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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Filed under art, mental illness, personal, PTSD

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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Filed under antifeminism, discrimination, equality, feminism, men's rights, rape, rape culture, sexual assault

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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Filed under antifeminism, empowerment, feminism

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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Filed under antifeminism, empowerment, feminism, gender roles, Uncategorized

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.

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 study 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, perhaps significantly more often, than men sexually assault women.

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Filed under activism, criminal justice, equality, men's health, men's rights, rape, sexual assault

Women’s Rights Part 1: On Reproductive Freedom

I find myself more and more often repeating this sentence in debates with feminists: American women have more rights than men. To most people this is a shocking and unreasonable statement at first, due to how directly it contradicts conventional doctrine, but I think anyone reading this would have a hard time coming up with a legal right that American men and boys have in 2016 that women and girls do not (if you can come up with one, I’d love to hear it).

Now consider, for example, that baby girls have the right to bodily integrity, and are not permitted to be circumcised at birth. Or that women are not required to sign the draft registry at 18. Or that women and girls have access to shelters, hotlines, and other state-funded and prescribed services specifically geared toward them when they are victims of partner violence. I could write an essay on each of these, and I eventually will. This is the first in a series of essays that address cases of female legal privilege, rights that women and girls have in the first world that men and boys do not.

As if my ideas aren’t controversial enough, today I’m going to talk a little about abortion. More specifically, about reproductive rights.

This debate has been ongoing and ugly. Its emotionally charged nature has led it to become one of the more polarized topics of discussion our nation has seen. As a result, both sides have been reduced to absurdist straw men. Liberals who believe in bodily autonomy have been painted as baby killers who have no respect for human life. Conservatives who believe a fetus is a person have been described as flagrant misogynists who are pretending to care about protecting the unborn so that they can wage a war on women out of pure spite. This is a debacle that I’d like to think we’ll all be embarrassed by in a decade or two.

Personally, I fall squarely in the pro-choice camp. I think bodily autonomy is one of the most important human rights, and the freedom to choose to or not to be a parent is definitely up there too. Becoming a parent should always be a choice, one that is well thought out, decided out of a genuine interest in child-rearing, and never forced upon anyone by circumstance. I side with the (reasonable) feminists in that a woman’s right to contraception and abortion, women’s reproductive freedoms, should be secured, maintained, and expanded.

But here’s the side of the coin that almost never gets discussed: What about men’s? Even with the difficulties women face in this arena, we have far more reproductive freedom than men do.

First off, we have access to the overwhelming majority of contraceptive options, from pills and patches to shots, to IUDs and Nuvarings, to emergency contraception, and that’s just a brief summary. We can discuss if or to what extent these should be provided to us at low or no cost by insurance companies or the state, but the fact is that we have them. They were developed for our use and we are free to use them.

Should any of these myriad options fail us and we do become pregnant, we still have an array of options. We can choose to terminate the pregnancy (albeit with some difficulty, depending on things like location and wealth). We can carry the pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption. Or we can surrender the baby to a police station, hospital, or other safe haven, no questions asked (in most states, this is immediately considered legal parental surrender, and the infant is adopted as a ward of the state, at no legal risk to the mother), and we can do this or any of the above without so much as asking the father.

Alternatively, we can choose to become pregnant, have the baby, and raise it, needing no one’s permission to do so.

While it’s reasonable and admirable to fight to maintain these rights and make them more accessible to all women, in the most basic sense, we have the right to every imaginable resource in the process of deciding if we are parents or not.

Men aren’t so lucky.

In terms of contraceptive choices, men have condoms, and that’s about it. No pills, no shots, no patches, no implantable devices.  Granted, condoms are nice because you can see them, and most of us can feel whether or not one is in place. It’s obvious if a condom isn’t being used, is being used incorrectly, or fails. You don’t need to say that you trust someone to use a condom. It will be immediately apparent if they are not. This is not the case with women’s contraception. A man must trust that the woman he’s sleeping with is being honest about her contraceptive choices and is using them correctly. (This is not an accusation of deceit toward women as a group, by the way. Some women deceive their partners, just as some men do, but there are also women who are uninformed about the use of their chosen contraception. For example, not all women know that some forms of birth control are less effective while taking certain antibiotics.)

