Men Hunt and Women Fish

hunting and fishing

There’s a lot of debate and moralizing about modern sexual interaction, including but not limited to the acceptability of catcalling and other compliments in public spaces, what constitutes creepy behaviour or harassment, and who has the most power in the sexual marketplace.  There seem to be a great deal of misunderstanding and miscommunication between men and women regarding these kinds of questions (and many others), and it all seems to center around the differing experiences men and women have within the sexual dynamic: men hunt and women fish.

What I mean by this is that, in heterosexual situations (generally speaking), when a man finds a woman attractive, he actively pursues her.  He approaches her, chats her up, tries to find topics to discuss with her, asks for her number, and other active, planned methods of initiating the dating process.  Men hunt.

Meanwhile, when a woman finds a man attractive, she dresses up nicely, behaves in a more friendly way when he’s around, and makes herself look as appealing as possible.  She puts out the signal that she’s available and interested, but passively, and she waits for him to come to her. Women fish.

To be clear, despite existing connotations, when I use these terms, they’re not meant to imply any kind of inherent predatory behaviour.  Hunting and fishing are both strategies which can include predation, but most people don’t prey on others.  For the purposes of this essay, assume that these are value-neutral terms.

In any case, this male hunter/female fisher dynamic is an interesting one, because of how it contrasts with the majority of the animal kingdom, where it’s typically males with the brightly coloured plumage doing a mating dance to attract attention until a desirable female approaches.  But in the human species, it is females who wear the bright colours and dance to attract attention, and the males who approach them.  In both cases, however, the females select the males.

This is generally accepted to be the result of the disparity in risk that either sex takes on in the reproductive process: a male can reproduce nearly as often as he wants without expending many resources or risking harm to himself, whereas a female can only reproduce (in the case of humans) a little more than once a year, and must accept risk to her health, great expenditure of bodily resources, and meaningful vulnerability for extended time in order to do it.  For these reasons, the female of most species is necessarily more selective than the male when choosing a mate, in order to ensure that when she does take on that risk she minimizes her odds of harm to her health in the process and produces a child that is healthy and successful.

I’m not usually that interested in evolutionary psychology as an explanation of human choices (as a broad theory, I find it leaves little room for basic agency).  Indeed, in previous articles I made it clear that, for the most part, I see gender as a combination of roles that were necessary only in the pre-industrial world, and purely constructed cultural norms that sprung up around them, but for better or worse, this risk disparity does appear to inform a lot of behaviours, both in the animal world and the human one, even though modern technology has more or less mitigated the risk disparity for humans (and in may cases reversed it).  Hunting and fishing may have evolutionary roots and be chosen in a somewhat unconscious way by those who follow gender roles without examining them, but they are choices, and those choices have consequences.

FISHING

Like any human dynamic, the “hunting and fishing” relationship comes with pros and cons for all.  The pros for women include the following:

  • A fisher’s experience in the sexual marketplace is one of constant validation.  Men must approach her in order to win her attention, and they must do so often and with many women in order to have a chance of success, so (especially if she’s conventionally attractive), she will be constantly approached.  This means that the average woman will receive regular compliments, appeals to her interest, offers of free drinks, and other forms of validation that keep her feeling attractive and appreciated.  On dates, men will try to impress her with creativity and knowledge of her interests, pay for her drinks and meals, and do their best to charm her so that she chooses them.
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  • Fishing comes with the benefit of very little up-front effort.  Constructing the bait can be time consuming if the fisher chooses (depending on how she styles her hair, makeup, clothing, etc.), but most of fishing is sitting peacefully in a boat and waiting for something to bite.  She may not have to do anything at all in order to be approached.  On dates, she is generally expected to make an effort to be attractive and interesting, but she is rarely expected to plan or pay.  She gets to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience that someone else has curated for her.
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  • Fishers enjoy a buyer’s market, due in large part to the disparity in selectiveness discussed above.  Because a hunter must play the numbers game, many hunters are constantly vying for her attention.  This makes her interest, sexuality, and beauty extremely valuable.  For this reason, not only is it much easier for her to get a date than it is for a hunter, but she also has the ability of profiting monetarily from her own sexuality in ways that men are less able to do, via modeling or sex work, but also by virtue of the many opportunities that arise for a woman who is seen as attractive (any job where her beauty will be an advantage to her when interacting directly with clients, from waitressing to sales to reporting the news).

