On Subjects and Objects

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Laci Green, from her video on objectification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the Reporting Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s Rights Part 1: On Reproductive Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men aren’t so lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brief Rant on Due Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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, in particular, the majority of the above. 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 expectation 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 accepts his offer, 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

Underestimating Feminism Part 2: A Conflict of Interests

Dear Feminists*,

Last time I outlined all the many ways in which your movement has been wildly successful, but I have a concern to express to you. In the face of all your social and political influence, when you’ve got representatives in every meaningful source of power, when it’s not considered socially acceptable or politically correct to disagree with you, when you’ve got speakers who can charge tens of thousands just to talk about feminism, why are you so very reticent to declare your mission accomplished, or to even acknowledge your success? Why do you try so hard to paint our society as hostile toward women by scouring human behaviour for anything you could possibly interpret as subtle misogyny, when women’s equality and success is one of the most widespread and agreeable values, and we have at least every legal right that men have and more than a few glaring advantages?  Why do so many of you staunchly refuse to acknowledge that men have issues of their own that need addressing?

Let’s go back to that billion dollar industry I brought up in my previous article. You’ve built quite the money maker on your massively popular ideology. What would happen to all those organizations, media outlets, bloggers, academic programs, and businesses if, say, we acknowledged that violence against women was somewhat uncommon and falling in frequency, and women stopped being afraid to walk the streets? If it became apparent that just about every social issue we consider a women’s issue is actually an everybody issue that affects both sexes equally? If we stopped to notice that women have many advantages even over men? Would people keep buying t-shirts and donating to your organizations if we declared that women have equality? What about the power you have to influence policy? Would you continue to control the climate of college campuses, and would governments keep passing laws in your favour, if we as a society acknowledged how well women are really doing, or took a sincere look at the concrete inequalities men, whom you’ve cast as the all-powerful, unilaterally privileged villain of your story, are suffering?

Just as I would never trust a security company to give me credible information on the prevalence of robbery, I suspect feminism has developed a similar conflict of interests. You aren’t a grassroots advocacy movement anymore. You’re raking in billions, profiting enormously off the belief that women are oppressed. It’s no wonder you skew the hell out of your studies and define things like harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in dubiously broad terms, so that you can claim they are exponentially more prevalent than they really are. It’s no wonder your academics will try to bully and blacklist anyone who wants to publish evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated at least as much by women as by men. It’s no wonder you desperately try to slander and silence (including petty shenanigans like this, and also terrifying legal action like this) anyone who disagrees with you or attempts to address the very real issues that affect men, even though addressing men’s and women’s issues shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or reliant upon any one ideological worldview. The truth of these matters directly contradicts the narrative you’ve been proclaiming all this time, and if it were accepted and believed by the public, it would ruin you. It’s no wonder you ascribe secret misogynistic motives to everything from the way we speak to the design of popular games to the way men sit on the train. You NEED there to be an epidemic of misogyny in order to survive as an ideology, and in order to survive as an industry.

So let me ask you something, feminists. I’m no fool. I know that a security company stands to gain nothing from a reduction in robbery, and even less from a public that is not afraid of robbery. So now that you’re a booming cash cow on top of just a women’s movement, how can I trust you to keep me informed and represent my interests as a woman?

 

 

*Here I mean more to address the feminists that run the movement, not the “true scotsmen” who have little to no hand in its ideology, politics, or academia.  This is a question that I think anyone would benefit from considering, but I do not think the civilian feminists on the ground level are trying to profit from feminism monetarily or politically.

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Feminists Chronically Underestimate Feminism

Dear feminists,

It’s true.  You so often underestimate your own success and progress. You talk about women as if we are ever more oppressed even in the first world, frequently ignoring the great strides you’ve made to bring us to legal, social, and economic equality. Women can vote, work in any field we want, have reproductive choices, and run for office, largely because of your movement. Anyone who so much as implies a threat to women’s rights or general well-being is met with the mob of public opinion sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches. If that person is a politician, such a move is often political suicide. (Remember Todd Akin? Right, neither does anyone else.) Women are respected by the general public, to the extent that almost anyone looking to earn some public brownie points says nice things about us, knowing that it will be universally agreeable. People care about our well-being and our position in society, on a level that could even be called compulsive. Even if you want to argue that women still face sexism and related inequality, you’d be blind not to acknowledge that we’ve made some serious progress in both our rights and general esteem, especially considering that 100 years ago we couldn’t even vote.

And you underestimate your pull and popularity as a movement and ideology. Many of you view yourselves as the ideological underdog, often asserting that feminism is a “dirty word,” but it is your movement which guides academia, culture, and policy. You are responsible for changes, good and bad, that affect everyone. You have heavy influence on college campuses, you are at the head of the national sociopolitical discussion of rights and privileges, and you are an issue that matters to every politician claiming to seek social progress (and many of the ones who don’t). Identifying outside of feminism or speaking against it as an ideology or movement, even as a regular citizen, is enough to lose one credibility and respect in most places.  I ought to know.

To give you an idea of your influence, out of about 2,500 4-year institutions in the United States, there are roughly 700 women’s studies programs. There are a handful of men’s, most of which are a branch of feminist theory specifically dealing with maleness. The former are arguably inseparable from modern university politics, and have have influenced national politics and policy for decades. The Duluth Model is one good example, which is the standard for how we treat sexual and domestic violence from social work and law enforcement, to hotline and shelter operations, right down to the way we define the crimes, to say nothing of ubiquitous sexual harassment policies in universities and the workplace. All that is informed by feminist academia.