Legally, a man has no say in whether or not his female partner becomes pregnant, or what measures she may take to ensure or prevent pregnancy. She isn’t legally obligated to to adhere to his wishes, or even to disclose this information to him.  Should a condom break, birth control fail, or a female partner has been dishonest or poorly informed concerning her contraception use, sexual intercourse is treated as consent to fatherhood, even though it is not consent to motherhood. Obviously, he does not have the right to demand that she not become pregnant or have an abortion (which is admittedly reasonable – it is her body that is in question), but the only way for him to ensure he doesn’t have a child, with all its entailed responsibilities, is to be abstinent. She gets the final say on all baby-related decisions, and regardless of his opinion on the matter, he foots the bill.

A non-custodial father is responsible for child support regardless of his consent for the child to exist, regardless of his awareness of the child’s existence at birth. According to one Chicago judge, he can even be held responsible for the support of a child conceived with sperm he didn’t use for vaginal intercourse. The woman in this news report used sperm from oral sex to impregnate herself against her partner’s will, and the court has ordered him to pay $800 a month in support of that child. Even more outrageous, this expectation can apply even when the woman became pregnant by sexually assaulting the father, even when the father was a minor at the time of the conception. Sex with a woman, any sex, even non-consensual sex, is legally taken as consent to fatherhood.

I want you to take a moment to picture what the evening news report would look like if a judge had ruled that a female statutory rape victim must pay her rapist child support so that he can raise her child.

As a man, you can find out that you’re a parent, which you had no interest in becoming, even if the mother deceived or raped you, you owe hundreds or thousands of dollars, and whether or not you have that money, it’s a felony offense to fail to pay it. There are very few ways in which an American citizen can be imprisoned for poverty, but according to a 2009 South Carolina survey, one in eight inmates was incarcerated for failure to pay child support. That’s over 1200 people in the state of South Carolina alone, just in 2009, who were imprisoned for the heinous crime of having sex while poor.

A friend of mine (who has given me permission to tell this story) has been arrested on such charges. I’ll call him Mike. The child in question had been the result of an unplanned pregnancy, conceived long after he and the mother had discussed that Mike wanted no part in fatherhood, but she decided that she wanted to keep the baby. When the child was born, the mother, who did not live with Mike, agreed to take care of the infant herself, needing no help practically or financially, until she discovered that in order to access services like Medicaid, she needed to make an attempt to collect child support from the non-custodial father. She filed the claim and an amount was set. He was far too poor to make the payments by any reasonable standard, working a minimum wage job and barely making ends meet before child support came into the picture, but that didn’t stop the state trooper, who pulled him over for a dead tail light, from arresting him and carting him off to the county jail, where he was stripped, searched, and thrown into a cell for two days, most of that time having no idea why he’d been arrested in the first place. Mike has emphasized to me over and over what an unpleasant, confusing, and dehumanizing process it was.

The day of the hearing, the judge was disinterested in Mike’s insistence that he barely made enough to support himself alone, and did not have the money they were asking for, or else he’d gladly pay what was owed. The judge was accustomed to and tired of such pleas.  Mike was told firmly that he’ll pay, or he’ll go to prison. After being released, he wound up dramatically cutting his own living expenses in order to avoid another arrest. This required moving from his apartment to a camper on a friend’s property and eating so little that at one point he was close to starvation. All for the care of a child he hadn’t planned, hadn’t asked for, and to whom it had once been agreed that he would not be responsible.

Later, the mother of Mike’s child admitted to him that she did not need the money to meet the child’s needs, and could have ended the requirement at any time after being approved for the health insurance. But she enjoys receiving several hundred dollars in the mail every month, and doesn’t want to stop the flow of free money. So every month Mike pays. He is fortunate enough to have a better paying job now, and is in no danger of starvation, though that doesn’t stop me, as his friend, from being angry with his ex for putting him through all this, and angrier with the system for allowing such exploitation.

