Category Archives: activism

On the Reporting Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Silly Anti-feminists, Tumblr is for Kids

At the risk of alienating some of my more opinionated anti-feminist readers, I’m about to do something that most of you probably didn’t see coming: I’m going to defend Tumblr.

Especially in the anti-feminist parts of the online world, I see an awful lot of posts about Tumblr, Tumblr feminism, Tumblr social justice warriors, and other silliness, usually with captions like “This is what feminists actually believe.” This usually comes along with general sentiments mocking the site and its bizarre notions about sexuality, equality, and personal identity, and blaming it for the degradation of sanity and toughness we see in modern cultural trends, but I just don’t think that’s fair. There’s a reason I never bring up Tumblr’s particular brand of feminism or social justice when I talk about egalitarian and men’s issues, and that reason is simple: Tumblr is a children’s website (or, at least, the parts of it that these types of arguments highlight).

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Take this paradigmatic example of a post on one of their forums (taken from some rant on Facebook about how far down the rabbit hole feminism and related movements have gone). Yes, this looks downright out of touch with reality, when you look at it from the assumption that internet users are adults, but that’s just not true of Tumblr (google their demographics if you doubt me). Most of the users that produce content like this are children and adolescents, and let me tell you something.

This is really common behaviour for children and adolescents, and it’s nothing new. The only difference is that now we are teaching 3-year-olds how to use technology, so new generations are working their way into internet forums much earlier than we did (so now, their embarrassing childhood silliness is codified into public internet permanence to embarrass them later).

Don’t believe me? Let me give you some examples. At the risk of airing all my childhood ridiculousness for the internet to see, here are some (yes, SOME) of the things that I personally convinced myself when I was between the ages of 8 and 18:

  • I was from Mars, and my parents found me as a baby alien on their doorstep.

  • I had superpowers (this was a recurring theme in various incarnations throughout my childhood, and is unbelievably common of children).

  • Harry Potter books described a real secret world, and I would get a letter from Hogwarts. (Let’s be realistic: most Harry Potter fans at least hoped for that letter.)

  • I had some kind of psychic or magic connection to Harry Potter, and that’s why I get migraines.

  • I can become a character on a cartoon show and live as a cartoon superhero, and this is something that will probably happen.

  • I can perceive and talk to ghosts, have ghost friends and enemies, and sometimes even fight those ghost enemies.

Yes, I really believed these things growing up (much to the dismay and bafflement of my parents, who had never had a child before). And you know what? I had friends, lots of them, that believed them too. In fact, every one of these silly little narratives was part of a game I played with one or more friends. Some of them were people I met online through games, forums, or other digital communities. Some of them were people I knew in person, friends from school or other real-world communities. And I knew other people who insisted that they were mythical creatures, real-world incarnations of fictional characters, religious figures, and beings they themselves made up. I had a friend from Quizilla (anyone remember Quizilla?) who claimed she was part demon, part angel, part vampire, and the physical incarnation of an anime character. And that was 15 years ago, long before Tumblr was a thing.

And now that I’m a teacher, I’ve overheard many middle and high school students over the years engaging in play like this. Because children and adolescents are in desperate search of their identity. They’re building their personalities and self-stories. They’re breaking from the parts of them that are constructed by their environment and upbringing and forging individual humans as they develop, and a lot of this, just like everything else children do, comes with some egocentrism, a great deal of imagination, and a certain detachment from empirical reality. There’s nothing weird or scary about it. After all, we don’t panic when a little girl sits in a cardboard box and claims it’s a spaceship. We don’t tell her she’s mentally ill for thinking she’s an astronaut, and we don’t suggest she’s having a delusion that has a harmful effect on culture or policy. She’s just a child, and children play.

Now, the worry I often hear is that of the legitimizing effect of a gigantic global online community of people, using formalized language to describe things that perhaps shouldn’t be legitimized, but this just doesn’t worry me, and I’ll tell you why.

