raise. It is important to understand, for example, that we as a society permit men to be drafted, circumcised, and socialized to take dangerous jobs because their well-being was not and is not valued under a gender role system. They are labourers and protectors, not the protected.  It’s “women and children first,” “end violence against women,” and headlines like “60 Confirmed Dead, Including 4 Women;” not “save as many as you can,” “end violence against everyone,” or “60 Confirmed Dead, Most of Them Men.” It’s #bringbackourgirls, not #avengeourboys.

Men’s job, according to their gender role, is to wear down their bodies to provide for their families and risk death to defend them. In centuries past, we couldn’t afford compassion for people in that role.

This goes well beyond “patriarchy hurts men, too.” If we lived in a system adapted for men’s benefit at women’s expense, in which women were seen as less than, men wouldn’t be the majority of the homeless, overworked, and suicidal. They wouldn’t be asked to sacrifice themselves in mines and on oil rigs so that their wives and daughters can have food on their tables.  They wouldn’t get half the federal funding for their cancers that women get for ours. They wouldn’t get their genitals cut at birth, while girls are protected by law and basic human decency from ever having to experience that. Men would always have access to their children, and they wouldn’t be extorted for their care when women have every reproductive option available to be or not be a mother. In a patriarchy, women would be punished, not ignored or enabled, for raping or abusing men. Women wouldn’t be the only victims we care about, and men wouldn’t be the majority of those shipped off to die in times of war.  In a patriarchy, men, not women, would be the group whose issues get attention and redress, rather than an elaborate network of women’s organizations and government initiatives forwarding women’s issues while widespread censure and protest stand in the way of the same progress for men.

The popular understanding of gender roles is skewed and one-sided. Patriarchy Theory is a polemic oversimplification that ignores half or more of the gender issues we face as a society. Men didn’t make this happen. They aren’t accidental casualties of their own arrogant folly. They are and have always been just as much a victim of the narrow and now-obsolete system of gender roles as women.

The only difference is that we’ve spent the past century and a half addressing women’s side of the problem.

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A Break for Some Art

A friend of mine who writes a gaming blog recently posted a fabulous article on gaming mechanics and mental illness.  Interspersed between his ideas, my friend posted art created by mentally ill people about their various experiences and struggles.  I dabble in art myself (I created the cartoon jackalope banner at the top of this page), so his post inspired me to translate some of my own experiences with mental illness into imagery.

I’ve talked a bit about my diagnosis in the past, largely to give some potential readers something to relate to.  When I was first diagnosed, the sudden onset of new symptoms was terrifying.  Having a friend who suffered a similar disorder (not the author of the article cited above) was an amazing relief, because he was there to tell me, “This will happen sometimes, but you’ll get through it.  It’ll be okay.”  Knowing that there was someone else who had been through what I was going through made it less frightening and unpredictable. I talk about my own experiences periodically with the hope of recreating some of that comfort to readers who might have disorders like mine.

To that end, I think art can communicate on a more personal and intuitive level than some other modes of communication. Given that many of my symptoms are poorly understood by the layman, I thought the following might provide some readers with a much needed reassurance that they’re not alone.

Among other things, PTSD is a dissociative disorder.  This means that the brain will sometimes forcibly remove you from reality in order to deal with something.  This can manifest in a number of ways, from seeing things that aren’t there, to losing time or feeling that the world around you isn’t real, to going full-on catatonic, the real-world version of the meme-ified “thousand yard stare.”

There are a number of things that could be going on inside someone’s brain after they zonk out, and I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the most notable dissociative episodes take a few distinct forms.

1. A minor flashback:  This is what happens when something sets off a time-travel trigger, but my brain catches it before things get too ugly. It’s like floating through the space between the past and present, seeing shadows of another time but unable to move forward or back. It’s distressing, but not panic inducing, and all the while I’m uncomfortably aware of my inability to move my body.

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Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

2. Some stimuli are (apparently) more than I can handle in that moment, so I’m dropped into a sort of temporary stasis, a hazy dream state, while my brain figures out how to deal with the stimulus.  This is inconvenient, but otherwise quite pleasant.  It’s not unlike that fuzzy, relaxed feeling right before falling asleep.  It’s less like being frozen and more like being suspended in air, and I just chill there until my mind is done processing.  Though I’m often aware that boiling under that fuzzy surface is something extremely unpleasant that’s waiting for me when I come out of the haze.

