Let’s REALLY talk about institutionalized abuses.

So yesterday I wrote a blog post which I worked very hard on.  I tried to compassionately ask that men please just listen to the women sharing their stories right now, and then I told my OWN story in order to illustrate a culture of misogyny that I had experienced.  I only had one sentence in the entire blog post which made a generalization about the male experience, and it was “and men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.”

Did I say that all men abuse women?

NO.

Did I say that all men are evil?

NO.

Did I even say that all men are complicit?

NO.

What did I say?  I said that society, as a whole, has a different attitude towards men than women.  Men are given license, by society, to blame women for the way in which women are treated by men.  I was very deliberate in not having gone any further than that and stopping my claims there.  Partly, because a blog post should only ever be so long; but, mostly because I understood that no matter what an individual writer says, when you’re writing about an issue which is broadly in the media people tend to react to the issue itself instead of your words.

I immediately received a personal backlash.

The thrust of the arguments which I had with several men, both privately and publicly, is that it is wrong for women to make generalizations about men.  Making those generalizations weakens women’s argument, puts men on the defensive, makes dialogue impossible, and so forth.

I was forced, then, to make a choice:  To either continue to restate my actual argument which necessitated a generalization, or to capitulate.

Why does the argument necessitate a generalization?

Let me take you to a moment in Guadalajara Mexico,when I was cornered by a police-man on a motorcycle.  My gut clenches and I am looking for any avenue of escape, but there is none.  Why am I looking for an avenue of escape?  Because the woman I am staying with, a native of the city, says that police men are known to rape white girls when they are on Spring Break.

She made a generalization, didn’t she?  But she made one because the generalization was necessary.  Sure, she could say, “some policemen have”, but that is still general.  Or she could say “there are a hundred known cases of”, but that is actually too clinical to be effective.  The problem that she is addressing, that she is trying to communicate to me, is one that is endemic in the way the policemen of that city operate.  To address an endemic injustice, one MUST use language that encapsulates the system.  The system of police, in that case, which is based summed up in the statement “policemen are known to rape.”

Or, let’s look at the civil rights movement.  In his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Instead of honoring this obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.”  This is literally the first of many generalizations that the good Dr. made in his speech.

Okay, men, go dig him up from his grave and explain that making generalizations weakens a person’s argument.

Sometimes, when you are talking about systemic injustices that are institutionalized in the very way in which society operates, generalizations are all you have left.  When a black person talks about their experiences, generally, with white society, do we accuse them of being prejudiced against white people?

See, the #YesAllWomen movement has been characterized as being sexist in the way that generalizations against race are racist.  There’s a difference, though, between being racist and addressing systemic injustices that are based on race.  When someone says “all black people are lazy”, they are being a racist.  When a black person says, “white people are better rewarded by the academic system”, they are simply pointing out an injustice which society ignores, an injustice which is documented and undeniable.

When women say, “men are given permission to silence women who speak up about abuse by slut-shaming them or making them responsible for their own mistreatment”, women are simply pointing out a systemic injustice in society which, guess what!  Is documented and undeniable.  Sociologists have been puzzling over issues such as these for decades, and it is undeniable- empirically, scientifically undeniable-that there is a double standard in society.

So I will ask again that men listen to women address these injustices with open ears, open eyes, an open heart, and a closed mouth.

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Men. Women. Society. Meh.

First, I have to say that I understand why the #NotAllMen backlash is happening.  It’s a frightening thing to feel that you may be unwillingly drafted into a bitter generalization.  The immediate response is to say, “not me, right?”  But, friends, that doesn’t mean it is the right response.  Let me illustrate with a story.  The college campus I work at has a majority of Hispanic students, and the Writing Center where I work is often a home-away-from-home for students that are looking for a quieter environment to study.  This is a good thing, as we work hard to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for our students. Sometimes that safe and comfortable atmosphere lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable conversations.  For instance, once I was sitting at the front desk when a handful of Latina girls started talking about their frustration with a particular instructor.  Soon that conversation ballooned into their frustration with the attitudes they encountered as Latina students in a world that seemed stacked against them, where men and white women seemed to hold all of the power and they were minorities on many levels.  It wasn’t long before they were talking about how white women don’t seem to understand how much luckier they are than women of other races and cultures.  And I was itching, absolutely itching, to join in the conversation and talk about how many odds I had to face and to more or less ask, “not me, right?”