When I was a kid, we legitimized each other’s wild ideas in person, and it reinforced them just the same. In middle and high school (here’s more information to indict my mental health if I ever run for president), I had a group of friends who used to hang out in the basement and play with a Ouija board. Lots and lots of kids do this, but we built one hell of a complex world using this toy. We invented characters with relatively complex personalities, rules for how that world worked, and an elaborate mythology in which all this took place. We constructed a jargon to describe this world and mythology, too, just like Tumblr does. The only difference is, there were about half a dozen of us, rather than a few million. We pretended to communicate with these beings and even allow them to take control of us, and we totally believed that shit. Sometimes the characters did frightening or terrible things, and we believed that too. We would get legitimately scared or upset, invested in the characters and the effects we supposed that they had on our lives. We talked about it, we discussed and problem solved. We played out the solutions. And we did this stuff for years.

When I was a young adult, I looked back on this in fear and confusion and questioned the hell out of my mental health. But then I started studying education and developmental psychology. Perhaps my friends and I were a bit more imaginative than the average kid, but overall, this type of play is totally normal. I encountered it in others when I was that age, and I see it all the time now that I teach (like the young man who told me that the poltergeist that lives in his bedroom tried to push him out the window). It’s not an indictment of our culture, it isn’t scary, and by no means is it a product of Tumblr. In fact, not only is not scary and not harmful, but it’s actually an evolutionary mechanism by which we learn how to perceive, understand, and navigate the world. That’s what play is. Just as kittens play fight or pretend to hunt to learn to do these things for real, a human child plays through imaginary scenarios to learn to problem solve and develop other cognitive skills, and in the process, just like kittens, they look a little silly.

The tumblrite SJW stuff is no different, either. Who among us hasn’t had ridiculous, misinformed opinions that they grew out of when they started to experience and read about the actual world? Tumblr politics are no more or less than the ideas of young people who are just starting to try to understand the world from a sociopolitical perspective, and pointing to them to criticize actual adult politics is intellectually lazy and dishonest.

I’ll give you one more embarrassing story from my personal childhood. When I was maybe 8 or 9, I was really into Captain Planet. I’ve always cared about environmental issues, but as a tiny human, my understanding of the way such things worked was pretty limited. One day, my uncle came by to dig a big trench in our yard to install some kind of piping. In my limited understanding of the planet Earth, influenced by a children’s cartoon, I decided that this trench was a wound that harmed the planet, and since (unsurprisingly, I’m sure) I’ve always fancied myself something of an activist, I snuck out after the digging had been done and replaced as much of the dirt as I could before the piping could be laid. Yes, I actually did that, more than once after my uncle repeated the process, and my family was very upset with me when they found out what had been happening. Of course, it eventually turned into a big joke. Every once in a while, some members of my family will still tell this story. Because you know that I was a child when this happened, you might be laughing right now, too. Of course, it was a ridiculous act on my part, a hilarious misunderstanding of any reasonable environmentalist position. But you wouldn’t use this story as a representative argument to indict actual adult environmentalism. That would be dishonest and unfair, and this is why I never talk about Tumblr feminism.

But is this community of young people a dangerous thing to expose to that section of the adult population that could be described as dysfunctional products of the self-esteem movement, who may use it to validate their misguided narcissism? Maybe, but that’s more the fault of failing education and mental healthcare systems (and the movement that produced said individuals) than an online forum for children to play and discuss the construction of their identities. You and I grew out of our childhood games, and so will they, whether it’s attention seeking behaviour or they truly believe what they’re saying. After all, many of my friends who once believed they were superheroes, ghost hunters, or vampires have long since grown into successful, productive, healthy, and quite reasonable people (in fact, one of them grew up to be a prominent student leader at an ivy league university and went on to make even grander accomplishments that earned international recognition). An adult that never grows out of these behaviours is a separate issue entirely, and should be addressed from an educational or mental healthcare perspective.

Listen, I don’t like Tumblr either. So I have a simple solution. I don’t go there, for the same reason I don’t watch Disney Channel shows and I don’t play in the ball pit at McDonald’s: I’m an adult that isn’t interested in those things.