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So it goes…

3. Not all flashbacks are minor.  If I pass by someone who smells like one of my exes, or some other intense lizard-brain reminder of some obscure past moment, I can be transported backward, which can mean hearing voices, seeing people I very much don’t want to see, or physically feeling a prior experience on my skin.  It’s every bit as horrifying as it sounds.  Typically I’ll be stuck in place in a fetal position, mentally begging it to go away while a panic attack rages in my frozen body. Often I have difficulty breathing, which creates a negative feedback loop of anxiety, panic, and asthma.  In short, this is the absolute worst.

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Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment.  There is no why.

4. To end on a less frightening note, not all episodes are nasty. The above examples occur sporadically when something reminds me of unpleasant events. The better I get, the less often they occur. But this one is constant: when I look in the mirror I don’t see my own face. Usually I see one of a variety of women, with roughly my hairstyle, who don’t look at all like me. Well, I’m assuming. This has being going on so long that I have no idea what I look like. Some of these faces are rounder or sharper or more square. Some are covered in cuts and bruises.  One is twenty or so years older than me. Another is an adolescent. Very occasionally I’ve seen a young girl, or a boy, or an alien creature with long, spindly limbs, gigantic eyes, and unnatural joints. It used to frighten me, but now I find it fascinating.

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All of this happened, more or less.

The figures in these drawings are intentionally somewhat androgynous, because, as always, I want to constantly remind you all that, just like every other human experience, my disorder and the events that led to it are not specific to women.  I may draw more of these at a later date.  And by the way, you get 10 internet points if you know which book I’m quoting in these captions.

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Rape Culture: A Comparison

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While discussing issues surrounding sexuality and gender I encounter a great many conversations affirming the idea that we live in a rape culture, a society that excuses, normalizes, or even condones particularly male perpetrated sexual violence toward women and girls. Considering today’s third wave intersectional feminism, which declares itself diverse and inclusive of people of all colours, shapes, sexual orientations, and a wide variety of gender identities, I find it interesting that I still keep encountering this simplistic, exclusionary, unilateral understanding of violence and violence acceptance: it is women who are raped, men who do the raping, and this specific gendered practice which society does not take seriously enough.

As a female survivor of male assault and an anti-violence activist, I’m more than familiar with the public and private responses to any experience like mine: an automatic outpouring of empathy for the female survivor and pitchfork-wielding anger directed toward that person’s male attacker. I’ve seen this time and again with little variance, no matter where I go, no matter my audience, to the extent that I would be genuinely shocked if I stumbled upon anyone who blamed me or dismissed my account of those events.

This, of course, is good news, but I have struggled in vain to find that same compassion and understanding for my many acquaintances and loved ones who have suffered the same or worse, but are male or whose assailants were female, who I am regularly told don’t exist, don’t matter, or are unfortunate but not part of the “real” or “larger” problem we need to address (never mind the way I’m dismissed when I tell of my experiences at the hands of other women). If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my thesis on the subject of rape culture is that it is victims outside this male-on-female model, including LGBT individuals, but especially male victims of any kind, who are widely swept under the rug, neglected, blamed, and mistreated when they are raped. To illustrate my point perhaps more succinctly than I have in the past, here is a simple pop culture comparison.

 

In 2012 multiple Steubenville high school football players took egregious advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk at a party. There were members of the district staff who were aware of the incident but kept quiet, and some even attempted to cover it up. When the story broke, the American people were quite justifiably in a blind rage about this, calling for the heads of the rapists, coaches, and district. Two boys and a staff member were convicted and sentenced. Many other staff were forced to resign and charged, and these events even allowed other cases to be uncovered and addressed within the same district, which appeared to have covered up other assaults, as well as cases of child abuse.

This story is frequently held up as an example of rape culture, despite the outrage expressed by pretty much everyone at the events, despite the fact that most of those involved have been held criminally responsible in accordance with due process, and those who weren’t have lost their jobs, status, and reputation. In this culture where it is supposedly normal and acceptable to rape women, rapists were tried and convicted along with those who enabled them, and everyone’s reputation was smeared across the country in a sensational news story among echoing cries for castration and death.