Thankfully something told me to hold my peace.

The conversation wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have been about me. I learned something.  Despite all the hardships I faced, the fact that I’m attractive and white has definitely helped me to edge out other women who are just as deserving as I am, but just happen to have darker skin and rougher features.  My whiteness has benefited me, but I’ve been allowed to ignore that fact and focus on the areas that are still a struggle: that I’m a woman, that I’m a returning student, that I’m a mother.  Because I do face prejudice I can take it for granted that I also have a great deal of privilege.  

Let me repeat that:  I have a great deal of privilege.  I have the benefit of pale skin and a middle class upbringing that allows me to sidestep institutionalized prejudice.

So, men, I’m going to try to say this all as kindly as I can:  You have the privilege, you have the power.  Like me, you don’t have to think about your privilege because from your perspective it’s just how life works, and you can drum up a million examples of struggles as evidence that your privilege isn’t complete.  Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you have privilege.  And the only way you will learn to appreciate that privilege is by listening to the other voices in the room without exerting your ability to co-opt the conversation.  I get that you wonder, “are they talking about me?”  I get that you see the anger unfolding and you don’t want to be subjected to it.  I get that you may even be angry that you feel like you are having to shoulder some of that bitterness unwilling and undeserved.  The truth is that you will now know whether or not women are talking about their experiences with men like you until you take the time to actually listen.

Please.

Just listen.

Now, my lady friends:

Don’t shut up.  Please don’t shut up.  The worst part of the institutionalized misogyny of our culture is the way in which it robs us of our voices because we are trained to expect every outcry to be met with criticism and scolding.  Even when we’re assaulted, even when we’re raped, even when we have blood and bruises to demonstrate the wrongs against us we still have to prove that we are victims.

We learn, pretty quickly, that things heal better if we nurse them in silence.  But, that silence leaves us at risk for greater pain.  So do not, ever, shut up.  

When I was seventeen I went to college for the first time.  I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.  Stress and poor grades and frustration led me to drop out a semester in.  Or, at least, that’s the story I tell.  But really, I may have done a lot better if a few weeks into my stay there I hadn’t been assaulted by someone I thought was my friend.  Now, I was told that it was my fault for being alone in a room with him.  I was told that it was my fault for dressing provocatively.  (In jeans and a tank top?)  I was told that it was my fault for “leading him on” or not “reading the signals.”  And for a long time, I did believe that it was my fault.  

It wasn’t until recently that I put any amount of thought into how twisted it was that this guy, who stuck his hands down my pants uninvited, was treated like a victim of MY sexuality and naivete and everyone, even my girlfriends, played along.

Thank God my brothers had taught me how to throw a punch.  But, even so, I was lucky.

In the movies, girls sit around sipping cocktails and talking about when they lost their virginity.

In my own experience, we show each other our scars and speak in hushed voices.  We each share our stories of assault.  Rare, very rare, are the girls that have no such story.  We imagine such girls like birds of extravagant plumage, floating down from heaven, like unicorns or mermaids, creatures of fantasy.  We imagine unstained girls as such because we do not known these women.

Yes, all women I know have a story of the time that they were handled roughly by men.  Maybe a husband, a lover, a father, a brother.  Maybe a stranger on a bus.  But we all have our scars, and many more of us than are willing to admit have physical scars we invent fictions for, so that when someone says “what’s that mark on your chin?” we can laugh it off and tell the charming story of our own clumsiness.

Because the real story of having our head shoved down against the bedpost is just way too humiliating, right?

Because it’s somehow our fault?

This, right here, is the institutionalized misogyny.  We, as women, are taught to bear the burden of our victim-hood as if it is our responsibility that we are victims.  And men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.  Now, not all men see women as extensions of their will or objects to be used.  I understand that.  But the patterns of behavior that trap women in perpetual silence are propagated by society and are misogynist.  Sometimes, men participate in the cycle completely unaware.  Often, women do the same.