So, if you wouldn’t hate on Disney Channel or ball pits, don’t hate on Tumblr. It isn’t for you. If you don’t like it, use a different social media site, and stop using it as a straw man to attack adult politics. You’re literally picking on children just because they’re easy targets, in addition to committing some pretty egregious cherry picking that makes the anti-feminist community look like a bunch of buffoons. Kindly stop it. There are plenty of perfectly good arguments to be made against actual practiced and influential adult feminism. How about we focus on those?

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Filed under activism, antifeminism, education, personal, tumblr

My Story

I’m a gender equality activist who has spent the past few years doing my best to put my ideas out there, and it occurred to me that it was about time I started a blog.  I identify strictly as egalitarian, and not feminist. I find ideological feminism and its corresponding worldview unfairly biased, unempowering, harmful to both men and women in a number of ways, and often divorced from reality, and a lot of my blog is going to be about that. I could spend hours throwing out examples, arguments, studies, and links that may or may not sway you (goodness knows I spend enough time doing that), but I’d rather start off like this, with my story.

I was raised on Henley’s poem Invictus. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a quick google. I have it memorized. The last stanza goes like this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My parents are staunch Republicans, and despite leaning definitively left of center, I always managed to hang onto the values of self reliance, self respect, and personal responsibility with which I was raised. Henley’s point was that no matter how bad things get, you always have choices that you can make. You have agency. I truly believe that perceiving yourself as a victim is the first step toward being one, and that in order to rise above adversity one must only conceive of doing so. I get that that is a trite message and a known platitude, but I do my best to live it, and it has served me well.

Being the child of decently wealthy white people in the suburbs, I never really encountered any adversity. I was a typical self-serving, self-interested, whiny privileged adolescent. I mean, I was bullied because I liked to think outside the box more than occasionally, but that hardly counts as adversity. In fact, I tend to lose some degree of respect for people who think a little name calling is any kind of tragedy.

But one thing a conservative upper class family doesn’t like at all is any non-traditional expression of sexuality. When I was 20 I realized I like women. I’ve never been a jealous person, and had always questioned monogamy as an institution, so I entered into a polyamorous relationship with a couple (a married man and woman). I didn’t intend to tell my family about this at all unless it ever became serious, but someone I considered a dear friend at the time had other plans. In a jaw-dropping display of narcissism and utter soullessness she outed me to my parents in a letter.

They came to visit me at school one weekend, letter in hand, shouting and sobbing. There were a lot of “no daughter of mines” and “where did we go wrongs.” They threatened my then boyfriend and degraded my girlfriend, as if the consensual relationship choices she and I made were somehow coerced by his patriarchal brainwashing witchcraft. My father told me it was the worst day of his life. My mother told me she would rather I have a terminal illness than be doing what I was doing. They decided not to continue helping me pay for school (a luxury, I know, but it was the meaning that bothered me), and more or less stopped talking to me except to chastise and attempt to coerce me. I know this is a common story for LGBTs, atheists, and other “undesirables” across the globe, but nothing hurts like knowing the love of your parents is conditional.

Without their financial assistance, I pretty much had to move in with my significant others. My family distanced themselves further from me. I didn’t go home for the holidays. The threats continued. My father googled my partners and their families, found out where everyone lived. He threatened to hurt people. He threatened to hire someone to hurt people. Cops were called. The relationship(s?) became strained, because nothing puts a damper on a relationship like “your father might actually kill me” and “I gave up everything in my life for this???”

Unfortunately for everyone involved, my partners both turned out to be selfish, emotionally immature, and abusive (this is not a statement on the poly community at all – indeed, I now know some incredible poly people whose rationality, love, and integrity amaze me – but these two were less than great human beings and poorly suited to that relationship model to begin with). When I felt like I had nothing, they still made me feel worthless. I left them one morning almost a year later. I packed my bags and snuck out while they slept. They got a divorce shortly after, and while she never spoke to me again, he tried to call me almost daily to make amends.

