Category Archives: sexism

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.

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Filed under antifeminism, discrimination, empowerment, sexism, Uncategorized

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

On Expectations, Worth, and Suicide

Throughout human history, men have raised houses and barns, constructed bridges, built nations, structured democracies, mined resources, made tools, innovated solutions, improved technology, and created the world we live in with all its comforts and advancements. This is not to devalue women’s contributions, but historically men have contributed the majority of these things. They did this because it was their prescribed role. It was part of their duty as men.

Comedians joke that everything men have accomplished has been done with the goal of impressing women, but I think there is a grain of truth to this. Up until very recently, and to a large extent today, men’s task has been to provide for their wives (and any unmarried female family members) and keep them safe. They have built walls, dug ditches, toiled in mines, and gone to war, all to defend and put food in the mouths of the women whose well-being was entrusted to them, who were allowed to stay in the safety of their homes (in eras when the outside world was by no means safe) and toil there instead. The popular narrative depicts women throughout history as servants to men, but even if that’s true, through most ages and most places, men have also been slaves to women’s needs and wants, their value measured by their labour and ability to meet the needs of their wives, mothers, sisters, and children, often at great personal risk.

Today this is reflected in the way we treat the poor and unemployed: women without jobs are not questioned, even when they have families, even in an era when a single income is rarely enough to support a household. They are stay-at-home moms with their own brand of credibility, or they receive empathy for the struggle of finding work in a rough economy. Men who are not employed are called deadbeats, accused of laziness or apathy, their worth, again, measured by what they can provide. Women who are unable to provide for their families have access to countless assistance programs: government housing, heating assistance, grants, WIC, and so on, many of which are specifically geared toward women. Our empathy for them and their needs has been codified into law. Though men sometimes have access to these services too, you don’t hear of many women who go to jail for their inability to pay for their children’s needs. Men’s expectation of being the bread winner is likewise codified into law. Failing to pay child support is a felony offense punishable by jail time, effectively punishing a man’s inability to materially support his family (even from a distance) with the revocation of his human rights. This is one of the few cases in our modern society in which poverty can result in imprisonment.

Indeed, a man’s value is measured by his material worth to his family, and by his worth to women. And this is apparent in the way men and women pursue dating and relationships. A man is expected to make the first move, in a way that is both charming and direct, but not too forward, or else he’ll be perceived as creepy or rude. If he is outwardly disappointed by rejection, he is accused by women of coercion or entitlement, and by other men considered pathetic. If the woman agrees, he must plan the date, and it should be creative, clever, and show that he has been listening to the things that interest her. On the date, he should be funny and engaging. He must impress and entertain her, lest she direct her attention toward any of her other interested suitors. And goodness knows he’s to foot the bill. Women, conversely, are expected to show up.

Women complain that they get too much attention from men. Their love and approval is valued so highly that they are tired of being asked for it. Women are so used to being highly valued that they view it as an insult. Ugh, another man thinks I’m awesome. Gross.

Men, on the other hand, complain of rejection, of being undervalued and unappreciated. Men compete over women because the measure of a man is in his ability to appeal to women. Feminists will argue that this objectifies women by commoditizing them and their sexuality, but I interpret it differently. The way I see it, this practice overvalues women. It objectifies men, as beings who are only worthy of respect when they have a woman’s approval.

Add all this to the popular narrative that men oppress, harass, assault, sexually objectify, and have unilateral advantages over women, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion and depression. In many circles, men are perceived as harming women just by existing. In more moderate circles, men in sexual or romantic positions are feared as potential predators and demonized as scoundrels, their sexuality perceived as inherently disrespectful or crass. Thus the necessary methods they employ to pursue their prescribed source of validation, women’s love and respect, are decried as disrespectful impropriety, even when they aren’t. The same behaviour can be labeled as charming or as sexual harassment, depending on whether or not the man in question is sexually attractive to the woman doing the defining. He can be daring and romantic, bumbling and pathetic, or crude and presumptuous, again, depending on how he’s received, and all is subject to the judgment of onlooking men and women alike. Men are judged for not earning the attention of women, and they are judged for trying to earn it.

Men built the world we live in, put their bodies, mental health, and lives on the line, are expected to be the last out of a burning building or off a sinking ship, and base their very self-worth on their ability to appeal to, protect, provide for, and if necessary sacrifice for women. And yet feminism and popular culture have the nerve to not only ask them what they’ve done for women lately, but cast them as the villains of the story, the mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplashes who enjoy plotting against us and benefiting at our expense.

But men aren’t Snidely Whiplashes. They are socialized strongly and (many theories suggest) evolved psychologically to care about women. Caring what women want and feel is part of their prescribed purpose, a fundamental piece of the gender role puzzle that so many think is designed to step all over women. So you’ve got an entire well-meaning population (most of whom have done nothing wrong, let alone harass, assault, or oppress anyone) absorbing this message and feeling evil for existing, ashamed of their gender, ashamed of their sexuality, afraid they’ll never find love when seeking it is such a complicated mine field of fine lines to navigate, or convinced they are undeserving of love in the first place.

Many don’t remember the Scott Aaronson debacle, when a young professor at MIT was brave enough to articulate this problem (albeit through a more feminist lens), and was subsequently shamed by the online feminist community for the implicit misogyny of being driven to depression and self-harm by the catch-22 of being valued based on your worth to women when it’s difficult to pursue or obtain it without breaking the complicated rules of propriety. This catch-22 was so distressing to him, that in an effort to rid himself of an urge that he felt was inherently disrespectful and harmful to women, he pursued chemical sterilization. And for this self-loathing and compulsive need to be anything but a misogynist, he was shamed as one.

I myself have spoken to countless other men who have found themselves suffering guilt, shame, depression, or self-loathing just like Aaronson. I have consoled men who felt guilty for asking women out, or for requesting sex from their significant others, men who were convinced that their sexuality was inherently harmful, heterosexual men suffering the same societally inflicted moralistic self-loathing as homosexuals unfortunate enough to grow up in fundamentalist Christian communities. I have spoken to men who were convinced that they were unlovable and worthless human beings because of a lack of luck or skill with romance, men who had resigned themselves to loneliness and blamed themselves. I’ve even spoken to a man in his last days of suicidal depression, citing this problem as the cause of his distress. He was disillusioned with the entire construct of love and dating, and yet still felt that something was horribly wrong with him for being unable to meet its impossible standards. I believe it to be no coincidence that men are four of every five suicides.

And yet when men try to address these concerns and others like them, they are shamed like Aaronson, or worse. Men who seek answers and solutions to this quagmire are called misogynists and rape apologists. They are ironically accused of entitlement and of viewing women as objects, for the crime of not wanting their worth to be measured in women’s approval. Men who convene to formally discuss this are slandered in the press and sent death threats in private. They feel the need to pay for extensive security for their safety. They are protested by women who shout over their talks and bang on pots and pans. They have fire alarms pulled on their events.

Do women want so badly for men to stop killing themselves? Perhaps we just can’t stand the idea of men realizing they don’t have to live their lives for us.

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Filed under antifeminism, gender roles, men's health, men's rights, sexism, suicide

On Feminism, Equality, and Scotsmen

I’ve encountered this meme several times recently in my daily internet adventures, so I thought I’d offer my two cents on it and the surrounding philosophy.

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The idea is that feminism is for everyone, men’s and women’s issues, and any other gender issues that people might want to address. Basically the author is arguing that wanting gender equality that benefits all genders is what makes someone a feminist. I see a lot of arguments like this floating around, and some of you may be surprised to learn that I actually respect the hell out of this type of feminist. I am thrilled that these are the views these folks support (or at least claim to support), and I applaud any effort on the part of any equality movement to actually advocate for equality. In this world of loud and scary radical voices, it’s easy to believe these folks are a dying breed. Though I do feel the need to step in and make a few points. This argument falls pretty neatly in line with the oft-made argument “Feminism means equality,” usually associated with a dictionary definition describing feminism as a gender equality movement.

And to throw my hat in the pedantic ring of definitional debate, here’s the thing: Feminism doesn’t mean equality. Etymologically and in practice, the political and academic movement of feminism is and has always been a women’s interest movement, full stop. It’s right there in the word, and it has historically been reflected in just about every position and accomplishment of political and ideological feminism, from the Declaration of Sentiments’ hyperbolic and inflammatory list of grievances against men, the suffrage movement that came out of it, the second wave which was responsible for women’s reproductive rights and equality in the workplace (as well as things like the Duluth model and Valerie Solanas), and today’s feminism that almost exclusively addresses women’s issues from the arguably necessary to the ridiculous and reactionary. (And as an aside, egalitarianism means equality, and in my experience, people who identify as egalitarian tend to have more views akin to the meme above… wink, nudge.)