In 2015 Brock Turner took advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk. The two men who discovered and helped her were hailed as the heroes they are. The rapist plead guilty, was convicted, and was sentenced, though his sentence was abnormally light, offensively lenient. When the story broke, the American people were, again very justifiably, foaming-at-the-mouth angry. They called for the heads of the rapist and the judge who sentenced him. When Turner was released from prison there was another wave of outrage as the public was reminded of him and his callous crime, solidifying his name in history as synonymous with a host of ugly and well deserved pejoratives.

Like the previous case, this story is considered a quintessential example of rape culture, despite the outrage it sparked in every corner of the country. It has been widely used to argue that rapists get off easy due to a lack of public interest in punishing them, even though there are currently over 15,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons for sex crimes, even though the average sentence for convicted rapists is about 10 years, not the three months young Brock got away with serving. Turner’s fate is in no way typical for his crime, even less a consequence of his gender, especially when you consider how much more leniently female rapists are treated under the law. It’s overwhelmingly apparent that it was the wealth and influence of Turner’s family that got him off easy, not his sex. And yet this case is iconic in the conversation surrounding the theory of rape culture, used to promote the idea that the American people are okay with women getting raped and don’t care if rapists are punished.

However, in stark contrast to these news reports, a year prior to the events of People v. Turner actress and comedian Amy Schumer gave a speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala. She detailed a story from her college days in which she, sober as a judge, took advantage of a male peer who was so drunk that he couldn’t stay conscious. The line “Is it still considered head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds?” stands out in my mind. And this wasn’t an apologetic admission of guilt, either. This speech was an empowerment story, a brag about how she used a mentally and physically incapacitated person to regain her confidence in her body and her sexuality.

And this time, there were no torches, no pitchforks, no public outcry at all. There was no court case, and no judge held accountable by the people to give a proper and deserved sentence. In fact, there was applause. Social media was ablaze with an outpouring of love and appreciation for Schumer, and she was hailed across liberal news outlets as courageous, empowering, and feminist. She was praised for this speech on Huffpost, Gawker, Bustle, Vulture, and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

Amy Schumer committed exactly the same crime that earned the likes of Brock Turner national vitriolic outrage, and yet the few journalists who tried to point out that her actions even constituted rape were largely ignored or dismissed. There’s even an article entitled “No, Amy Schumer did not give a speech celebrating how she raped a guy,” in which the author blames Schumer’s victim on the grounds that he drunkenly initiated some acts (conspicuously ignoring the fact that Schumer painstakingly described him as being so wasted that he was not himself, had little motor function to speak of, and that he repeatedly lost consciousness during the encounter), and even suggested not-so-subtly that he was the one taking advantage of her due to her dissatisfaction with the experience in the moment.

If either of the women in the above criminal cases had initiated their encounter before passing out, would that have made the men involved not rapists? Would those men have become her victims, rather than the other way around, had they reported feeling uncertain, disappointed, or disgusted by her drunkenness while they raped her? Is there any conceivable excuse by which their actions would not still have been universally and emphatically condemned? Is there any conceivable order of events in which Brock Turner or Ma’lik Richmond would have been praised for penetrating a drunk, unconscious woman?  Imagine feminist pundits and journalists, members of a movement whose platform is largely centered around its opposition to sexual violence, hailing those men for their courage had they told their stories on a stage with the goal of empowering men.

No. The difference is clear: Amy Schumer, a woman, is celebrated for raping a man, while men who are caught committing such acts against women are met with conviction, prison time, and the uncensored hatred of every American who reads the news.

So tell me, which gender’s rapists are widely condoned, excused, or swept under the rug? Who is most often told they are asking for it? Who is blamed for their victimization? Who is ignored, laughed at, or disbelieved? If any national news story is to be held up as an example of rape culture, it is the story of Amy Schumer’s speech, in which she brags publicly and unabashedly in front of cameras about raping a young man, and is met with congratulations, in which anyone who objects to her actions is dismissed as hyperbolic or confused, in which the national conversation about rape and the way it’s addressed continues to exclude female perpetrators and male victims because they are generally believed to not exist or not to merit discussion. This is what rape culture looks like.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have no doubt that there are cases in which women are mistreated by the criminal justice system while attempting to report victimization. I’m sure that there are places where women have been disbelieved or told they shouldn’t have been drinking, however patently condemned this practice is by the overwhelming majority of our society. My argument that this sort of treatment is not considered acceptable and is not ubiquitous should not be taken as an ethical statement excusing it. Officials who actually do behave this way should be exposed and punished.