I was young and dumb, and gave him a second chance. He was a sociopath, and I mean that in the clinical, diagnostic kind of way (not because he was a man, but because he was a shitty person). He drove a wedge even further (if possible) between my family and me just by being in my life. He put himself in opposition to my friends, put pressure on me to stay in when I would otherwise have gone out, and somehow convinced me to isolate myself until he was the main influence in my life, and then he insisted I move with him to another city. He was pretty much all I had at that point, so I did.

I have scars from the following years. My thumbs and wrists are fucked up from being held down. My jaw is often sore (though was miraculously never fractured) from all the times I was slammed into my carpet face-first. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, and neither is my voice. I have aversions to sex in certain contexts. If I am surprised or hurt unexpectedly, I sometimes black out and start swinging. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. In my defense, I never allowed myself to be wholly helpless. I broke his foot and nose, and nearly reversed his knee, all on separate occasions and all in self defense, in addition to some other more minor injuries. But it was bad. Four years of idiotic bad. Most people who knew me before I was with him have no idea. I’d rather die than see the look of shock and pity on the faces of people who have always known me to be driven and strong.

About two years into this new hellish incarnation of the relationship, I was working for an institution that was full of corruption in which I refused to take part, so I lost my job. I had been told all my life that if you get fired in my field, you never work again. I found myself working at a shitty call center to make ends meet. I cried on the way to work every morning. I guess it was the last straw, because four months later I tried to kill myself.

It didn’t work, somehow, and I got back on track. I found another job where my integrity was appreciated. I started making friends, and an old friend I thought I’d lost came back into my life.  His support played a big role in helping me kick that bastard out of my house and out of my life for good about a year and a half ago. I had to pay him off to get rid of him and ensure his cooperation in removing his name from the deed and bills. I still have nightmares that I wake up to find him in my house at night (among a slew of other weird and crazy symptoms), but things are getting better.

I have a job I love, friends who mean the world to me, and people who love me without ever hurting me. My mother converted to Buddhism to eliminate the conflict between her religion and her daughter (though things are still, understandably, strained between my family and me, and forgiveness is not an option). In light of everything, I think I have a richer, happier life than most. And I think a big part of why I’m so happy is because I have such an unbearable low to compare this high to. No matter what happens, it will always be better than isolated, unsafe in my own home, suicidal, and rejected by my family.

I despise people that tell women they are victims. Making someone out to be a victim, telling them they are helpless and need beg for their humanity from some larger cultural force, is the opposite of empowerment. Putting me on a pedestal and telling me society wronged me does nothing to help me regain control and dignity in my life, but instead denies me agency and humanity. I made poor choices, I met horrible people, and bad things happened to me. I played my part. I suffered, and I learned. Wallowing and raging won’t help me now, and I’m disgusted by people who drive their self serving social and political agendas with stories like mine. And in spite of my suffering, I wouldn’t take any of it back if I could, because I now know how to handle a crisis, how to defend myself (or royally kick someone’s ass), and how not to make mountains out of mole hills. I actually do wake up every day grateful for all the simple pleasures I once took for granted.

I know this all sounds like a cheesy motivational self-help speech, but it’s my story. You’ll have to take my word for it, but every word is true. I hope it was inspiring, or whatever those kinds of stories are supposed to be. I hope to use my story and the lessons I’ve learned to promote true empowerment of survivors who are women, men, and everything in between.

And that’s the thing. After everything that happened, I started to do some research. I learned that my experience was far from specific to women. I learned that about as many men suffer these types of violence as women, but they are ignored and often denied legitimacy and justice for their suffering. And then I started learning that many men I know have been through what I have and worse. Now I’m an activist, because I want the justice, support systems, and basic human empathy to which I have unquestioning access to be extended to all survivors and sufferers of violence. I stand up and speak out on behalf of the men I love and everyone like them, who deserve the same kindness I have received and the same empathy and support that’s given to me as automatically as blinking. No one should have to suffer alone or be ridiculed for their pain.

In this blog, you can expect to see my attempt at actual empowerment of women and violence survivors, anti-feminism, men’s rights advocacy, egalitarianism/humanism, broader discussion of gender issues, and other rants and rambles. Read on if you dare.

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