But let’s be reasonable. I don’t mind if you have egalitarian views but call yourself a feminist. I’m not that pedantic. Words and labels just don’t matter that much. It’s what you do and what you advocate that matters. But I hear a lot of “no true Scotsman” silliness from both sides, feminists claiming that certain feminists are not real feminists or not influential, and anti-feminists similarly defining feminism by those adherents who have the most offensive views.

Realistically, this is something that’s bound to happen when a movement gets as big and influential as feminism has. It’s going to have a variety of interpretations and branches, and I think it’s time for us all to acknowledge that there are a LOT of types of self-identified feminists, from people like Anita Sarkeesian to Gloria Steinem to the tumblr SJW types to the egalitarians who agree with the above meme and even some folks whose views are more anti-feminist than strictly feminist (I have been told by many that my views actually make me a feminist, and this doesn’t bother me in the least).  Each of these have very different philosophies when it comes to gender issues.

Just like Christianity or any other religion, once there are enough adherents, the ideology is going to start to branch off into subgroups that differ widely. So which is the true Scotsman: Baptism, Catholicism, or Methodism? The fact is, they are all Christian, but it seems perfectly fair and reasonable that the most prominent aspects of Christianity, the tenets that influence culture and policy, the beliefs that infiltrate our politics and threaten our rights, are the ones that are most of interest and concern to those of us who are not Christian. To us non-Christians, those are the defining aspects of Christianity, or at least, of the Christianity that affects us, even though we all know there are Christians who do not oppose marriage equality, fight against reproductive rights, or engage in xenophobic defamation of Arabs and Muslims. I don’t have to deny the existence of moderate, reasonable Christians to acknowledge that the more extreme Christianity that threatens to affect my life is present and harmful, and I would be foolish to write them off as “not real Christians.” Whether or not a given Christian agrees with them, they are real Christians insofar as they use Christian dogma and beliefs to promote policies supported by biblical scripture.

Similarly, you can choose to define feminism however you please, and if the dictionary definition suits you and describes your actual advocacy, well fine, but you’d have to be willfully ignorant not to acknowledge that the egalitarian interpretation of feminism is not the feminism represented in policy, academia, and pervasive cultural movements. The representative, power holding members of the movement (and they are definitely members of the movement), the ones who use feminist theory to influence the lives of others, those feminists are not equity-minded people. Or if they are, they have a very different definition of equity than those of us outside their ideology.

So let’s talk about definitions. Let’s talk about what I mean when I say I am not a feminist and I oppose feminism.

I don’t consider myself a feminist, as defined by the popular and predominant representation of the movement, because I believe in equality.

Let me explain. Because I believe in equality, I am not interested in political feminism’s initiatives to implement affirmative action and scholarship and incentive programs that give women an even greater advantage over men in education and hiring, especially when boys have higher dropout rates in high school than girls, go on to earn 40% of all postsecondary degrees, earn an average of 8% less than women in most cities, experience a slightly higher rate of unemployment than women, and make up the majority of the homeless, and I do not ask to be paid as much as a man who works different hours in a different field (often exposing himself to harsher conditions and a much higher risk of workplace injury and death). I want to be educated, hired, and paid based on the merit of my skills, not handed things for the fortune of having a vagina, just because the vagina-havers in the past had a rough time of it. Even if you believe the series of misconceptions and oversimplifications used to assert that women are disadvantaged in these ways, the last thing we need is to be discredited and demeaned by these blunt tools that only tip the scales in the opposite direction and lead to the opposite inequality of the one we previously fought (opposite inequalities on which feminism as a whole is profoundly silent). Turning the tables is not equality, and I want to be treated as an equal. I don’t want special programs or privileges.

Because I believe in equality, I care about all victims of domestic and sexual abuse, not just women, and I oppose feminist academia’s targeted, systemic, and documented effort to conceal and ignore the half of these crimes that are perpetrated by women or suffered by men, such as the terrifying influence of feminist Mary Koss of the CDC who has insisted upon defining rape in such a way to exclude female assault on males, thus contributing to the concealment of the truth that intimate partner violence is a gender neutral phenomenon and perpetuating the long debunked Duluth Model narrative of violence that continues to be the gender-role-entrenched basis for legal and social treatment of intimate partner violence that is directly and unequivocally harmful to countless male victims and victims of female perpetrators.  Koss’s  reasoning for this definition of rape (repeated in various incarnations throughout more than one of her papers, and reflecting a common social perception of gender and violence) is laced with the strong implication that men always want it, aren’t really harmed by consent violation, and other flagrantly offensive victim blaming. This is most definitely not equality.

Because I believe in equality, I oppose feminist-implemented gendered policies that address such crimes disproportionately (such as predominant aggressor policies that almost always target men after domestic violence calls, and affirmative consent laws that treat men as default rapists and women as helpless non-agents), the erosion of due process for accused men through feminist initiatives, as well as the many criminal justice biases that men face but feminist organizations do nothing to address (the least of which is not the 63% higher rate of sentencing for the same crimes), to say nothing of NOW’s adamant published stance against gender equality in child custody law.

Because I disagree with the demeaning of women’s agency, strength, and capability, I directly oppose the bulk of the tenets of popular feminism, and as someone who debates these things regularly in a variety of places, I can assure you that the following are very popular tenets. I oppose the idea that women are so emotionally or psychologically fragile that they need to be protected from everything from beauty standards and gendered expectations to dick pics and being catcalled. When someone finds me attractive, I do not need to reach for my smelling salts like a Victorian lady whose honor must be defended, nor do I think it reasonable to claim entitlement to protection from the completely harmless comments of passing strangers online or in person, video games that depict women as especially curvy, or being sent a photograph of genitalia, a claim that only serves to depict women as pathetically weak and vulnerable.  

I believe that women have agency, and as such, like any other human, we can never be truly compelled to act outside our will by forces as impotent as social expectation.  In short, if you don’t want to shave your legs, be a mom, wear makeup, or pursue stereotypically female interests, the solution is simple: do what you like, and laugh at anyone who has a problem with it.  If you aren’t attracted to someone who is expressing overt interest in you, tell them and move on with your life, rather than making silent and uncomfortable assumptions that he means to demean, embarrass, or rape you.  If you don’t want to look at somebody’s dick pic, delete it and go do something else.  None of these things need to affect you.  This is what empowerment looks like.  Popular feminism, the feminism I stand against, tells women to be upset and feel harmed by these things.  It wants women to believe they are victims.  Victims are objects, acted upon, without agency.  Identifying as a victim is antithetical to empowerment.  Trying to force an identity of victimhood on someone is objectification of the highest order, and identifying oneself as a victim is self-objectification.  Thus, “real” feminists should be bothered by this narrative, no matter what organization or movement it comes from.

I oppose the idea that we must beg men and society to support, aid, and defend us from all the innocuous trivia of daily life. I believe women are strong and capable and do not need anyone’s help to thrive. I oppose all these efforts to “level the playing field” because it sends the unmistakable message to perfectly capable women and girls that they are fragile, helpless, and they’ll never be able to make it on their own merits, rather than telling us the truth: that we can and do achieve everything men do when we decide that we want to.

I despise the feminist-driven skewing of facts and statistics, dissemination of egregious misinformation, and outright fear mongering that keeps otherwise rational women afraid of men and afraid to walk the streets. Organizations like the CDC go out of their way to tailor their publications to that feminist brainchild the Duluth model by defining things like sexual violence in a way that includes the often trivial experiences of most women but excludes most experiences that affect men, thus producing highly questionable and intentionally sensational statistics that cause women to believe they are in constant danger, creating an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust that is the opposite of empowerment of women and very much contrary to any pursuit of gender equality. If rape culture is defined as a society in which the knowledge of violence against women keeps all women subjugated by fear, this practice of spreading sensational misinformation in order to grab attention and bolster an ideological worldview IS rape culture.  This practice should not be a feminist practice. It should enrage feminists, and I sincerely hope that for many it does.

