Monday, April 27, 2015

#NotAllMen & other misguided ideas

I've seen a lot of things recently that seem like they're coming from a good place, but when I look at them more closely, they don't help anything at all. One of these things is #NotAllMen. When people talk about feminism, gender equality, and especially violence against women, men often get uncomfortable. They often feel blamed or like they're being "guilt-tripped". This feeling is understandable when you're hearing statistics like 92% of child sexual abuse on females is perpetrated by males, 98% of female rape victims report male perpetrators (and 51% of those perpetrators were current or former intimate partners), and that women who live with other women romantically are statistically twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence from a man than a woman. But this feeling isn't reasonable, because if you look closer at what those statistics say, they aren't saying that all men are rapists or abusers. They're saying that most people who are victimized are victimized by men. Very few people in this conversation are saying that most or all men are bad people.

With that said, there is a difference between men abusing women and women abusing men. We live in a culture where women make less money than men even when we control for men and women in the same positions, and it gets a lot worse when we talk about how much less women of color make. This sends an implied message that as workers, women are worth less than men. We live in a culture where over and over in media, women are used as objects, placed in a sexualized context in order to sell products to men. This sends an implied message that as consumers, women are worth less than men. We live in a culture where men are informed about sexuality, and they have their sexualities encouraged, and they are encouraged to pursue women, while women are "protected" from sexual information that could threaten their innocence, and they have their sexualities shamed, and they are encouraged to be passive in romantic and sexual relationships. This sends an implied message that as sexual beings, women are worth less than men. I can think of many more examples, but I think that relatively intelligent readers can find the trend: in many areas of society, women are repeatedly told that they are less valuable than men. This information is often not relayed explicitly, but it is embedded within many of the practices and beliefs that we live with every day. This valuing of men above others privileges the beliefs and practices of men over all other gender identities.

So, no, most men are not directly perpetuating abuse or oppression against women. But the idea that people can live within a hierarchy that privileges them while disadvantaging other groups of people without either contributing to the disadvantage of those people or challenging the hierarchy rubs me the wrong way. If no one challenges the status quo, it will always be upheld. Often in our culture, if not enough people who benefit from the status quo challenge it, it will continue to be upheld. We all should be able to understand how that works, so if you benefit from the status quo, and you know that others are disadvantaged by the status quo, yet you do not challenge that, you are indirectly confirming that their oppression is acceptable. You are sending the implicit message that their oppression is "worth it" to you, because you are comfortable where you are. No one is calling you a rapist because you are a man, but if you refuse to either acknowledge, challenge, or work to end rape culture, you are doing something wrong. You are complicit in the continuation of a system that perpetuates violence that happens more often to women because they are disadvantaged in that system. Not all men are rapists or abusers, but all men who focus on their own innocence rather than challenging the bigger problems in our culture are a part of the problem.

This is a much longer post than I planned on, so if you stuck with me, thanks.