But these benefits, of course, come with drawbacks:

  • When you fish, you are simply putting out the signal that you are available and interested, and that signal is broadcast to everyone who can see you.  This means that every available and interested hunter is going to approach you, whether or not you find him sexually attractive, putting you in the awkward position of regularly rejecting any hunters who were not the target of your initial signal.  If this happens often enough (and depending on the amount of social energy a given fisher has), many fishers will stop experiencing a deluge of hunters as validation and start to perceive it more as pestering, especially those who attract mostly hunters they don’t find attractive.
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    Especially given our culture’s particular sexual morality which casts overt sexuality as demeaning, dirty, or rude, in addition to the guilt and awkwardness of regularly rejecting others, the knee-jerk disgust reaction toward overt sexual interest expressed by someone perceived as sexually unattractive, and the feeling of being pestered, it’s common for fishers to develop a prejudice against hunter (male) sexuality that is composed of the assumptions that it is base, superficial, irritating, disgusting, or even predatory.  These prejudices and assumptions are, of course, also a disadvantage for the hunter, but they make it difficult for fishers who possess them to fairly and objectively evaluate hunters for the qualities they are seeking.  Prejudiced fishers have a very hard time finding dates, because they see most hunters as “not my type” (or worse), even when they’re not.
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  • Fishing is not a proactive strategy.  Someone who fishes simply casts the line and then waits.  Depending on their location, it may not take long for someone to bite, but the target of interest may not be among those who bite, or even be aware that a line has been cast.  Choosing to fish makes it very difficult to ensure interaction with the person you’re attracted to, and gives you little to no initial control over interactions.

HUNTING

Hunting comes with more or less reciprocal pros and cons.  Their advantages are as follows:

  • Hunting comes with the advantage of a great deal of up-front control.  Hunters get to determine, to a large extent, who to interact with and how.  They decide the terms and circumstances of how and when to approach someone.  They have creative control over the details of most dates, and because their strategy is direct, they make many of the decisions at the start of this process (for better or worse).  They are also almost never approached, so they very rarely have to reject anyone.
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  • Hunters have typically been raised as such, taught through the male gender role to actively pursue women.  This gives them a lifetime of experience approaching others, getting used to rejection, and asking for what they want, developing a thick skin and assertiveness that will serve them in many other aspects of life.

However, the disadvantages are many:

  • The high energy and effort one must keep up in order to be a successful hunter are nearly untenable (especially for introverts).  Hunters must constantly approach fishers and endure rejection time and again before any fisher accepts their appeal.  Attractiveness, charisma, and other positive characteristics increase their chances of success, but even the most attractive hunter must put in the effort of approaching and impressing fishers just to determine which fishers are attracted to them.  Even after finding an interested fisher, hunters must obtain phone numbers, initiate dates, and plan everything out.  They are also usually expected to pay for any food, drinks, or cover charges in further encounters.  And while a date for a fisher is a relaxing, curated experience (assuming the date goes well), for a hunter it’s more like a job interview.  He knows that in order to compete with the other hunters who are all vying for that fisher’s attention and affection, he must be charming, witty, interesting, generous, respectful, and just the right amount of invested, so that he appears interested but not desperate, flattering but not aggressive.  This is as stressful as it sounds.
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  • A large concern with hunters is that fishers don’t communicate much while fishing.  The hunter must read his audience carefully, because he needs to know exactly how to appeal to someone whose desires and preferences are unclear.  Most of hunting is trying to determine exactly what a given fisher will find attractive, charming, thoughtful, or interesting, usually without clear language.
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  • Since many fishers read initiating as pestering, harassment, superficiality, degradation, or foolishness, hunters run the risk not only of rejection, but also of ridicule, being labeled a creep, or worse.  This places the hunter in a catch-22 situation, where he must initiate to find a partner, since women almost never hunt, but any initiating can be read as disrespect or impropriety (often based entirely on his attractiveness, rather than his actions), so that the only remotely effective strategy men have at their disposal is to subject themselves to many forms of disapproval, from regular rejection, to disgust, to ridicule, to offense taking, to even fear or lashing out, on the off-chance that the target of his interest also finds him attractive.
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  • This collection of disadvantages inevitably leads many hunters who lack the social energy, confidence, patience, or luck necessary to maintain this strategy to disillusionment, loneliness, and depression.  When the only effective method for finding a partner requires constant effort and subjection to disappointment, in a world where most people have very little free time and come home from work already exhausted, the hunter often doesn’t have the time or energy to pursue love or sexual gratification.  Those who are less confident or unlucky in love often find this entire situation too daunting to even start, and I talk to such men all the time.