But everyone is aware that women can be, and sometimes are, the victims of sexual assault. Law enforcement and social workers are trained to anticipate female victims of male assailants, and to believe and assist the woman accordingly. Everyone is horrified when male rapists appear in the news, especially when they fail to be properly punished. (Of course, if more women were aware of this, rather than buying into the narrative that they will be disbelieved and blamed by the public and the criminal justice system alike, more women would probably be willing to report.)

But further, male rapists do appear in the news, earning those news stations hoards of outraged viewers. They don’t get laughed off as unusual or silly. Unlike men, women are not assumed to always want sex; their gender and sexuality are not treated as indicators of blanket consent. Men and boys are taught to be respectful and that one of the worst things they can do is take advantage of a woman, while girls get no such lesson. Unlike men, women who say no are not called homophobic slurs or considered less of a woman. Male perpetrators are not celebrated or represented as a comedy trope. Women aren’t laughed at when they try to report, nor are they told there’s no such thing as a female rape victim or that they ought to be happy they got laid. No one hi-fives them or calls them lucky. Female victims are immediately met with compassion when they reveal themselves as such to any audience; they don’t have to seek out small online communities within a fringe human rights movement to find someone, anyone, who is willing to give them empathy and understanding for their suffering.

The majority of the neglected, ignored, and blamed rape victims are male. If you’re going to discuss rape culture, you wouldn’t just be remiss, you’d be neglecting the bulk of the problem if you didn’t address the way we respond to male victims and female rapists.

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The Fourth Wave

Many modern feminists decry the fairy tale narrative of the princess who needs to be rescued. I, too, much prefer the story in which the princess rescues herself.

Based on this sentiment, I find it contrary, then, that so many modern feminists are intent upon achieving their ends by begging men and the establishment for their legitimacy, as if it were someone else’s choice if we are legitimate. Rather than focusing on being equals, they instead demand to be viewed as such. Rather than demonstrating our adequacy and excellence to earn respect, many women merely demonstrate their grievances to earn sympathy. I find this unbecoming of an empowered 21st century woman, especially in light of the movements that preceded us.

The first wave addressed legal inequalities. They said “we can do it,” and then they proved it. They did this by demonstrating their competency, their tenacity, their strength, and their courage. Because of them, we have property and voting rights we might not otherwise have had, enabling us to better participate in our politics and economy.

The second wave addressed systemic inequalities (albeit with some really terrible offshoots of postmodern thought interspersed between their advancements). The women of the second wave used strength of will to pursue their goals, kicking down social norms and laughing at anyone who suggested they were incapable or bound for failure. They sought to prove that they were as formidable as any man in any field, and they were largely successful. Their hard work enabled us to control our bodies and better pursue our careers, among other accomplishments.

But the third wave seems to have done away with that will and excellence in favour of more emphasis on postmodernism, and rather than “we can do it,” women declare that they can’t, instead requesting help, handicaps, and accommodations. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, they don’t seek to be treated the same as any man. They seek to be given considerations and provisions that men don’t receive, putting forward their perceived injury as justification for the kid gloves with which they ask to be handled. In the name of women’s empowerment they ask to be treated as fragile, helpless, and incapable, so pitiful as to justify policies that often neglect or harm others (like the original VAWA and the erosion of due process), or policies that are downright degrading to women.

They ask for affirmative consent policies, predicated on the idea that women can’t advocate for themselves, that we are too helpless to discuss our preferences and boundaries without the intervention of our partners and the state, and that we are so under the thumb of social pressure that we lack the strength of will or cognitive power to say “no thanks” or “I’m not interested.”

They ask that traditionally masculine fields specifically recruit and cater to women, as though we were not capable of pursuing our own interests without being marketed and pandered to, as if we need someone’s permission and a flashing neon invitation to become doctors, engineers, physicists, or economists.

They claim that women are harmed by things as inconsequential as a compliment on the sidewalk or a scantily clad image in a game, that the expectation of wearing makeup and bearing children is too great for our fragile wills to overcome by mere examination and choice.

They ignore the incredible strides women have made in the past 150 years, treating us as injured children rather than the force to be reckoned with that the generations before us proved us to be.

The “we can do it” attitude of the past empowered women to move forward and succeed, while today’s approach instead mires women and girls in fear, learned helplessness, and self doubt. Which would you rather teach your daughters? I want the next generation of women to be respected, not pitied.