And what could change that?

Women, don’t shut up.  Men?  Listen.

 

Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady troubles part 2

See part one to get the backstory.

  1. Women of strength are almost always an extension of male power.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  She’s watched and trained by a male watcher.  Xena the Warrior Princess owes her salvation (and the existence of her franchise) to Hercules.  The ladies of the X-Men?  Xavier’s.  Across the board you see women who are taught to be strong by men, or women who operate under the covering of a man’s world or man’s blessing.  There are some rare exceptions, like Wonder Woman, whose existence seems to point to a flaw in my logic.  But, if you will experiment:  write down every female superhero/action hero/TV protagonist that you can think of and then highlight all the ones who are completely independent of operating under male authority.

    Trust me, you won’t need your highlighter much.

  2. Either their sexuality is hidden, or is a weapon.  Women in traditionally masculine roles are given very few options: either hide your femininity in order to dress and operate like a man, or flaunt your femininity like a weapon.  You see it in the over-sexual poses on comic book covers, in the drastic v-necks and skin tight blouses on TV, in the made-up faces and perfectly coiffed hair that have no place in a crime scene or hiding behind surgeon’s masks.

    What’s up, world?

    And most of the time when you see a female character who has taken pains to neither dress in a masculine way or use her sexuality as a weapon, the situation will be contrived at LEAST ONCE to make her into a sexual display.  (For example:  Castle’s Beckett, who normally is neither overly masculine or feminine, is contrived to have to play the role of a model on a catwalk.  Why?)  How often are male police officers forced to go undercover as strippers or whores?  When male spies have to seduce someone for information, do they have to subjugate themselves sexually to do so?  Come on.

  3. Nurture: there’s a loaded word.  Whether or not male superheros have family can be a loaded issue.  Normally, their family relations are taught with loss or lies.  Peter Parker’s guilt about Uncle Ben, Batman’s loss of his parents, and many more such examples.  But for women in the power game, the issue of family tends to come down to nurture.  The choice is clear:  for the woman to have power, she must scorn nurture.  It is implied, therefore, that nurture is a “default mode” for women that must be shut off for them to have strength.  Yet the nurture still ekes out in the form of Wonder Woman comforting Superman against her breast.

    While I understand that feminine physiology demands that women address the issue of childbirth, I also find it odd that men can have children in these situations where women cannot.  And why can men?  Because they impregnate women who do the nurturing for them.  The nurturing happens removed from the source of strength.

    When I think about it too much, I get a headache.  What, exactly, does this symbolize?

  4. Humiliation.  When male superheros are beaten down and humiliated, it usually takes the form of them being bound and gagged and their strength being mocked.

    When females are humiliated, it is all too often sexual in nature.

    Hm.

  5. And the double standard of tears.  In the first Die Hard movie, the protagonist is reduced to tears.  This stoic crying is seen as a symbol of his strength and perseverance.  Compare that to any woman crying ever.

    No, really, any woman crying ever.  I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of any time that a woman crying is seen as a sign of strength and perseverance instead of a sign of weakness and over-emotion, and I can’t think of one.  Men are allowed to cry on occasion because it is seen as a sign of them being in control, them willingly connecting to a depth of emotion that is understood to have an “off” switch if necessary.  Women, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to cry because it is seen as them being unable or unwilling to harness their emotions appropriately.  Women cry when they are in pain so that men heal them, they cry when they are upset so that men stop, they cry in this or that situation because they are unhinged or just neurotic.

    Sigh.

    When Batman cries it is because he is strong enough to acknowledge his grief.  When Catwoman cries she’s just psycho, yo.

 

Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady problems.

I often say things like, “oh, I’ve got this BIG LIST of problems with the way women are portrayed in (insert form of media).”  Every once in a while someone will say, “oh?  I’d like to see the full list.”

So I’m working on compiling many various rants into an easy to read, distilled, bloggy form.