MISUNDERSTANDINGS

I mentioned at the start of this essay that I see a lot of misunderstandings between men and women that stem from this dynamic, due to their wildly different experiences in the sexual marketplace.  Perhaps one of the largest factors in this misunderstanding is that fishers, by the nature of their strategy, communicate their desires very infrequently.  For many fishers, this is because she wants to determine if a given hunter is genuinely the type she is seeking, rather than running the risk of hunters simply saying what she wants to hear in order to win her over.  Others want to be swept off their feet by someone who automatically knows what she wants.  Others still are too timid to communicate their preferences, or aren’t sure what they want in the first place.  Nevertheless, any interaction in which one party is decidedly non-communicative is bound to be frustrating.  Women often complain that men don’t understand their needs and boundaries, while men complain that women don’t communicate their needs and boundaries.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous manifestations of this failure to communicate is the game of playing coy.  Many women will feign disinterest because they enjoy being pursued, sometimes leading her to say no when she means yes.  This phenomenon is not unknown to men, which puts them in a difficult position.  They must gamble on every sign of disinterest, and every “no,” which could mean “prove how much you want me” or “I’m sincerely not interested.”  What this means is that conscientious hunters will take every “no” at face value, so a lot of secretly interested fishers will go home with their hands (and so will those hunters).

Meanwhile, more enterprising and perhaps less scrupulous hunters will win over fishers playing coy, but also run the risk of taking a genuine “no” as a secret “yes.”  This means that fishers who play this game will sometimes be rewarded for lying at the expense of honest women, and those who don’t play this game will suffer anything from the annoyance of not being taken at their word to downright sexual assault, because hunters have learned from experience that “no” sometimes means “yes.”  This puts both parties in an ugly situation: the hunter who is now labeled a consent violator for doing what other women have taught him to do, and the fisher whose consent was violated because other fishers aren’t honest about their intentions and desires.  Because of a lack of clear and honest communication, everyone loses.

Another concern that seems to inform a great deal of misunderstandings is the “buyer’s market” aspect of the dynamic.  Because women are constantly approached and appealed to, their perception of this experience is going to be different from that of men’s.  While women with more social energy enjoy this flattery, those with less find it tiresome (before you add in the ideological interpretations, such as the feminist assumption that it’s meant to be demean or control women).  Hunters hear from both kinds of women, and this often feels like a mixed message.  Hunters aren’t sure what degree of engagement is appropriate, because different women have different preferences and comfort levels.  And fundamentally, hunters struggle to understand how fishers could be annoyed or unimpressed by being constantly complimented and sought out, since the average hunter, who endures rejection and disapproval as a necessary part of seeking dates, would kill for a fraction of the validation or appreciation that the average fisher receives.  While a fisher may consider a given behaviour superficial or harassment, a hunter may see it as a sort of genuine human connection for which he feels starved.  Similarly, (largely because of the sexual morality of our culture) fishers see their ability to profit from their sexuality and beauty as cheapening or dehumanizing, whereas many hunters just wish they could do it.

Less of a miscommunication between the sexes and more of a broad misunderstanding, the hunting/fishing dynamic leads to perception of males as more sexual and females as less sexual than they actually are.  Because hunters must play the numbers game, they are perceived as “always on” or being driven by sex.  Meanwhile, because fishers play the gatekeeper, they are perceived in the extreme as frigid or asexual, in the less extreme as having a default of disinterest.  This leads to asymmetrical sexual advocacy, in which women are protected from sexuality like Victorian-era prudes (even by progressives), and men are excluded from advocacy against sexual misconduct, because someone who always wants sex can’t fail to consent or be victimized by harassment or assault.  This isn’t just a misperception between the sexes.  Generally speaking, I have seen that women perceive women this way and men perceive men this way, too.

Finally, because the bait for fishing is mostly physical beauty (as well as its value and profitability outside the sexual marketplace), many women suffer from the misconception that a woman’s societal value is limited to her physical appearance.  Because of this, they worry that they will become devalued, less respected, or less appreciated as they age.  What these women don’t realize is that just like women, men value physical attractiveness and a wide variety of personality traits in their partners, and that once a hunter learns that a given fisher is far more beautiful than she is interesting, he’s likely to move along, just as a woman might do with a man who is more beautiful than he is interesting.  Furthermore, her value to society is not, and never was, limited to her value to a prospective partner.  However, any fisher who worries about this can assuage her worries by being sure to cultivate a personality and a variety of practical skills (which is something that hunters must do in order to have even initial success, since they appeal to fishers with attributes like charisma and wit).