If there is a fourth wave, and if I have anything to say about it, it will be a movement to reclaim women’s dignity. If this movement can come to pass, I will proudly call myself a feminist:

She was patronized, insulted, and stripped of her agency. She was called ignorant for believing in her strength and hateful for seeking to dismantle the structures that unjustly benefit her. She was discouraged by dramatized narratives of discrimination and bigotry, frightened by falsified violence statistics, and threatened by those who wished to silence her.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

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On Subjects and Objects

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Laci Green, from her video on objectification

Lately I’ve been mulling over some thoughts on the subject-object dichotomy that feminists talk about sometimes, and I think there’s a grain of truth to it. While I disagree with many of the ways feminists characterize it (particularly that it is unilaterally harmful), there is definitely a binary paradigm of actor and object by which we view men and women respectively, and this is true within both feminist and traditionalist gender philosophies.

Men are viewed as agents, as actors: assertive, capable, and often dangerous. They are viewed as protectors and providers, and sometimes even as heroes, or as the perpetrators of violent crime. Men are the ones, as the perception goes, who make the first move in the dating scene, negotiate shrewdly in business, rush into burning buildings, and violently harm others. In positive and negative ways, men act.

Women, conversely, are viewed as victims. Women are definitely objectified, but not sexually. We are objectified by the idea that women are leaves on the wind, that our fate is to be guided by social norms, controlled by tradition and society, and victimized by violence. Women are acted upon.

Thus it is easy for us to garner sympathy by describing the ways in which we perceive we are acted upon. When we are or believe we are victims of violence, mistreatment, systemic disadvantage, or bad luck, we are viewed as the sympathetic protagonists of a story of struggle. People are willing to listen to our complaints, come to our aid, and rally behind us. The other side of this coin is that we are ignored, apologized for, or minimized whenever we act as harmful agents (either toward ourselves or others). When we commit acts of violence or mistreatment, when we make mistakes or otherwise fail to act responsibly or respectfully, we are told it isn’t our fault, and our victims are swept under the rug. When we fail to express a lack of consent in sexual situations or attempt to negotiate for better pay or a higher position, we are seen as victims of socialization and cultural pressures, rather than individuals who made choices. When we act violently against another person (especially if that person is male), we are excused, presumed to have acted in self defense, or dismissed as though our actions have been minimally harmful.

If we put our hand on a hot stove, we are victims of that stove’s mistreatment. If we put someone else’s hand on the stove, we are victims of the stove’s coercion (and this plays out regularly in courts when women are charged with a violent crime).

A man’s identity, however, is tied up in his agency. He has responsibilities as a man, and he is seen as less of a man if he does not fulfill them, including providing for his family, sacrificing for his loved ones, and the competent execution of his life goals. As such, it is not part of the general conceptualization of men to be the victim of violence or systemic disadvantage. When men are victims of these, they are ignored or explained away. Men themselves will often acknowledge, for example, that as males they are more likely to be victimized by violence, but will still argue that violence against women is worse or more of a problem. This is because of the strange cognitive dissonance that happens when someone who conceptualizes himself as an agent or actor is acted upon by forces outside his control. Usually he is assumed to have done something wrong or stupid to earn the event that happened to him (such as in the case of violence victimization or the gender gap in criminal justice), or to have sought it out or enjoyed it (such as in sexual assault). He is seen as having failed to fulfill his responsibilities as an agent, or questioned for complaining at all. As such, most of mainstream society is reticent to accept that men can be legitimate victims. Or if they are, they are victims by virtue of other factors (such as the black victims of racist violence, who are seen by their colour but never by their gender, unless they are female).

If a man puts his hand on a hot stove, he is blamed for his foolishness and expected to learn from the mistake. If someone else puts his hand on a hot stove, he is likewise blamed for his inaction to prevent the harm that is done to him (such as the many male victims of partner violence who are asked, “why didn’t you fight back?”).

A woman’s identity, on the other hand, is often tied up in her victimhood or reception of action (especially for feminist women, but again, this is not specific to the feminist worldview). She isn’t seen as less of a woman if she demonstrates competence or agency, but she is inundated with ubiquitous messages about her victimhood, and her supposed inability to transcend that victimhood. In stories, the villain is identified by his willingness to harm her, and the hero by the sacrifices he makes to protect or rescue her. In real life, she is told even by those who purport to empower her that she will meet barriers in almost every part of life erected by those who actively seek to prevent her success. She is taught that the world will place her into an unfair role from which she will be unable to deviate, as though her personal choice to do something different were immaterial or unable to be actualized. She is told that she is likely to be harmed by others, regularly showered in skewed statistics about violence that, if she believes them, will make her fear for her safety whenever she is in public. She is taught to carry keys between her fingers and cover her glass in bars, but ultimately that if someone means to do her harm, there is little she can do about it. She is taught to be afraid of those pesky actors, men, who are very likely to harm her just by their natures.