Here’s a start:

  1. Men get respect by default, women get questioned.  Go visit any fictional world, be it the world of the X-Men or Buffy’s Sunnydale or Xena’s realm, and you’ll see men being respected while women are, well, um… how can I put this nicely?  Women are accused of being female.  When the man rides into town to save the day on his horse or car or private jet, no one is like, “oh, he’s going to save us?  A MAN?”  But when the woman shows up, inevitably someone is going to point out that she’s a woman.  And they will do it with scorn.  So why is this?  Well, I’m sure many of my readers are thinking, “isn’t it obvious that people don’t expect the hero to be female and so she has to prove herself?”

    That thought, right there, is the problem.  The problem is there is no obvious reason why the woman should have to prove herself able to save the day, unless it is really true that women are not as capable as men.  Also, how does the woman normally prove that she’s just as salty a sea-dog as any given man?  Several examples come to mind and they all have something in common:  she throws down physical violence.  On the rare occasion she may just flay the doubting man with words, but more often than not she’s got to leave someone bleeding.  If a MAN was walking into the room and throwing punches as an introduction, how would people feel about that?  So there is a two-part problem:  the first is that women are doubted as capable where men are greeted with respect, and the second is that respect for a woman generally evolves from acting out in violence, or otherwise taking on attributes that are seen as “masculine”.  (Drinking a guy under the table, or smoking a cigar, or joining in the mocking or sexualization of other women.)

  2. Men confront danger, women find themselves in it.  Take any bit of media where you have both a male and female protagonist in a traditionally “male” role, like police officer or lawyer or spy or superhero, and count the amount of times that the male and female get into trouble.  I can guarantee you that the woman is going to inevitably end up in a lot more conflict that she didn’t choose, and also that it is almost inevitable that she will face the threat of rape, whereas the man does not.

    Why?

    Maybe the idea is that women can’t handle themselves as well.  Maybe it’s simply more titillating to see women trembling in fear or blundering into bad situations.  Maybe, as one friend once said, “the threat of physical violence against women is simply assumed.”  But why?  One prime example of this is Law and Order: SVU.  The main characters of that enterprise in the first several seasons were equals.  They were partners.  But while the man was greeted with respect and ability, the woman was greeted with endless questions and danger and yes, the threat of rape (or the reality of rape in her backstory.)  Why?  Well, one might say it’s because he was the more seasoned officer and she was the new one on the squad.  Wait… why is that?  Why couldn’t the more seasoned female been rescuing the newbie male from his own incompetence?

    Hm.

  3. Unequal relationships.  If a male superhero dates a girl, brace yourself for the tears.  She’s going to get into trouble.  She’ll be a victim.  She’ll probably die.  And if a female superhero dates, you can bet that it’s only a matter of time before her exposure to violence becomes a problem in their relationship.  Wait, what?  Why is it that you so rarely see a girl going to extreme lengths to protect a man, as Katniss does with Peeta in the Hunger Games?  Why is the central theme of all relationships where danger is an issue, the danger that the woman faces?  Spiderman may lose his love to violence, but then Jean Grey is exposed to violence as a way to demonstrate the relationship between her and her superhero heart throb… despite the fact that she herself is powerful?
     
    Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example- she’s the One, right?  The most powerful.  She kills more demons than she can count, and still if she’s dating anyone, you can bet they aren’t going to like her getting her pretty little hands dirty.

    “Oh,” one guy-friend once told me, “that’s because she has to fight for respect.”

    Sigh.

  4. The Problem with Rape.  I’ll keep this short.  Yes, I get that the reason almost every major comic book, movie, and TV show that has a female character in a position of strength brings rape into the discussion is that rape is such a reality for women.  But the way in which it is done too often glamorizes the pain instead of dealing with it honestly.

    And do we really want to just throw our hands up and say, “it’s such a reality?”

    Is that where we want to live?

  5. Getting Beat Up By Men You Respect, and Having To Like It.  Buffy.  Xena.  Nikita.  Starbuck.  Sidney Bristow.  ANY FEMALE SUPERHERO EVER.  Getting punched in the face by a male mentor is par for the course, and if you’re a real woman you will understand that he’s kicking your ass just to make you stronger and you will ask for more.

    Eff.  That.  Shit.

 

And this is just the beginning.