Mike’s case may sound extreme, but there are millions of men across the country who struggle to pay court ordered payments on pain of imprisonment.  In fact, a majority of child support arrears are owed by the very poor, parents with an income of $10,000 or less, whose median dues are set at 83% of their income.  Imagine being charged more than three quarters of your income for the crime of fathering a child.

Is this shameful extortion really the best way to ensure that the children of separated parents are appropriately cared for? You can’t feed your child from prison, after all. And when you get out, it’s not so easy to find a job that will support both you and the non-custodial child. Less severe deterrents include confiscation of the delinquent father’s driver’s license, another measure that does nothing to assist him in collecting an income that would help him make his payments. These methods seem better designed to punish men for being poor than to provide funding for the care of a child.

Court ordered child support is a violation of men’s reproductive freedom. Just as women are permitted by law to surrender all parental rights and responsibilities even after a child is born, men should have this right as well: the right to choose parenthood, rather than being forced into it. Many MRAs refer to this concept as “financial abortion,” but I would compare it to the safe haven laws that women have access to. Men who wish to be in their children’s lives, as many fathers do, are free to financially support those children to the best of their ability, and men who have no interest in fatherhood should be free to waive all rights and responsibilities associated with a child that may have been conceived and born without their consent, just as a woman has the right to waive her parental rights and responsibilities.

As far as ensuring the well-being of the child after such responsibilities are waived, we already have many social programs for helping single mothers raise children they wish to keep, from Medicaid to WIC to housing and heating assistance to other grants, and I’d be happy to see these programs expanded, unified, and made gender neutral (since some custodial parents are fathers) to ensure that no child goes hungry. A child’s well-being should not depend on its parents’ willingness or ability to pay for its needs. Child support should be a social program, not a punishment for an unwilling father. This solution would be far more effective in ensuring that the child’s needs are met, without extorting the non-custodial parent into poverty and cyclical incarceration.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of reproductive rights: the right to parenthood. A woman needs nobody’s permission to be a mother. If she can become pregnant, she can be that baby’s caregiver, barring any extreme behaviours that any reasonable person would agree would make her an unfit mother (such as severe drug addiction or child abuse).

Men who are separated from their children’s mothers, on the other hand, are unlikely to see their children even as often as the mother does, even if he is paying child support. According to 2009 census data, only 18% of separated fathers are the custodial parent. More comprehensive data from 2007 showed that a mere 20% of fathers had equally shared custody.  More specifically, to counter the frequent feminist point that this disparity is because men simply do not sue for custody, in a five-year study of 2,100 Massachusetts fathers who sought custody, only 29% were awarded primary custody of their child.  Other similar studies have had different findings, but the fact remains that many custody courts favour mothers.  I have known many loving and devoted fathers who have been fighting ongoing legal battles for years just for the right to see their children at all.  Meanwhile, women’s rights organizations like NOW have unapologetic published stances in favour of a “primary caregiver presumption” for mothers, arguing that fathers who seek primary or equal custody of their children are merely abusers trying to get closer to potential victims.

Some feminists will argue that the expectation that a woman is more suited to parenthood than a man is an an unfair assumption of women, part of the female gender roles we should dismantle. I can’t say I disagree with this (being myself a woman without an ounce of maternal instinct to speak of), but this argument misses the point.  Yes, it is wrong to assume that a woman is especially fit for parenthood just because she’s a woman, but fortunately courts do not routinely award women child custody against their will.  They do, however, often reject men’s appeals for custody.

In short, despite the many salient and necessary conversations that are ongoing about women’s reproductive rights, men are left completely out of the discussion, even though their rights are far scanter.

A woman has the right to use a vast array of contraceptive options, become pregnant, terminate a pregnancy, give a baby up for adoption, surrender a baby to a safe haven, or give birth and raise the child, and all of these are her choice and hers alone. For a woman, sexual activity can be an expression of love, a source of physical pleasure, or an intentional step toward parenthood. She gets to choose. A man has the right to ask nicely, and cross his fingers and toes in the hope that his wishes will be considered.