Because I believe in equality, I believe that men should be able to convene to discuss issues that affect them — things like circumcision, suicide rates, workplace injury, homelessness, the education gap, and sexist biases in criminal and family law — just as women are freely able to convene to discuss women’s issues.  I am appalled that such male groups at universities are often prohibited from doing so (under the assumption that they will somehow make women unsafe) by feminist administrations citing feminist theory and philosophy. And talks about men’s issues are often disrupted by feminist protesters who harass attendees, drown out speakers with shouts or noise making devices, or pull fire alarms. Many men’s organizations must pay hefty security fees due to the threats of violence they receive when they plan events, all the while being called misogynists and rape apologists just for wanting to openly discuss issues that affect them, as women are freely able and encouraged to do about our own issues. Is it any wonder men scoff when they’re told feminism is for them too?

Because I believe in equality and sex positivity, I oppose the feminist perpetuated double standard that while a woman overtly expressing her sexuality is empowered and laudable, a man doing the same is engaging in harassment or reinforcing rape culture. I oppose feminist initiatives, rooted in feminist academia and theory, to decry men who express sexual attraction, linking it baselessly to risk factors for violence and other harms, as if the average rapist attacked strangers on the street whom they called sexy, rather than acquaintances in familiar places.  I oppose the use of the term “sexual objectification,” which does nothing but pathologize and demonize male sexuality (and female sexuality, on the rare occasion that the term is leveled at a woman), and the re-definition of delivering sexual compliments as “street harassment,” which criminalizes sexuality. This is not equality, it’s slut shaming for men, and I’ll repeat that any claim that women need protecting from the scourge of men finding them sexually attractive is a claim that women are weak, helpless non-agents, who are incapable of so much as politely rejecting advances that don’t interest us, as we would expect men to do without complaint.

Because I am tired of the stereotype that women are hysterical and illogical, I am tired of feminism’s string of ever more ridiculous grievances, from Shirtgate to manspreading to mansplaining to miroaggressions to any argument supporting the belief that any aspect of our culture condones violence against women, this neurotic McCarthian witch hunt by which today’s feminist powers attribute malice and misogyny to completely innocuous behaviors in their desperate attempt to justify their continued discursive dominance. I oppose its infiltration of academia through campus policies to censor ideas and stifle discussion out of a misguided desire to protect students and others from ideas that are unfamiliar or with which they disagree (again, the absurd notion that ideas can make one unsafe). I oppose this infantilization of women and students that feminism once also claimed to oppose.

Because I agree that women should be taken seriously, I’d really like this brand of feminists to stop inventing and griping about these silly made-up first world problems, because it is undoubtedly making the problem worse by representing women as the sort of people that should not be taken seriously, that can not be trusted with power or responsibility because they lack the basic judgment to differentiate something that is harmful from something that is demonstrably not.

You can argue that you agree with a lot of that, that some of these positions make me a feminist (and indeed, many people do), or that feminism secretly cares about some or all of these problems, or that feminism’s definition and ideology aren’t restricted to those particular interpretations, but that merely means that your definition of feminism is not the same as the feminism represented in politics, policy, academia, media, or predominant advocacy. So when I say I oppose feminism, I mean that I oppose the feminist-initiated and feminist-perpetuated biases, policies, and other harms that infantilize women and demonize men. I oppose misandrist and misogynistic feminism. I oppose oppositional feminism that casts men as the adversary and women as the victim. I oppose the erosion of equality under the guise of efforts to seek equality. I oppose the game by which we all define a group only by the actions and factions we like to pay attention to and sweep everything else under the rug. The feminism I described above isn’t a loud minority of radicals who don’t matter. It is the power holding group that makes changes that affect us all (for the worse), and it needs to be redirected or stopped.

So to all the reasonable, egalitarian feminists out there who say that the feminism I talk about isn’t real feminism, or who argue that my views make me a feminist, I think it’s time to start letting your voices be heard, to try to speak louder than the radicals. It’s time to stop pretending the powerhouse of radical feminism doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, like the racist grandparents we ignore at Thanksgiving. It’s time to join the forces of reason and fight against the power of inequality that is dominating the gender equality sphere. Just like atheists can co-exist with theists who don’t oppose marriage equality and reproductive rights, we anti-feminists and men’s rights folks can get over the fact that you believe women are disadvantaged or oppressed as long as you don’t use that belief to demean women’s agency and erode the rights of men. In short, reasonable feminists, you don’t have to agree with us on everything, but we could really use your help to make feminism something closer to what you define it as: a movement for gender equality that is willing to address everyone’s issues and everyone’s needs, one that empowers women rather than demeaning them, and one that embraces men rather than demonizing them.

Stop trying to tell us what a true Scotsman does and doesn’t do and try working with us. Come join the dark side. We have cookies.

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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, men's rights, sexism

On Gender and Consent

This time around I’m going to do something I don’t normally do: I’m going to do some speculation using my own personal anecdotal observations (albeit with contributions from my knowledge base). For a while now I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on what makes different people violate consent, what causes someone to commit an act that can be interpreted as sexual harassment or assault, and these ideas have bounced around my head and off enough friends who would sit still long enough that they have coalesced into a meaningful argument. I’m going to cite a lot of personal experiences and observations, with just a few studies to back them up, because I have no idea if my hypotheses have been researched at all, but the particulars of these experiences resonate well enough with my understanding of gender and widely held gender-based assumptions that I feel confident sharing my ideas as possible fact.

We all know the assumed paradigm: Men violate, harass, and rape women because they think of women as objects for their sexual consumption, or because they are graceless, thoughtless fools who need to be taught not to engage in such behaviour because they have no idea that rape is bad. Men are assumed to be either the sole or primary offenders, women the sole or primary victims, and there’s usually something about a culture that condones or enables this sort of mistreatment, framed within an overall devaluation of women and women’s well being (rape culture). Not always, but sometimes this comes within the framework of the Duluth model’s original supporting theory: that men do this as a microcosmic reflection of men’s widespread subjugation of women, keeping them in their lower hierarchical place with fear and intimidation, due either to a pervasive cultural force or an evil inherent in masculinity. This set of assumptions usually leads to the recommendation that we must teach men not to rape, teach women it’s okay to say no, and this often manifests itself in workplace sexual harassment workshops and pre-prom assemblies in high schools. We have awareness campaigns and legal initiatives based on this model.

Of course, I could spend this entire article just telling you everything wrong with that paradigm (starting with the little known fact that sexual violence is neither the critical man-on-woman epidemic it’s made out to be nor a gendered phenomenon at all, completely debunking the notion of rape culture as it’s understood), but I’ve already done that, and if you’re reading this, you may already have come to those conclusions on your own. I’m far more interested, at this moment, in examining the differences between what causes men and women to violate consent. Off the top of my trauma-addled head, I can think of 3 men who have committed such violations toward me, and 6 women, so I feel uniquely equipped to analyze the differences (I suppose one might call that a silver lining). I will outline those experiences, the differences I perceive between them, and my speculations on the causes of those differences. If I don’t make it clear, all names have been changed.

BOB

When I was in middle school, I learned that a boy in my class had a crush on me. We’ll call him Bob. Bob was a special ed student, extremely developmentally delayed, to the extent that he struggled to communicate verbally. He and I attended the same dance, where he awkwardly approached me and, rather than asking, put his arms around my shoulders and just started dancing during a slow-dance song. I decided I didn’t want to dance with him, and it was too loud to try to tell him this verbally. When I tried to pull away to go somewhere else, either he stumbled or pushed me, but whichever it was we both ended up tumbling to the floor. Bob fell on top of me, and perhaps in his limited social understanding he saw the sudden compromising position as an opportunity, because he started reaching up my skirt. I was taking martial arts classes at the time, but opted not to physically defend myself because I was afraid I’d get in trouble due to his disability, so I instead managed to push him away and squirm out of his reach.

Not only was I told by parents, teachers, and sensei alike that I had been mistaken to fear retribution, but in subsequent days I had many people ask me why I didn’t beat him senseless (a question that was no doubt influenced by the fact that I was bigger, stronger, and significantly more coordinated than him). This was a little before the era of school psychologists handing out therapy sessions for so much as sneezing, but predictably, the overall reaction was one of concern for my well being, and as I understand it, Bob was disciplined in whatever way was determined appropriate according to school policy and his IEP.

JOE

Many years later, the first friend I made in college was a young man who had been in a car accident that had caused him some significant injuries. We’ll call him Joe. He had hit his head hard enough that his eyes were permanently dilated, which was clear to any observer. He had metal plates in his back and his head, and he had suffered brain damage. To a certain extent, that brain damage was apparent in his behaviour. He had retained certain learned behaviours, but was tremendously socially awkward, and utterly missed most social cues or expectations. He was studying nursing, possessed the requisite fascination with human anatomy, and would occasionally make creepy remarks about other people’s bodies in a way that can only be compared to what a serial killer in a prime time drama might say of his potential future victims. I remember him once commenting off-handedly that my skin was exceptionally soft, but that he wasn’t attracted to women with dark body hair. He was a very physical person, often touching people as he talked to them, and he would occasionally touch butts or breasts because, as he claimed, he didn’t understand the difference between that and touching an arm. His bafflement seemed to all my faculties completely genuine.