Feminist advocates will assert that she needs a social movement to overcome gendered expectations (such as that to shave her legs or become a mother), as though she lacks the ability as an individual to choose her own behaviours, aesthetics, and pursuits. They will tell her that she cannot overcome the existence of sexist assumptions without sweeping policy changes and ubiquitous social campaigns. She is taught that real, insuperable harm is done to her by men finding her attractive, catcallers, magazine ads, and beauty standards, reducing her to hollow, childlike puppet to the culture, media, and beliefs of those around her. Meanwhile, a traditionalist father will threaten to sit on the stoop with a shotgun to scare off any men who come knocking, presuming their ill intent and her inability to consent, effectively deny consent, or ensure her own safety.

Apart from this, not only is she ignored or excused when she acts in a way that harms herself or others, but she is generally conceptualized as someone who cannot or does not act, not in positive or negative ways, not to prevent herself from being harmed, not to harm others, and not to move forward and be successful on her own merits. She is a non-agent, and as such it is practical or even necessary that she be afraid, vigilant, and protected and supported by others. But of course, because of this perception, she is protected and supported by others, even when she doesn’t need to be.

Obviously both of these perceptions, reinforced in a host of ways by feminism and more traditional viewpoints, are harmful to both men and women. But in many cases, as Warren Farrell puts it, “men’s greatest weakness is their facade of strength, and women’s greatest strength is their facade of weakness.”

Of course, each side has its own privileges as well. Agents are given the respect of presumed competence and autonomy. Women are, quite rightfully, tired of being infantilized. They should be treated as beings who are capable of directing their own destinies, as men are, rather than frightened with fear narratives and patronized with social campaigns. Conversely, victims are afforded empathy, compassion, and the willingness to help (and they are subject to lesser consequences for harmful or foolish actions). While an excess of victimization leads to infantilization, fear mongering, and a lack of respect, a dearth of it leaves real victims without the help they need. Sometimes men need help from others, and it’s a real tragedy that we are so reticent to acknowledge this, let alone provide that help.

It would benefit all of us to consider both sides of this coin and the harms we perpetuate when we, feminists, traditionalists, and everything in between, promote this binary narrative of subjects and objects. The world is not divided into male actors and female victims. Men and women can act and be acted upon, and we would do well to remember this as we wade through all the false statistics, skewed definitions, and popular wisdom describing men and women as centuries-old stereotypes of human beings.

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On the Reporting Problem

I’d like to take a moment to unpack an analysis I’ve read (and repeatedly cited) as it relates to some of the other sexual assault data I’m familiar with. This analysis, written by Loree Cook-Daniels of the national anti-violence organization Forge, cites an array of studies looking into the phenomenon of male victimization and female perpetration, and why these events are rarely reported to the authorities, result in conviction, or make it to published statistics or general knowledge.  Any statistic I cite in the following article that is not otherwise linked can be found in the above linked analysis.

My regular readers are by now familiar with my complaints about the pervasive and serious problem of sexual assault not being taken seriously outside the Duluth model paradigms of patriarchal violence (i.e. any victim who is not a victim of male-on-female assault).  This is true both in the general public, as I am regularly told in gender theory debates, often in plain language, that non-Duluth victims do not exist, don’t matter, or aren’t the real/larger problem (even after I disclose that I am one of them), and also institutionally.

On the social level, there is a chasm of difference between the way we teach males and females about consent, and the paradigms surrounding how we treat each.  Boys are taught to obtain consent, and girls are taught that it’s okay to withhold it.  Men are taught not to rape, and women are taught how to defend themselves against it.  Rape is viewed as something men do to women, men are viewed as always wanting sex (and thus impossible to violate), and therefore any unwelcome advance made by a woman, especially toward a man, is trivialized or completely dismissed.  I myself have repeatedly and publicly witnessed the difference between how people react to male and female perpetrated sexual assault, and male and female victims.  Women are not taught to respect consent, and many women don’t, with very little social or legal consequence.