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Filed under activism, feminism, men's rights, privilege, reproductive freedom, sexism, women's rights

A Brief Rant on Due Process

Over the course of the past few years there have been a great deal of sexual assault cases that were highlighted in the news and social media, from a veritable parade of celebrity accusations to the recent Stanford case.  In light of these cases, I’ve seen an awful lot of advocacy for changing policy to make conviction easier for those accused of sex crimes.  So I’d like to address that suggestion.

This is the Innocence Project, which aids in and documents the DNA exonerations of the falsely convicted. There are 342 false convictions you can read about, which have been documented and detailed on their website and can be filtered for various criteria, such as the type of crime, the reason for false conviction, the race of the defendant, and so on.

Of those 342 false convictions, 267 were from sexual assault cases, almost 80% of their cases. That’s 267 people who were locked away for years of their lives (many of them for decades) for sex crimes that they did not commit. 267 innocent people who were stripped of their jobs, esteem, freedom, and in many cases most of their lives.

And bear in mind, these 267 people are just the wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated by DNA evidence.  The most common cause of false conviction is a misidentification of the perpetrator by a witness, which has been shown in many studies to occur up to a quarter of the time when witnesses are asked to identify someone from a lineup.  Now consider that in order for an innocent convict to be exonerated due to DNA evidence, the true perpetrator’s DNA must have been present at the time of the crime and investigation, collected, and still be intact and accessible after the wrongful conviction in order to be compared with the DNA of the wrongful convict.  According to one survey of American prosecutors, only 41% had policies at their offices for the collection and preservation of DNA evidence.  Only 33% had policies for retaining that evidence after conviction.  Now consider that a majority of respondents reported that half or fewer of their cases made use of DNA evidence at all (including sexual assault, the most common type of case to use DNA).  The short list of exonerated convicts at the Innocence Project are the lucky few, undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg.  Imagine how many more aren’t so lucky, who are rotting away in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, praying for the long-shot that someone will find evidence to clear their names.

None of this is to say, by the way, that the complainants lied in all these cases. In fact, I’m not sure any of these people were put away due to explicit perjury (though knowingly false accusations do, of course, happen). Eyewitness misidentification (which constitutes about 70% of those 267 cases) is a very common but honest mistake. Nobody’s memory is perfect, especially after a traumatic event.  Other reasons for false conviction include wrongfully obtained confessions and errors in the forensic science. There are plenty of things that can go wrong in the court process. People are fallible. Mistakes are made.

So the argument to maintain or strengthen due process is not an argument that people who report rape are lying. It’s an argument that the courts are fallible, that witnesses don’t have photographic memories, that sometimes the system fails us, and sometimes the presumption of innocence is all we have to stand between an innocent man and conviction.

And by the way, the data of this project flies in the face of the idea that we live in a culture that’s okay with rape of women, sweeps it under the rug, or isn’t upset enough about it. This is a list of people whose very existence defies the narrative that we don’t try hard enough to put men away for rape. We care so much about making sure rapists get their dues that we’re putting away, at the very least, hundreds of innocent people to that end.  And remember that those falsely accused make up almost 80% of our exonerated numbers.  Which is to say, by a landslide, we are finding more innocent people incarcerated for rape than for any other violent crime.  And now we as a society are entertaining the idea of continuing to erode the right of the accused to due process and the presumption of innocence.  So stop telling me the criminal justice system doesn’t have enough sympathy for (female) rape victims.

I get that there is an under-reporting problem.  I get that some people run into bureaucratic issues or are mistreated by the criminal justice system.  I get that sexual assault is a difficult crime to prove due to the nature of the evidence, and often that means the attacker goes free.  And these are all legitimate problems that merit serious attention and real solutions.  But we must work toward solutions that don’t come at the expense of the innocent.  Rape victims will not be served by non-rapists going to jail.  That doesn’t help anyone.  We need to find solutions that better shed light on the truth of cases, rather than those which merely lower the threshold for conviction.  The last time we lowered that threshold and started taking accusers at their word without affording the accused his due process, a lot of men of the same colour started hanging from trees.  “Listen and believe” just doesn’t cut it.

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Filed under criminal justice, men's rights, rape, sexual assault