SOLUTIONS

I’ve outlined a lot of problems that result from the wildly different experiences men and women have in dating and sexuality, from the initial drawbacks of either side to the ways men and women fail to understand each other through the lens of these differing experiences.  Here are my proposed solutions.

Most obviously, men and women simply need to communicate more, on an individual level and in groups.  On the individual level, women need to say what they need out loud and be willing to clearly communicate their boundaries, or men are going to continue to live in the dark.  Women need to stop playing coy, because this leaves everyone lonely at best, and harms other women at worst.  On the group level, men and women need spaces to air their grievances and be heard as equals.  No privilege checking, no victim contests, no arguing over which side has more pros or cons.  Everyone needs to be willing to listen in earnest, with an open mind to the existence of real problems and drawbacks on both sides.

Second, I’ve noticed something with the rise of the normalization of queer relationships: it’s helping break down gender roles for all, including heterosexuals.  Who should pay for a date between two men?  When two women are attracted to each other, who should ask the other out?  How should an existing poly couple approach a prospective third?  These kinds of questions inherently raise questions about the necessity of dividing the roles in heterosexual dating so simplistically as they have been in traditionalist societies.

When there’s no default role for any party in the pursuit of relationships (when both are the same sex, for example), roles develop naturally as a result of individual personalities, rather than individuals feeling that they have to fit gendered expectations of how to approach interaction.  The result is that queer relationships, especially in media representation and discourse on relationships present public examples of alternatives to the male hunter/female fisher dynamic.  The availability of such examples have, I’ve observed, led to more heterosexuals choosing an approach that suits them better.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, women need to bite the bullet and start hunting.  I started doing this at a young age (when I was only dating men), but it became even more important when I started dating women (since many women, even queer women, tend not to initiate).  From the very beginning it dramatically shifted my perspective on the entire dating process, and I think every woman would benefit from hunting at least sometimes, and men would benefit too, in the following ways:

  • Women would share in the burden of constant rejection and the up-front effort of approaching targets of attraction.
  • This basic role reversal will help men and women better understand each other’s experiences, perspectives, and complaints.
  • Women will start to understand that hunting isn’t predation, harassment, or the purview of the shallow
  • Men will get a piece of that sweet, sweet validation pie.
  • Women won’t have to sit around waiting for a partner to come along.
  • Even if only some women choose to start hunting, this will start to shrink the massive disparity in sexual value between men and women.  When more women are actively pursuing men, more men will have a chance at dating.
  • Experience on the hunter side of the dynamic will give women more of an opportunity to develop thicker skin and assertiveness.
  • A role reversal will reduce the perception of women as chaste and men as always on, leading to more respect and understanding for women’s sexuality and men’s capacity for non-consent.

In short, I constantly hear from men who are at a loss because they struggle to find the time and energy needed to be successful hunters, the patience and determination necessary to endure rejection, and the finesse required to navigate the catch-22 of sexual morality.  They suffer from loneliness and depression, and often self-loathing, and don’t know how else to proceed.  They could try fishing, but with so few female hunters, it’s not a viable strategy.  As is so often the case, what needs to happen is the breakdown of gender roles.  Men need to try fishing sometimes, and women need to try hunting sometimes.

 

EDIT: Understand that these assessments of human behaviour and experience are meant to be comparative, not absolute.  So while I understand that women who fish experience some rejection, for example, which varies with level of attractiveness and other factors, I think that this is substantially less the case for a given woman/fisher than for an equivalently attractive man/hunter.  Furthermore, for hunters it is more direct and explicit rejection, as opposed to the subtle and arguably less painful rejection of simply not being approached by the target of your interest.

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On Gender and Astrology

 

open-cluster-in-perseus_shutterstock_55193803

For the amount that I write about gender, I’ve never really attempted to define or explain what I think it is, much past its relevance to the social and political sphere.  In truth, gender as a personal identity was never something I could quite wrap my head around, and here I’ll try to explain why.

When I was growing up I was super into astrology.  And so was a lot of my family.  I even had a grandmother who learned how to draw up those elaborate charts for people.  As it happens, I thought my sign fit me like a glove.  It was uncanny.  So I would memorize my chart, read my horoscopes, and even read up on who I was supposed to date and be friends with based on my sign.  “Yeah, I never stop talking — I’m a Gemini!”  I liked it so much that I thought about who I was through this lens.  It was more than just fun, it was part of my identity.