One night, while watching a movie, Joe was giving me a back massage. He was probably twice my size, sitting on me and rubbing my back. He suddenly changed positions until he was laying flat on top of me, put his hands down on either side of my head, and sucked on the side of my neck until it left a hickey. My startled and adamant protest gave him little to no immediate pause, nor did my attempt to wiggle out of his grasp, but in a sort of delayed reaction he expressed a sincere confusion to my protest, and I remember him asking me why I was upset and what he’d done wrong. Needless to say, I stopped talking to him after that, and a friend of mine threatened him the next time he came by my dorm. I have no idea what my friend said but I never saw Joe again. For good measure, another friend ensured his departure from my life by pretending to be a defensive lover and added to the piling threats. Still after he had surely disappeared for good, my friends were practically lining up to find and hang him, and any time I brought him up over the course of the next year or two, it elicited a sudden and visceral anger from anyone who cared about me.

ED

The third, of course, was my ex, to whose crimes I’ve already alluded in this blog. I haven’t given him a name yet, so for now, I will call him Ed. I feel it important to point out that Ed had a clear inability to process empathy, and this was apparent in many discussions with him and in the way he treated anyone with whom he interacted, causing most to feel a general unease around him. He spectacularly failed to understand social conventions, including the way people wanted to be treated, from bodily autonomy to the desire not to be verbally abused. He insisted that sexual partners had the right to touch each other as they wish (and that I was welcome to do the same), and that what normal people called verbal debasement was merely honesty and respectful criticism when it came from him. The questions he asked and comments he made left no doubt that he did not understand why anyone didn’t want to be treated this way, such that it was bizarre and confusing to talk to him about such topics. After many conversations that went this way, it became painfully apparent that Ed’s assertions were genuine misunderstanding and social dysfunction, not intentional gaslighting.

When I call him a sociopath, I am not speaking as a bitter ex with baggage. I am speaking as a casual student of psychology. I suspect that he truly was afflicted by some form of sociopathy, and I knew that he had already been psychologically evaluated in the past for a number of disorders. In any case, his symptoms and deficits were consistent with the substantial and violent childhood abuse I knew him to have suffered. So it will come as no surprise even to those readers new to my blog that he was responsible for all manner of abuse toward me, from physical attacks, to verbal and psychological abuse, to sexual coercion, to flat-out molestation and forcible rape.

I think it bears mentioning that the above anecdotes have all been shared with other people, and the response I get is overwhelmingly the same: shock, horror, and unwavering empathy. I get hugs, offers of “whatever you need,” and all manner of kindness. The offenders are decried as monsters, and the events as tragic. Nobody shrugs any of it off, and countless have offered to find and hurt these men on my behalf. I’ve never been asked what I was wearing and my well known promiscuity was never brought into the discussion, no matter what social circle or corner of the internet I was reporting it to, what part of small-town or city America I was in, or the religious and political alignments of the listeners (of which, I assure you, there was a substantial array). Everyone ardently condemns these men, with torches and pitchforks held aloft among echoing cries for their heads, and that’s important, because not only does it directly contradict feminist claims of how people react when a woman is raped, it’s also not at all true of reactions to the women I’m about to describe.

THE BOY IN THE HALLWAY

Before I discuss my own experiences with women, I’ll start off with an example that didn’t happen to me, but that I witnessed when I was younger. When I was in high school, waiting in the halls between the last class of the day and some extracurricular, I observed a group of girls engaging in what would have been called sexual harassment if they had been male, and what would almost certainly be described as sexual assault today. They were crowded around a boy in our class, and upon closer observation, were breathing and moaning in his ear, apparently to try to elicit some kind of sexual response out of him to embarrass him. Some of them were watching the crotch of his pants expectantly. Some of them were touching him. One even licked his ear. They were all giggling uncontrollably, and he was visibly uncomfortable, a vivid red spreading from his cheeks to the rest of his face and neck. Before the end, some of the girls sat on him, and others went so far as to grope him.

At the time I remember thinking it was funny. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this was harassment, because I had never bothered to conceptualize sexual harassment as something that a female could do to a male (or something that a female could do at all). But if a crowd of boys had done this to a girl, I’m sure I would have been running to intervene or report them, as would any remotely socially conscious onlooker. Looking back as an adult, even before I worked my way into the men’s rights world, I’ve often found myself wondering what the hell possessed these girls to behave the way they did, and why none of us thought there was anything wrong with it (except the poor boy, who looked helpless and humiliated). Whatever the reason, this type of behaviour may be more common among young women than any of us assumes: in a recent CDC study, 1 in 5 surveyed females who had perpetrated sexual misconduct admitted to committing group sexual assault, compared to 1 in 39 males, and later on I’ll offer my own speculation on why this might be. 

I also have ideas about why this boy sat and endured in silence something that made him clearly uncomfortable. Males are assumed to give blanket consent by virtue of their maleness. Sex is viewed as something that males pursue incessantly and females endure for the sake of romance and reproduction, a trope portrayed in every sitcom under the sun. Colloquially, we say, “she opened her legs for him,” “she let him fuck her.” Sex is something women let men do, but don’t necessarily enjoy or pursue, something men want and women, if they deign to, allow out of love or resignation, something men do to women. Men are the consent violators, women the consent violatees. Under this assumption, men always want it, so how could one possibly deny consent? He had an erection, so how could he claim that he didn’t want it? As if a woman’s biological arousal could ever stand up as evidence against her.

Thanks to these horribly one-sided and sexist assumptions, men who admit to having suffered a consent violation receive one of two responses: either the listener tells him he should be elated that he got sexual attention, or his sexual orientation (and thus his masculinity) is called into question. “Awesome! I wish it had happened to me!” or “You didn’t like a pile of girls groping you? What are you, a faggot?” I know a sobering amount of men who have kept quiet about sexual assault and harassment for these reasons, and more who have received exactly these responses (and worse, including police officers who laughed and refused to take a report), and I can only imagine that some variant on this response is what the boy in that hallway feared.

LISA AND JOAN

To return to the position of a female on the receiving end, my own nasty experiences with women have been in many ways similar to this boy’s anecdote. A friend of a friend, whom I will call Lisa, is known for being handsy, especially when she drinks. At more than one social event, including private parties and very public bars, Lisa has been found unabashedly groping other women’s breasts and pinching their nipples (yes, seriously). At one party, she even started removing other people’s clothing to fondle them, much to the dismay of many. None of this, if any clarification was needed, was with regard to any kind of consent. I personally have asked her many times to stop. She would usually remind me that she is not attracted to women, as if one’s sexual orientation has any bearing on whether or not an unwanted touch is acceptable.

On the most recent iteration of this conversation, I explained to her, in the hopes of being afforded some basic human compassion, that what she was doing was sexual assault, and further that I have PTSD and am likely to have a very bad time when she does this. She casually replied that she might not remember that, and that I would probably need to remind her. She believed she needed reminding not to commit an act of sexual violation that might cause me to dissociate in public. I clarified that any reminder that I needed to give would come in the form of a fist to the face. It hasn’t happened again, but she and many of the people around me were shocked, and by the looks on their faces, they seemed to believe I was overreacting. Now Lisa sometimes makes jokes about consent when we cross paths, the same way adolescents mock what they are told in their DARE lessons. I should mention that Lisa often espouses feminist views, including the condemnation of men who make unwanted advances on women, but she never seemed to make the connection that what she was doing would have been universally unacceptable if she had been male.

The second girl I want to mention, called Joan for our purposes, is also a friend of a friend. She and I don’t know each other well, but she’s very physically affectionate. She greets others with hugs and kisses. She kissed me without asking, and because I said the kiss didn’t bother me, she grabbed my breasts. I told her that this crossed a line, but it took a couple repetitions throughout the evening before it sunk in at all. She needed to be reminded a few more times over the course of the next couple meetings, and now I generally avoid her. In my absence, close friends of mine have had the “consent matters” discussion with her on my behalf, and it hasn’t been a problem since.