And speaking of academia, as much as we hear about sexism in hiring that keeps women out of male-dominated fields like science, things are changing rapidly. According to a Pew Research survey from 2013, only 10% of working women reported a negative effect on their career due to workplace discrimination. What’s more, a PNAS study from last year demonstrates an advantage for women in STEM fields, who are preferred 2-1 over men for tenure-track faculty positions. Many feminists argue that this new disparity is more due to PR needs and political pressure than a true transcendence of older attitudes toward women, but even if that’s true, consider what that says for the power and success of the feminist movement: It has become a strong enough social and political force that employers are concerned about disappointing its representatives or angering its adherents.

On the PR front, we have International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s contributions throughout history, and there is a Woman of the Year award for our contributions today. There are men’s equivalents, but they are nowhere near as publicized (I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t know there is an International Men’s Day – The Young Turks don’t).

On the legal front, since the 1960’s we’ve had the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, affirmative action, and VAWA, all of which are or have been specifically implemented for women’s benefit and/or protection.  Some of these laws have even needed to be updated or reexamined in an effort to prevent discrimination toward men.

In organizations, there’s AAUW, NOW, Planned Parenthood, and countless others. Here is a list of 20 of the more prominent organizations that further women’s causes. Here is a magazine article highlighting the best 154 of them. The fact that these organizations exist at all is a testament to the success of both women and the feminist ideology, never mind their sheer numbers and the influence they have.

On the individual level, the label of feminism may not be as popular as the virtues it advertises, but the vast majority of people support equality for women. In fact, the women’s movement is so popular that it is becoming a selling point, a brand in its own right. You aren’t just appealing or popular. You’re booming. Feminism is a billion dollar industry, raking in untold funds for its array of academic and political organizations, advocacy groups and NGOs, service providers, businesses, media outlets, and public speakers. There are feminist blogs, news sites, literature, game developers, children’s toys, ads, t-shirts, podcasts, coffee mugs, conferences and conventions, and all of them sell like hotcakes. Anita Sarkeesian rakes in $20,000 every time she gives a talk. Any reputable university has a women’s studies program and campus women’s groups (while widely disapproving of men’s). Every academic, social, or political organization must include feminism in its mission statement, hire on feminist academics and advisers in order to declare itself progressive or conscientious, because that is what the people consider progressive and conscientious. Every field of study or work has a feminist interpretation. There is feminist environmentalism, feminist geology, feminist economics, and feminist history (the common use of words like “herstory” should tell us enough about feminism’s popularity and ubiquity). None of this would be the case if your cause weren’t one that mattered to the people, if your ideas weren’t popular, if gender equality and the success and thriving of women weren’t an agreeable collective goal, if the western world were the medieval cesspool of misogyny that you paint it as. I think it’s time to acknowledge that women are winning.  Girls, we run the world.

If none of this is convincing, I want to remind you that this is the progress we’ve made since the suffrage movement a mere century ago. For comparison, let’s consider another group that’s been struggling for equality. I’ve already written extensively on the parallels between issues of racial and gender equality, but I’ll do a small recap and add a few other points. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and the 15th Amendment (prohibiting the denial of voting rights based on race) was ratified in 1870. Women got their suffrage in 1920. So black Americans have what one might call a 50-year head start on us historically, but let’s look at where women are compared to African Americans today. We’ll start with the pay gap. The gender pay gap as of 2009 (the latest I can find comparable data on both subjects) is 77% (though in cities, women out-earn men by an average of 8% before they start to have children). As of 2009, women made about 77 cents to men’s dollar. And black people made 61 cents to white people’s dollar. That is slightly better than half of what white people make, twice as big as the disparity women experience, and you could make far less of a case for personal choice being responsible for this than you could for the gender gap. Also, bear in mind that the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act (addressing workplace discrimination against women and non-whites, respectively) were passed within a year of each other.

Furthermore, women today make up 20-30 percent of the homeless (a minority), and black people make up 37% (almost triple their representation in the American population). Female students are 7% more likely than male students to graduate high school. Black students are 18% less likely than white students. About 60% of postsecondary degrees are earned by women, and around 11% by black people. So consider that women have four times as many scholarships as men, as well as 50% more than black people.

Even more seriously, women constitute less than 5% of arrest related deaths, and black people are about a third (with similar disparities in other police treatment and mistreatment). Women receive 63% lesser sentences when convicted of a crime, black people receive 23% harsher ones. I could go on (or you could just read my other article), but you get the idea. Women are actually ahead in a great deal of areas that matter, from treatment under the law to education, and education is a big deal. Just imagine what the world is going to look like in 20 years, when a majority of the educated workforce has been female for a while.

For only having achieved suffrage less than a century ago, the advancement of women’s equality has been absolutely stunning, culminating in some highly notable advantages to boot. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge how much progress you’ve made, how seriously you’re taken, and how much power you have over the discourse and policy of our nation and the developed world. You shouldn’t be doomsaying, declaring the west an irreparable patriarchy, or crying that you’re oppressed. You should be patting yourselves on the back and celebrating how amazingly far you’ve come. I know better than to think I can convince you that your mission is accomplished, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t at least almost there.

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