I would also try to guess what signs other people had based on their personalities, and sometimes I was even right.  And I noticed something: unsurprisingly, the people I met who were as into astrology as I was, like me, felt that their signs fit them perfectly.  As for the folks who felt no connection to their signs?  They tended to reject the zodiac and pursue other interests.

As I got older I started to do the same.  I realized that the list of characteristics associated with my sign didn’t describe me nearly as well as I’d thought.  I might be gregarious and communicative, but I’m not superficial and two-faced.  If anything, I’m brutally honest and even blunt to the point of rudeness, more like an Aries.  And I don’t flit between friendships without committing much to any.  I’m fiercely loyal to the people I love, like a Cancer.

If I wanted to, I could choose one of these as a new sign to identify with.  I could come up with some explanation, like “this is my rising, and it fills in a lot of the gaps in describing me,” or “these signs appear more on my chart than Gemini does,” or even “I was born a month before my due date — I’m actually supposed to be a Cancer.”  But a much better explanation is that my mother is blunt and honest and my father is loyal, and I acquired these traits through my upbringing as most people do.

Don’t get me wrong.  Astrology is a fine source of entertainment when it’s done light-heartedly, and I don’t begrudge the people who buy into it and enjoy it.  It’s an easy way to group personalities (if you don’t mind simplifying them), and it can be fun to compare yourself to these archetypes.  But if your sign doesn’t fit you, it’s not because you need to discover what your real sign is.  It’s because astrology isn’t real, and the quasi-spiritual musings of the ancient Greeks were never meant to predict human personalities and behaviour several thousand years into the future.  If your sign does fit you, it’s a coincidence, not the workings of some mystical part of the universe that has a tap on your true inner self.  I’m not really a Gemini or a Cancer.  I’m a person who is both talkative and loyal, and the fact that those traits exist in some archetypes from the ancient world is completely irrelevant to who I am as a person.

This is exactly how I feel about gender.

There seems to be a fairly heated debate here on the internet about whether there are two or many more genders, and I’m of the firm opinion that this is the wrong question to ask.  I don’t see gender as a fundamental truth about a person that needs to be discovered and actualized.  A gender is a series of traits, tasks, expectations, and stereotypes associated with a traditional sex role, which was (and still is in many respects) used to pigeonhole people.  It’s not something that’s found in oneself as some personal but objective truth.  It’s something that’s placed on a person based on stereotyping, which some individuals choose to use as the language through which to self-identify.

In most western cultures, there are two of these pigeonholes, though some eastern cultures and much of the ancient world seem to have a more nuanced approach (which is to say, three or more pigeonholes). Theoretically we could construct as many as we want, on the societal or individual level. But since we have modern technology and a fairly progressive first world that is trying its darnedest to move away from pigeonholing people (by gender or by any other demographic features), it strikes me as counterproductive to identify ourselves and others using this outdated and limited system.

If I say that I identify as a woman, I most likely mean one of two things: that I am comfortable with my female biology, or that my personality is more in line with the feminine gender role than any other. In the former case, I consider this fair but superficial. My view of my body, positive or negative, is worth addressing, but it doesn’t define who I am as a person. In the latter case, my identifying as a woman may well fit the typical feminine description, but it’s superfluous. If I were a devoted mother who liked shopping and fashion, and those aspects mattered to me, they could be part of my identity without validating stereotypes, just as I can see myself as talkative and gregarious without validating astrology by claiming that this is because I’m a Gemini.  It’s reasonable to acknowledge and discuss the physical reality of one’s body, how one views or feels about that body, or which archetypal traits apply to one’s personality.  These linguistic shortcuts make sense in context and I have no objection to them.  But I differentiate meaningfully between an acknowledgment of any of the above and a personal identity.  To proclaim that one’s perception of one’s body or one’s degree of adherence to a given pre-industrial sex role is what fundamentally makes someone who they are is superficial and sexist.