PAIGE

The third is a friend of mine, and at the risk of calling this person out, I do think she represents an important point for my argument. We’ll call her Paige. Paige is an avid feminist who often speaks about the importance of consent and the evils of objectification, and she is very open about her sexuality. She has been known, not terribly unlike Lisa, to enthusiastically touch people at will. Even in sexual situations, she hasn’t always respected a polite “please don’t do that,” and I have known people who have decided not to sleep with her a second time because of this. And when I’ve asked her not to touch me in certain ways (everything from casual groping to nipple pinching to feeling me up under the table in a very public bar), she has responded with answers like “oh, you like it.” She tended to find surprised, pained, and even angry reactions funny.

Generally speaking, she did a lot of things that would earn a man a good ass kicking (or arrest), and her excuses matched the sort of things men are believed to say under rape culture. The difference is that, far from being a selfish frat boy caricature, Paige is a normally kind and compassionate person, so I just don’t think she understood that I was being completely serious. It took a couple dissociative episodes and a few very pointed conversations with myself and others before Paige stopped. She now politely and overtly asks permission before touching people in any way that might be questionable. To my knowledge, she is also careful to respect whatever answer she is given. Perhaps all she needed was to be shown that she wasn’t practicing what she preaches.

THE CLUB BITCHES

The next two women I dub Club Bitches #1 and 2, so-called because I don’t know them, and my encounters with each of them occurred in a club. The first waltzed in with a male partner in tow, spotting me hanging on a female partner of mine who was (this time quite consensually) getting a bit handsy. Club Bitch #1 approached me, and without saying two words to me, looked me up and down like prey in the jungle, felt my breasts like one feels fruit at the supermarket, and gave her partner a look that unequivocally asked, “This one, or maybe a different one?” (He seemed not to opine, and was generally unresponsive to her prompt.) She then lost immediate interest in me and walked away without a word. As I often tell it, I was so taken aback that I didn’t even punch her. I’ve never been treated that way by a man. I’ve never been looked at that way by a man. I don’t use this term lightly, but that lady objectified me, in a way that men simply don’t. She looked at me like a potential toy, and then dismissed my very being when she decided she didn’t want to play with me. Friends and acquaintances who were with me that night reacted minimally. If they so much as asked me if I was okay, I don’t recall it. At most I was met with a general attitude of, “well, that was inappropriate.”

Club Bitch #2 was met at a gay bar, twice. On our first meeting she was one of the few women in the club at the time, blind drunk, and she was dancing on a raised platform near me. She bent down to seize me by the hair and started making out with me, several times throughout the night, whether I liked it or not. I was, of course, more than a little intoxicated myself (it was New Year’s Eve), so I didn’t have much strength of will to protest. But it was abrupt, aggressive, and rather uncomfortable. I think my friends thought I was okay with it, but over time I did my best to work my way across the crowded dance floor and away from her, which required some doing (the dancing masses were shoulder to shoulder and I had to pry my hair out of her grasp to even start moving). It says enough about the woman and the experience that I recognized her the second time I went to that bar, when she was standing behind me in the bathroom line. Once again three very thin sheets to the wind, she wrapped her arms around me, groped my chest, and sloppily kissed my neck. I asked her to stop. It persisted. I stepped forward and asked more firmly. Again she ignored me and moved forward to return to her position around my torso. So the third time I pushed her nearly to the ground and told her that I’d beat her ass if she touched me again. She wandered off. The other women in the line determinedly avoided eye contact and pretended not to have seen anything.

My friends were underwhelmed by my story when I returned from the bathroom (again, and you’ll see that this is a theme, many of those same friends are vehement feminists who often speak on the subject of consent within the context of ideas like rape culture). I was shaken and angry, and I knew I would have received more than “huh, what a jerk” if the woman had been a man. I knew this because I’ve seen exactly what happens when men do the same thing.

MARGE

Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. Marge is my ex-girlfriend, the college lover who was married to Ed (for my new readers: it was a polyamorous arrangement, open and consensual). Marge was, when she so chose, every bit as malicious as Ed, but in very different ways. She could be passive aggressive and manipulative, spiteful and dismissive. When I got upset or angry about anything she did, she thought it was cute or funny. I remember her once cooing, “Awww, she’s so cute when she’s mad! Look how red her cheeks are!” in the midst of an argument that I took seriously. In a good mood, Marge thought of me as a walking sex toy. In a bad mood, she resented me for sharing her husband (even though she outwardly professed that she approved of and enjoyed the arrangement). You might see where this is going: she was just as dismissive of my desires and concerns in the bedroom as she was in conversation, and while this is not something I terribly like to discuss, the example that stands out most in my mind went something like this. I remember being tied to the bed. She had an array of household items splayed out in front of her, and ran to grab others when inspiration struck. She did whatever she wanted to me with those items. Some of the things she did were deliberately painful. Some were sexual. Most were both. I remember begging, and I remember her laughing like a cartoon supervillain.

Marge wasn’t brain damaged or sociopathic. She was quite functional, and very empathetic when she wanted to be. She didn’t treat Ed like she treated me. In fact, she didn’t always treat me poorly either. She could be kind, loving, and respectful. While we were together, she wrote a blog on polyamory, which I re-read for the first time in many years while in the process of writing this article. Her writing was clearly from the perspective of a woman with a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence. She talked at length about the complicated emotional and social interactions in a polyamorous relationship. She described her attempts to respect everyone and accommodate our feelings, and I remember that being true. I remember her comforting me when I was upset and helping talk me through my struggles. It’s strange and disorienting to read the kind and conscientious thoughts of someone while also remembering that person violently assaulting you.

No, Marge wasn’t a sociopath who couldn’t understand what I felt when she hurt me. She tortured me because she wanted to, and because she could. It was calculated malice. And while the close friends who know about this are quick to offer sympathy and kindness, forum discussions and conversations with strangers, in which I engage regularly as part of my activism, usually go a bit differently. When I tell some people that I was raped by a male and a female partner, I often get responses like “wow, what an asshole, I’m glad you escaped him.” It’s as if they don’t even process the part about the woman, or that part just doesn’t resonate as meaningful. After all, rape is a thing that men do, not women.

GENDER AND CONSENT VIOLATION

I’ve been making a point throughout the telling of these anecdotes to illustrate the jarring differences in reactions of others to my experiences with men and with women. There’s a distinct divide: when men make unwelcome advances they are universally condemned and often threatened, but when women make the same types of unwelcome advances, the event is treated as an impropriety at most, and often dismissed entirely as no big deal, even by people who are outspoken about sexual violations. Keep this in mind, because I’m going to keep returning to this point, but what I also want to draw attention to is the distinct difference between the potential motivations of the men in these encounters and the women by examining their mentalities.

I’ve had these types of experiences with three men: one severely cognitively disabled, another suffering brain damage, and a third with an unspecified but clearly present psychological disorder. As I describe them, I don’t mean for the descriptions of these conditions to in any way absolve the men of their actions. They are no less responsible and no less deplorable, but I find this difference interesting. The women who have violated conventions of consent (at least, the ones I knew personally), have seemed otherwise disturbingly normal. To my knowledge none of them possesses any psychological or cognitive diagnoses, and many advocate the importance of consent in other contexts. The men who have hurt me have been mentally ill. The women have been deliberately malicious, objectifying, or simply oblivious to the inappropriateness of their actions.

Ironically, the women in my experiences neatly fit the prevailing feminist narrative of why men rape: because they were cruel, because they viewed me as a sexual object, or because they needed to be taught not to violate others. The women who have assaulted me have been precisely the types of problematic that our dominant narrative paints men, and the men have been abnormal, anomalous, and cognitively unable to understand why their actions were undesirable.

If you’ll indulge me to extrapolate from my small sample, could my experiences be representative of the types of men and women who commit sex crimes? Is it possible that there is a trend of men who hurt others in this way being mentally ill, and women better fitting the Duluth model profile of the man indoctrinated into rape culture?

EDUCATION AND PARADIGMS

Based on this hypothesis, let’s speculate on why this difference might exist. The clearest answer is the way we teach our young people about consent and respect. We drill into young boys’ heads the importance of respecting women until it becomes a core value. Even in conservative, gender-role-ridden subcultures, the concept of respecting women is an oft repeated virtue: Ladies first. Boys are not to hit girls. An insult to your mother is fighting words. Even the allegedly misogynistic trolls who insult each other in the bowels of the internet will consider a threat to rape a family member to be among the very worst. Fathers chase off any boy who so much as makes an advance toward their daughters. Any sexual impropriety toward women is unacceptable anywhere in our culture. And today more than ever (especially in more progressive parts of the country), we are careful to raise our boys with a solid understanding of the importance of asking before doing anything remotely sexual to a woman. At many high schools this message is formalized when boys are specifically gathered for an assembly before dances and taught the importance of respecting consent (while the girls are gathered elsewhere and spoken to about their right to say no). We quite literally teach our boys not to rape. It could very well be that we’re already doing such a good job of ingraining the importance of not raping women into our young boys’ minds that the only boys (or the majority of boys) who grow up to do it are in some way mentally ill, pathologically unable to apply this lesson without medical intervention. In order to think it’s acceptable to hurt a woman in this way, in order to miss the unambiguous messages on the subject coming at him from every direction, a man almost needs to have something medically wrong with him.

