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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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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Filed under antifeminism, equality, feminism, men's rights, women's rights

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 (with booming success – most people seem pretty sure Hillary will be our next president), 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 is speeding along, with 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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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 (that video is from a conference on male suicide, by the way), 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 misandrous 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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Silly Anti-feminists, Tumblr is for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under activism, antifeminism, education, personal, tumblr

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

Because it’s November

Hey, everybody, it’s November! October was breast cancer awareness month, and I spent a lot of time up on my soap box about how to find the right charity that will put your money toward curing cancer and not just selling pink shit that makes you feel a little better about yourself. Everyone is aware of breast cancer, but it’s far more important to put the money raised toward actually helping the women (and the small amount of men) who are diagnosed with it.

But now October is over. That doesn’t mean we should stop caring about breast cancer, but November is men’s health awareness month. As a loud, angry MRA, I’d be ashamed of myself if I didn’t take advantage of this advocacy opportunity.

So here are some facts (which I won’t bother to link, because they all show up in the first couple hits of a google search on the subject):

According to cancer.org, 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, and about 1 in 38 men die of prostate cancer (including my grandfather, who passed away about 20 years ago). Compare that to the 231,000 new cases of breast cancer that will be diagnosed this year, and a 1 in 36 death rate in women.

Even though rates of diagnosis and death are comparable, federal funding for breast cancer research is about double what is forked over for prostate cancer research. That’s a bummer. I found one article estimating that about $6 billion is raised each year for breast cancer, but I couldn’t even find a number for prostate cancer. Movember itself, which seems to be the leading men’s health charity, in the past 11 years has only just exceeded half a billion. Given the disparity in interest, awareness, and discussion of the two cancers, I suspect this may even represent a majority of private money allocated to prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. In a just world, we would care as much about men’s well being as we do women’s.

And Movember isn’t just about cancer. It’s about men’s health in general, including mental health. Men commit suicide about four times as often as women do, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That’s nothing to sneeze at. If men are so damned privileged, why are they taking their own lives at four times the rate of women? Maybe it’s time to look into bettering conditions for men, too: breaking down gender barriers and injustices that affect men, and destigmatizing and improving access to mental healthcare for men (and in general – mental healthcare needs to be taken a lot more seriously in this country, for everyone).

So this year, I will be a proud Movember participant. The Movember charity puts about 80% of its funding toward men’s health programs, some of which promote awareness, but most of which are actually for the improvement of men’s health. That’s A+ in my book, so I’ll be donating to them today. And while I’m not quite Italian enough to grow a full mustache this month, I’ll be letting my pits grow out. Yes, really. For justice.

If you want to join me (by donating or with hairy solidarity), go here: https://us.movember.com/

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Filed under men's health, men's rights, movember, no-shave november