If I haven’t made it clear, I am a staunch social constructivist.  That obviously doesn’t mean I think that genders were invented by The Patriarchy(TM) to oppress women (or the reverse).  Indeed, they were once necessary to survival.  But just because I am the only person in my household who could bear and nurse children doesn’t mean that’s the most fulfilling occupation for me as an individual or an inherent aspect of who I am as a person.  The very basics of pre-industrial division of labour — men use their muscles to provide and protect, women use their female anatomy to produce and nourish children — were biologically dependent and necessary to functioning society before modern technology, but the cultural practices and beliefs that sprung up around those roles over the millennia — women are better at cooking, men are better at driving, women like shopping, men like sports, etc. — are probably arbitrary and socially constructed.  A substantial amount of these assumptions are outright wrong (the best chefs in the world are predominantly men, and women are less likely to get into car accidents, for example), and even those stereotypes that are borne out in trends of human behaviour have enough outliers to be poor predictors on their own.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many people who adhere, to a large extent, to these descriptions, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with those who do.  But what it does mean is that, since these aren’t natural kinds of people determined by some mystical force, there are going to be a lot of us who just want something different out of life than the pre-made cookie cutter existences labeled “masculinity” or “femininity.”

In short, after all the hard work that’s been done to liberate many of us from these expectations, I don’t see the point of constructing an identity based on the degree to which I do or don’t adhere to them, and I find it confusing that anyone who views themselves as anti-gender-roles or anti-sexism would want to do so.  I don’t know how many genders there are.  I guess the answer to that question depends on which culture or how many cultures you’re looking at when you ask.  But the more important question, which nobody seems to be asking in these terms, is how many genders should there be?  To that I argue zero.  Zero pigeonholes.

To be clear, this essay isn’t meant as an instruction for how one ought to self-conceptualize, a judgment upon others’ self-expression, or some TERF manifesto — by now you should have noticed that my thoughts on this subject apply as much to cis identities as it does to anyone else.  I support the vast array of human expression, and I want to see more people feeling free to act and live the way they prefer, whether or not that fits in with a prescribed role.  But I question the act of self-labeling to communicate that this makes one more or less of a man, or more or less of a woman, as if there were traits or interests that a man or woman somehow must or couldn’t possess.  Those stereotypes need to be eliminated, not reinforced by a gender discourse which identifies individuals within them (as I would argue for astrology, were it used to enforce expectations and judgments upon others).

The fact that I am good at party planning, painting my nails, and reading people doesn’t validate female gender stereotypes or make me a woman any more than the fact that I like whiskey on the rocks and combat sports and sit with my knees far apart validates male stereotypes or makes me a man.  I could do any of these things as a man or a woman.  The fact that I, like every other human being living or dead, possess some combination of both stereotypically masculine and feminine traits also doesn’t necessarily validate the concept of alternative genders.  What these things say about me is that, like everyone else, I’m a real human being who is too complex an organism to place neatly onto this clumsy spectrum that is better suited to illustrating the differences between Betty Boop and Johnny Bravo than it is to understanding human identity.  As I see it, the fact that everyone deviates from the poles of this spectrum in some ways does less to validate the idea of many genders and more to invalidate the idea of gender as a natural kind.

And this spectrum is not just a poor basis on which to identify people, but I also see it as a strange preoccupation.  Identity really shouldn’t be something that must receive external validation in order to exist or bring satisfaction, and yet most people, cis or trans, are so tied up in their gendered interpretation of their identity that they are concerned with how that gender is perceived by others.  This is utterly alien to me.  Just as I’m not concerned with whether or not someone can guess my astrological sign (or my race, sexual orientation, national origin, etc.), I can’t imagine being bothered that someone perceives me as a man.  This is not only because there’s nothing wrong with being a man, but also because these demographic tidbits tell you nothing meaningful about a person.  My identity isn’t built on superficial things like race, sexual orientation, anatomy, or where I fall on some simplistic imaginary spectrum.  It’s built on things, such as being gregarious and speaking frankly, that make me who I am, traits which I feel lend me toward virtues I value.  These are things that I think matter about myself, that affect how I see myself and make me proud of who I am, and they are things I can be and do regardless of my sex or what time of the year I was born.

Is there any reason it should matter to me whether another person perceives me as a man, woman, or neither, provided they respect me as a person?  Is there a reason I should perceive myself through that lens at all?  At what point do we simply acknowledge that gender archetypes are not the best tool for describing people and not a basis on which to build a human identity?  Instead, we should acknowledge that an identity is something that is based on one’s personality and accomplishments, and any labels which have been constructed for us by a myopic and limited past society are nothing but superfluous to that process.

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A Critique of #NotAllMen

no one thinks all men

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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Filed under antifeminism, discrimination, empowerment, sexism, Uncategorized

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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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, gender roles, men's rights, patriarchy, Uncategorized

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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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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