But our girls get no such lesson. We are taught in the more progressive circles that it’s okay to say no, but never that it’s important to obtain a “yes.” You may have noticed that many of the women in my anecdotes held a sort of cognitive dissonance about consent. They would profess its importance with respect to actions taken by men toward women, but then they’d turn around and touch others in whatever way they pleased. It seemed to be a gaping blind spot in their understanding of respect. They needed to be taught not to behave that way, but when they were, when I or someone else sat them down and explained that it was a problem for us, the behaviour stopped. Many of these women aren’t bad people inherently, and they aren’t mentally ill. They had just never considered that what they were doing was no different than the male-on-female harassment and assault that they publicly decry.

Impressively, I discovered this article from the Huffington Post, a site that often promotes the types of feminism that I contradict regularly. I was surprised to read this self reflection written by a feminist woman who had realized that her actions toward her boyfriend may constitute sexual misconduct, and changed her behaviour to match what she would expect of any man toward her. Clearly respect for consent is something that needs to be learned, or arrived at through deliberate reflection, and this includes women. In this individual woman’s case, her partner specifically admitted to her that he had agreed to sex because he felt guilty, prompting her to re-evaluate the way she approached sex and consent. I imagine most women would benefit from a conversation like this.

In addition to the uneven moral education that the genders receive on such topics, I think an important contributing factor is that network of assumptions with which I introduced this article, a point also alluded to in Weiss’s article linked in the previous paragraph. When we are taught to conceptualize sexual violation as something that men do to women, it engenders such blind spots. And more than that, it engenders an attitude of dismissiveness when the reverse occurs. Nobody thinks of women as capable of committing sex crimes, and it’s widely understood among intellectual communities like mine that this allows women to more or less get away with them (especially toward men, because of the blanket consent they are assumed to give). This analysis of the erasure of female perpetrators and male victims describes the many ways in which the legal system lets women off the hook simply due to socially pervasive assumptions that we just don’t commit these types of crimes. For example, a male juvenile is 46.5 times more likely than a female to be arrested and charged with a sex crime regardless of probable cause, and many cases of female-on-male sexual assault are simply thrown out because female defendants are not taken seriously as potential abusers or because of the belief that the public would never suffer women to be maligned by prosecution.

The actions of Lisa, Joan, Paige, and the two Club Bitches happened in highly populated public areas, with many onlookers, and as I’ve repeated many times now, they received no reprimand, little disagreement, and almost no intervention on my behalf. Friends at the events have more or less shrugged them off. The people who have stuck up for me in such scenarios (including Paige, to her credit) have done so with the knowledge of my trauma disorder, people who sought specifically to protect me from potential symptoms and episodes (as though I am uniquely entitled to not be sexually harassed due to my diagnosis, and not simply that all people have such an entitlement by virtue of being human), and in general, people to whom I’ve spoken at length about sexual violence as a female perpetrated phenomenon. They were people who had learned to conceptualize such acts as potentially female acts. Similarly, I would guess that Marge never conceived of the possibility that I might report her attacks even to a civilian audience, if she had bothered to consider at all that her actions constituted rape.

As I mentioned above, this problem is only compounded when the recipient of such actions is male, since men are not perceived as potential victims of sexual violence (outside, perhaps, the context of prisons). Under the rape culture and resultant Duluth model paradigms, we assume that perpetrators of sex crimes are male, due to the belief that men are naturally sexually aggressive, afflicted by a perpetual state of sexual arousal combined with a certain degree of poor impulse control, always willing to be touched and always interested in sex, and thus can not possibly fail to consent. I can only imagine how many women like those in my anecdotes have forced themselves upon men assumed to be perpetually willing, like the boy who was harassed in the hallway.

WOMEN, AFFECTION, AND CULTURAL NORMS

Indeed, it is apparent in their speech and behaviour that women never get the lesson on what touching is and isn’t acceptable, and it allows for a great deal of casual and unaddressed violation. Some research suggests that lesbian women experience sexual assault by other women at a higher rate than heterosexual women are assaulted by men (a reported 30% of lesbians vs. the oft-repeated 20% statistic for women as a whole).  But what would cause women to want to commit these violations in the first place? In Marge’s case, it was a lack of consideration for my humanity and a focus on her own pleasure, with a healthy dose of spite, along with the first Club Bitch who seemed to only think of her own interests. But for the others, it seemed to be a mere extension of all the other ways friends show physical affection.

Joan didn’t just hug and kiss on the cheek. She did those things, but she also kissed on the mouth, and she groped people. Paige has stated that her actions were motivated by an understanding of her own preferences, and the unexamined assumption that everyone likes what she likes. She was trying to show affection the way that she likes to receive it. I can’t take credit for this idea, which was contributed recently by a woman I know, but female friendship and affection is shown through physical touching. Women touch each other when they talk. We hold hands. We sit on each other. We hug and kiss. We are physically affectionate, far more so than men, as a very well accepted cultural norm. Even many of these casual and innocuous signs of friendship would probably be unwelcome by most women when received by men (especially unfamiliar men), because of the contextual heterosexual implications of affectionate touching between sexes. So it’s not a great leap to contextualize touching between women (especially heterosexual women) as different from that between men and women.

Could it be that culturally, to some extent, women develop closeness by touching each other in ways that men are not permitted to do? I’ve been in many social circles in many towns in which women greet each other with kisses to the mouth and breast touching. The “bean dip,” a quick scooping motion to another person’s nipple, has been a common practice in groups of women with whom I’ve been friends, especially heterosexual women (usually with an attitude of “we’re all girls here,” as if to differentiate the act from one between people who might be sexually attracted to one another). It’s not hard to imagine women who practice these conventions, which are rarely coupled with asking permission (sometimes much to the surprise of the recipient), having trouble drawing the line between a friendly greeting accepted in their circles and sexual harassment. And that line would conceivably blur even further when interacting with men, due to the infrequency with which men’s ability to give or deny consent is considered. Such practices could be a strong contributor to the casual nature with which women feel comfortable touching others in ways that may not be acceptable. Without permission, they are in direct contradiction with the feminist, humanitarian, egalitarian, and sex-positive messages of respect that progressive movements seek to convey concerning sexuality and consent.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

I don’t mean to condemn demonstrations of friendly affection that are accepted and welcome by individuals who know each other, let alone willing and agreed upon sexual interactions, but I do think that we would do well to implement better education and awareness of the importance of obtaining consent. If my experiences are indeed representative of a trend among women (or even if they aren’t), then the solution is obvious: we need to stop conceptualizing sex crimes through the Duluth model. They are not simply the actions of heterosexual men who want to dominate, subjugate, and objectify women, not merely the result of not teaching men well enough not to rape. Women also commit these violations, and men suffer them, and they occur within both same-sex and opposite-sex interactions.

We need to stop painting men as aggressively sexual beings who perpetually want to get laid, and women as begrudging non-sexual beings or default sexual victims. We need to start conceptualizing men as people who can say no, and women as people who often want and pursue sex. Our advocacy and prevention should reflect a gender neutral understanding of sexuality and sex crimes. My experiences and research strongly suggest that this type of respect is indeed a learned behaviour, so we should stop only teaching boys to respect consent and girls that it’s okay to say no. We should stop teaching only boys to respect women, to never hit a girl, to be courteous and honourable. These are all lessons from which every single person can benefit. We should teach everyone to respect consent and one another, everyone to be nonviolent and honourable whenever possible, and everyone that it’s okay to say no (and also that’s it’s okay to say yes). We need to fight the trend of brushing off men who report sex crimes by calling them lucky, asking if they’re gay, or disbelieving them. We already take violence by men against women seriously, but we should do our best to create a culture that takes sexual assault seriously no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim, that understands that everyone can give and deny consent, and that respects everyone’s bodily autonomy and agency.