On the institutional level, major research organizations widely regarded as credible will depict only female victims of male violence in the summaries of their findings, or skew definitions so that it appears that these are the vast majority of cases.  I have talked at length about the CDC with respect to this problem, by they are by far not the only offenders.  Even the FBI and other federal justice organizations define rape in such a way that excludes most male victims of female assault.  Even in their recently updated definition, only forcible penetration, not the forcing of the victim to penetrate the perpetrator, is considered rape.

Mary Koss of the CDC defends her differentiation of male-on-female rape from the separate female-on-male category termed “made to penetrate” in a 2007 paper with the following horrifically sexist rape apolgia:

“We acknowledge the inappropriateness of female verbal coercion and the legitimacy of male perceptions that they have had unwanted sex.  Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on the penetration of the body of the victim.”

The legal definition she cites is troubling enough, but according to Koss, men do not fail to consent.  They merely perceive that they have had unwanted sex.  They are simply ambivalent about their own desires.  I’ll remind you that this was published in a publicly accessible academic paper written by one of the most prominent members of a major federal health organization.

But the problem doesn’t stop there.  The justice system is hideously biased against any victims outside the Duluth model.  I personally know men and women outside that paradigm who have been turned away or even laughed at by police when trying to report, and I’ve often read and cited studies confirming the prevalence of this problem.

One study in Canada showed that 86% of victims of female aggressors were not believed when they attempted to report.  The analysis also reports that, controlling for probable cause, a male adolescent is 46.5 times (not percent, times) more likely to be arrested and charged than a comparable female suspect.  This is largely because, when the victim is taken seriously by the officer to whom he reports victimization, judges will routinely dismiss cases in which the perpetrator is female, either on the grounds that women don’t rape, or the (unfortunately realistic) assumption that no jury will convict a woman.  This makes it especially difficult for a man to defend himself physically against a female attacker, since the social and legal consequences of hitting a woman are profound, and the odds are slim that he will be believed when he argues that he was acting in self-defense.  To a large extent, this phenomenon mitigates men’s strength and size advantage, which is often used to claim that men cannot be forced to have sex by a woman, who is smaller and not as physically strong (and also used to claim that men are the only sex capable of rape or assault).

These problems lead, predictably, to an abysmally low reporting rate for non-Duluth model victims.  Why report when you know you won’t be taken seriously any step of the way, when you might have to endure mockery at the hands of the people whose job it is to help you?  Never mind the fear of social stigma, and the fact that most non-Duluth victims don’t even conceptualize what happened to them as sexual assault, since they’ve been taught their whole lives that rape is something men do to women.

Another study of male victims found that, of those who had therapists, only 3% had told their therapists that they had been assaulted.  If you can’t even tell your therapist, you’re not going to tell a cop, and you’re certainly not going to tell a stranger conducting a CDC phone survey.

So let’s go back to the numbers I always cite.  The most recent publicly accessible iterations of the NISVS show gender parity in both victimization and perpetration.  This means that about as many men as women reported victimization in the past year.  Most respondents reported victimization by the opposite sex, but the research even accounts for some same-sex assault.

So here’s what doesn’t add up.  We already know that there is a massive reporting problem in sexual assault cases, but especially and extremely so with respect to male victims and female perpetrators.  And yet CDC research shows respondents of both sexes reporting equal amounts of victimization (along with other studies showing surprisingly high proportions of male victims).  If only a tiny percent of male victims even feel comfortable disclosing victimization to their therapists, what percentage do you suppose we’re looking at in published survey data?

Similarly, if some of the prevalence statistics with which we’re all familiar come from police reports and conviction rates, but many male victims can’t even convince an officer to take a report, and most judges and juries won’t convict a female perpetrator, than those statistics will only reflect the degree to which a non-Duluth victim can seek justice or assistance, not the rate at which they are victimized.

I suspect that there are way, way more non-Duluth victims out there who are keeping their trauma a secret.  In fact, I am starting to suspect something very contrary to the popular narrative.

When you consider the difference between the way we teach men and women about assault and consent, the lack of social or legal consequences for female perpetrators, the variety of stigmas against non-Duluth victims, the biases in research and criminal justice, and the resultant lack of willingness for male victims to come forward, it seems increasingly probable that women sexually assault men more often than men sexually assault women.

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