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Filed under men's rights, rape, sexism, sexual assault

On Gender and Privilege

I haven’t mentioned this much here, but I talk all the time about misconceptions people hold concerning privilege.  Privilege isn’t a binary.  A group that suffers a disadvantage in one arena may enjoy an advantage somewhere else.  The problem with the assumption that it’s a binary is that it’s used to make assumptions about people and dismiss their experiences.  This is one of the reasons I (and other egalitarians and MRAs) face so much pushback and friction when we discuss men’s issues.  Men are assumed to be the ones at the top of the hierarchy, always benefiting and always doing better than women, often at the expense of women, so when men and their supporters try to address issues that affect them, it’s often dismissed or even derided.  I’ve talked at length about the disadvantages men face when they are victims of violence, largely due to the fact that they are perceived as the perpetrators of violence.  But let’s consider some of the other consequences of this perception.

An interesting tactic I’ve seen occasionally in anti-feminism and men’s rights is to illustrate the bias and bigotry in certain parts of feminist ideology and its adherents by replacing any use of the word “men” with “black people” in tweets and arguments.

Some examples:

“Men are the greatest threats to women and children. Saying #NotAllMen is just a way to deflect the blame.”

“I hate #NotAllMen. All men have seen other men harass women. Stop saying #NotAllMen and do something about it! #YesAllWomen”

“If men get upset by #KillAllMen, then maybe they could start by stopping raping, abusing, and murdering us?”

Just make a few simple changes…

“Black people are the greatest threats to women and children. Saying #NotAllBlacks is just a way to deflect the blame.”

“I hate #NotAllBlacks. All blacks have seen other blacks harass whites. Stop saying #NotAllBlacks and do something about it! #YesAllWhites”

“If black people get upset by #KillAllBlacks, then maybe they could start by stopping raping, abusing, and murdering us?”

And Presto! We have easily recognizable hate speech. This is a handy little litmus test for sexism. Is it a bigoted thing to say about black people? Then it’s a bigoted thing to say about anyone. This is useful because most reasonable people experience an immediate, visceral discomfort at the sight of blatant racism. Even re-writing those tweets with the racial edits made me compulsively look over my shoulder, and I’m sitting at my kitchen table. This reaction is so instinctive and immediate (for anyone who isn’t an asshole) that it’s hard to disagree when it’s used to point out the bigotry in a statement.

These all come from actual tweets, by the way, which are justified, presumably, by the belief that men as a group are, in fact, violent or oppressive. Sure, these are extreme examples, and you could easily write off the women responsible for these statements as hateful idiots (and they surely are) who don’t necessarily represent anyone or anything, but the perception of men as violent is as pervasive as it is damaging, and blatantly evident in women’s distrust of men (which I flesh out a lot more in my piece on sexuality and my piece on violence). At first, this little litmus test was merely amusing to me, and I applauded it for its efficacy, but then I started thinking about what parallels actually exist between our perception and demonization of racial minorities as violent or criminal, its effect on real people’s lives and livelihoods, and the similar stereotypes and assumptions we hold about men. After all, a great deal of women’s behaviours and perceptions are influenced by the assumption that men are violent or potentially dangerous, and as I’ve addressed many times, this perception does inform both policy and culture.

Let’s start by considering a couple scenarios. This first one comes straight out of Karen Straughan’s blog (sorry, Karen, if you ever read this, but it was such a fantastic example that I couldn’t pass it up): Imagine I’m a woman walking down the street at night. I’m headed home, I’m alone, it’s late, and suddenly I notice a man walking behind me.  Now I’m a little uncomfortable.  Maybe I feel a bit more wary, or even unsafe.

This is common experience. Women are often uncomfortable in the presence of strange men, especially when they are otherwise alone, because they are aware of a potential for danger. Many men are so aware of this fear that they will cross the street or change their route out of respect for the woman, not wanting her to feel afraid that he is following her or planning to rob or hurt her.

Here’s another scenario: This time, imagine I’m a woman at a bar.  I’m sitting at a table drinking when a man I don’t know approaches me and starts to talk to me.  I find myself maintaining an arm’s length between me and the guy and keeping a much closer watch on my drink.

In the first example, you may have nodded along, having remembered times when you’ve been that woman, uncomfortable at night on a sidewalk. Maybe you weren’t having the conscious thought “he’s a man, and men are bad, so he might hurt me,” but you were aware that sometimes men hurt women, and that sounds like a pretty reasonable cause to be uncomfortable. And in the second example, many reasonable women would be wary of their safety and their drinks around strangers, and some women would tell you that this is due to the fact that sometimes men are sexually aggressive or violent toward women. Again, at face value, this sounds rational, not hateful or biased. It is true that sometimes men hurt women. That’s a fact. But let’s go back to that litmus test for a moment.

What if I were to tell you that I was walking home alone last night, and felt uncomfortable because I noticed a black person walking behind me? Say I was walking for a while, hoping that black person would cross the street so that I could feel more safe, but they didn’t, so I eventually just took my turn a couple streets early. What? I’m not being racist. Sometimes black people rob white people. It’s a fact, that’s all.

And maybe I was walking home from the bar. Maybe at that bar someone came up to me while I was drinking. I felt the need to keep physical distance from them and careful watch on my drink because that black person was a total stranger, and sometimes black people are sexually aggressive or violent toward white people. Just look at Bill Cosby.

Yikes.  I felt uncomfortable writing that just now. Did you feel kind of gross reading it? When we make statements like these about someone based on race, they are apparent in their bigotry and fallacy. Nobody would doubt my flagrant racism if I actually said those things to people, and I’d probably be corrected or criticized.  If I said them in public I’d probably also be the sort of person who flies confederate flags and asserts that everyone should speak American.  But when we make them about men, suddenly we are just women looking out for ourselves, and that inherent judgment is not even questioned. Making the judgment that someone is violent or means to harm you based on their sex is no better than making such a judgment based on their skin colour, and those assumptions can lead to real-world consequences.

For the record, I’m not advocating against watching your drink in a bar or paying attention to your surroundings on the street. I’m merely pointing out the bias when we do so based on gender, when we assume we are less safe because we have cast a certain group of people as the default predators. Just as most black people aren’t robbers, most men aren’t rapists, and assuming otherwise is playing into harmful and discriminatory stereotypes. Go ahead and keep an eye on your drink – that’s practical – but do it around everyone, not just one race or gender.

Maybe you’re not convinced that this comparison is fair. Maybe you see it as somehow different.  Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Well what’s the harm? Racial minorities are disadvantaged and mistreated by the system. There are institutionalized systemic biases that affect them. It isn’t the same to say these things about a specific race, because they aren’t in a position of privilege, like men, that we are attempting to dismantle with this type of language.”

It’s funny you mention that, because I did a bit of research.  Remember what I said about privilege and binaries?

What are some of the things we point to as evidence that some races suffer systemic discrimination? What are some trends that are cited as disadvantages people suffer on the basis of race?

For the purposes of the following barrage of statistics, consider these demographics: Men make up about 49% of the U.S. population, women 51%, white people 62%, and black people 13%. I focus specifically on these four demographics because some of the studies I found are not more specific in their delineation of race, and also because no reasonable person will argue with the assertion that black people suffer systemic discrimination and other well documented disadvantages compared to caucasians.

So let’s start with poverty, since that’s usually the first thing we point to when we’re talking about social disadvantage. According to a 2010 fact sheet published by SAMHSA, men make up about 62% of the sheltered homeless. A prior study cited within the publication placed that number between 67-80%. For comparison, the percent of homeless people who are black is listed as 37%, just slightly lower than the percent who are white (40.1%). Both men and black people suffer gross over representation in the homeless population, with men constituting as much as 4/5.

And when you talk about poverty, you’ve got to look at education. The most recent relevant Common Core data on high school graduation rates (2008-9) demonstrates a gender disparity of about 7% (73.4% for males, 80.6% females), and a racial disparity of about 18% (63.6% for black students, 81.8% for whites). And those disparities hold true, and more extreme, in post-secondary education. About 41% of college graduates from associate to doctorate level (in 2009-10) were male, 11% of graduates were black, and 71% white. Obviously the gender disparity here is less pronounced than the racial one, but it exists at every level, within every permutation. An interesting relevant fact is that the dreaded wage gap is beginning to reverse. Young, unmarried women are starting to out-earn their male counterparts (particularly in cities) by a national average of 8%. In some cities, that number climbs to as much as 21%. Could this be influenced by men’s dropping graduation rates? Perhaps many of these young men and women are the recent graduates (or non-graduates) of that post-secondary trend entering the work force.

Or how about violence victimization? I had to do some digging at the Bureau of Justice Statistics to make these comparisons (hence the inconsistency in the types of statistics), but men suffer violent crime at a rate of about 1.2%, versus women’s 1.1%, whites’ 1.1%, and blacks’ 1.3% (as of 2013). This is a slight over representation in terms of both gender and race, but let’s focus on a few more specific types of crime. If you examine violent victimization by a stranger (2010), men are nearly twice as likely as women to be victimized, at a rate of about 9.5 per thousand. Black people suffer these types of crimes at a rate of 13.3 per thousand, white people at 9.2. But homicide is the kicker (this time from the census). As of 2008, 48% of victims were black, 49% white, and all of 78% were male. Now that’s a disparity.

But wait, there’s more! Why don’t we take a look at the criminal justice system. Most conscientious people agree that black Americans suffer unfair treatment at the hands of law enforcement and the courts. After all, they are given on average 23% higher sentences than white people for the same crimes, were 28% of arrests in 2011, constitute 37.5% of the prison population, and are generally treated more harshly by law enforcement. This is such a widespread and serious problem that it has led to protests, extensive discussion about policy and corruption, and violent riots.

So you may be interested to know that men are given, on average, 63% higher sentences than women, are 74% of arrests, and make up 93% of the prison population. Men suffer a sentencing disparity that is nearly three times as much as the racial disparity, and are the overwhelming majority of American prisoners. In addition to receiving 63% harsher sentences for the same crime, men suffer a further bias: that same study, conducted by law professor Sonja Starr of the University of Michigan in 2012, found that women are significantly more likely than men to avoid charges and avoid conviction, as well as being twice as likely to avoid incarceration when they are convicted. When comparing equivalent crimes, criminal histories, and other relevant factors, men are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged when arrested, more likely to be convicted when charged, more likely to be incarcerated when convicted, and more likely to face a harsher sentence when incarcerated. For exactly the same crimes. And we wonder why almost all prisoners are male.

But it doesn’t stop there. In 2008, the BJS conducted a study of police-public contact. Police interactions with the public were analyzed from that year. This analysis more than hints at what we already know about police tendency to single out or be harsher toward people of certain races. While they found that black people had been stopped while driving only at a slightly higher rate than white people (8.8% vs. 8.4%), they were arrested at a traffic stop at a rate of 4.7% (compared with 2.4% of whites), had their vehicles searched at a rate of 12.3% (compared with 3.9%), and experienced a threat or use of force at a rate of 3.4% (versus 1.2%).

Now, according to that same analysis, men were stopped at a rate of 10% (versus women’s 7%), arrested at a stop at a rate of 3.5% (versus 1.4%), had their vehicles searched at a rate of 7.4% (versus 1.6%), and experienced threat or use of force at a rate of 1.8% (versus 1%). For those of you keeping count at home, some of these numbers show a significantly greater disparity than the racial one above. And remember that most of the instances of racial police brutality have targeted males, not females. In fact, according to BJS data, cited in an article about race and police shootings, less than 5% of arrest related deaths between 2003 and 2009 were female. For comparison, about a third were black (while the article doesn’t consider this a dramatic number, remember that this is nearly three times the percent of black representation in the population as a whole).

Bear in mind that most of these links come from organizations that rely on the Duluth model (indeed, the BJS states outright in some of the studies linked above that its statistics on sexual violence apply only to victimization of women and girls), so if there is bias between the lines, it is not likely to be in my favour. And yet, all these studies have demonstrated pretty conclusively that disparities in violent crime victimization, education, homelessness, arrest, incarceration, and treatment by law enforcement, all arenas capable of ruining lives or worse, follow similar patterns for gender as they do for race. Men suffer very much the same types of biases and discrepancies that we point to as evidence of a need to level the playing field for the races.

“But Jackalope!” you may be saying, “aren’t most of these gender disparities the result of male aggression and other cultural male behaviours? Can we really say they reflect an institutional discrimination against men?” To that, I’ll just go ahead and refer you back to my litmus test from earlier. You wouldn’t be saying “they bring it on themselves” or “they’re really just that violent” or “they don’t work as hard” if you knew I was about to replace every instance of your usage of “men” with “black people”.

It may be that men are, to an extent, more prone to crime than women due to some social or even biological factors, but our assumptions about men and violence, aided by the Duluth model which is entrenched in just about every institution we have to deal with violence, have led to a widespread bias in the very institutions we employ to identify, examine, and correct violence. Pervasive characterization of men as default perpetrators and criminals has led to men being treated as such, from basic police contact to arrest, to conviction, to sentencing, and I see no good reason to differentiate this from the way the cycle of bias against black Americans affects their treatment by the law. If the system treated men fairly, we wouldn’t see that 63% difference in sentencing for the same crimes (or the gaps in all the other steps of the process).  And the chasm between our innate compassion for women and cavalier attitude about the suffering of men has certainly exacerbated this problem.

Most people are vaguely aware of some of these trends, but write them off as the result of male behaviours and culture. Isn’t most violence male-on-male? If men want to be better educated, more financially stable, less involved with criminal justice, less likely to be the victim of violence, and viewed in a more positive light on the whole, if men don’t want to suffer stigma and bias, they should be less violent, work harder, and dedicate their energies more toward educating and bettering themselves. But male culture doesn’t lend toward those things. If they behaved differently, if they had different priorities, they wouldn’t have these problems.  If men want to be treated better, they should stop acting so darn masculine. But doesn’t that sound just a little familiar? I’ll let you apply that litmus test on your own if you need to.

So am I saying that being a man in the U.S. is exactly the same as being a racial minority? No, not exactly. Every group (indeed, every individual) has its own circumstances, advantages, and disadvantages. But most of the disparities we point to in order to illustrate institutionalized racial discrimination affect men, too, sometimes significantly moreso, as you read above. And yet nobody seems to be all that concerned with the institutionalized sexism in these arenas (I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that it benefits women).  Not only does nobody seem concerned, most still assume that men are in a position of unambiguous privilege

But even though women have a staggering advantage in these areas that would make Jezebel shit its collective pants if it were reversed, a quick google of “women and criminal justice” has turned up this total garbage, this propaganda-riddled study, and a slew of other articles and editorials that use statements directly contradicted by the statistics above, decrying the small rate of incarceration women do experience, casting women as the victims (what else is new?) of criminal justice bias and mistreatment, and urging for even greater leniency on behalf of women.  These articles vie for leniency by arguing that many women are driven to crime by desperate circumstances, have a history of trauma, addiction, or mental illness, or are mothers who shouldn’t be separated from their children.  But they don’t seem to consider the fact that many male criminals are also driven to crime by desperate circumstances, have a history of trauma, addiction, or mental illness, or are fathers.  Why are these arguments only being made about women?  Since the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and the highest prison population, why aren’t these arguments being made as an effort to limit the millions of citizens funneled into our prison system as a whole, instead of focusing just on the extreme minority of women incarcerated?

In fact, this directory of assistance programs has the nerve to exist, and appear on the first page of results, in order to aid women (yes, specifically women) who have been incarcerated to reenter the civilian world. By all means, let’s focus on the 7% of prisoners who aren’t male with hundreds of maddeningly specialized programs nationwide (California alone has 23, and Wisconsin has 10, to give you an idea) which funnel money, time, and effort into helping the proportion of the incarcerated population that may even need it the least. It’s pretty clear where the public priority lies.  Can you imagine if these articles and programs existed specifically for the aid and defense of white people?

Finding the comparisons I listed above took me more than a day of poring over reams of data and digging through many organizations’ publications, none of which were particularly easy to find, and most of which didn’t even have the information I was looking for. This wasn’t a simple Google search of “systemic biases against men”. (In fact, when I did search that, Google provided me with links about racial discrimination instead.) So why isn’t this forward in the gender equality discussion? Why does everyone still think men are privileged and women are disadvantaged, period? Not only are there no riots or protests about this, no #MaleLivesMatter, and no public outcry. It’s barely discussed at all, while similar trends for a different group are practically provoking a sociopolitical revolution. And rightly so, since people are having their lives ruined and lost as a result. Those are some very real, tangible, tragic social consequences that can be traced pretty neatly back to stereotypes and unfair perception of a group as violent and criminal. But when the same information applies to men, it’s suddenly on the back burner. This could be one of the most pressing gender equality issues of our time, so why is nobody talking about this? I guess catcalling and manspreading are just that much more important.

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Filed under criminal justice, discrimination, men's rights, privilege, racism, sexism