Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Men's Rights and "Reverse Discrimination": A Violence Survivor's View

The Unbearable Darkness of Non-Being

A few years ago I was having a rant to a male friend about sexual harassment against women. I mentioned a specific party we'd been to where I'd had my arse grabbed about four or five times by different guys.

He broke in to say, "Yeah, but that doesn't just happen to women. I've had my arse grabbed once too, you know."

That anecdote sums up the difference, for me, between discrimination and prejudice.  It also sums up the difference between what many men think discrimmination is, and what it actually is.  There's no question that a lot of men walking around today have had someone wolf whistle at them or try to cop a feel...once, maybe twice in their lives. That is prejudice, but it's not discrimination. They ain't the same at all.

Like many women, I've actually lost count of the amount of times I've been touched up by strangers, casually stalked by 'admirers' at pubs, clubs, or down dark streets, had abuse shouted at me on the streets, been rubbed up against on trains, had my arse grabbed by fellow managers and staff, fielded degrading questions by employers, landlords, fended off friends' husbands and boyfriends. The list gets longer every few weeks.

Added to which the advertising, film and media industry paints my entire gender as wanting and enjoying sex the way that all these male aggressors seemingly expect us to: all the time, indiscriminately, and without personal boundaries.  It paints us as egging them all on.

A clear trend emerges, and it never changes: the media gaze isn't just a male gaze, it's also an abusive one: the gaze of a transgressor that's intent on both blaming AND shaming the victim of his actions, as well as the victims of other transgressors like him. In effect, the entire female gender is fair game.  

The miracle is that I still go out and engage with men, have relationships with them at all in the face of all this cumulative negativity and aggression. There was a time when I'd barely leave my house though, but you eventually have to harden yourself and carry on... and then you face yet another backlash against asserting yourself: 'What a fucking bitch! Is it your time of the month?' Etc.

That's what men can't really ever grasp about sexism against women; what they can't empathize with, even after they've had a rare, one-off encounters with harassment, themselves. It's the relentlessness of it all.

A few of these experiences were traumatic enough that they were burned into my subconscious and changed my personality forever, but many, many less appalling ones have eroded parts of me entirely that'll never be recovered. These are the reduced tendencies that I'm barely aware I ever had, the deadened sensations that I never got a chance to explore. That's how gender discrimination drags you down (as opposed to one-off acts of prejudice, which tend to enrage a person, instead of numbing them).

I'm aware that something similar happens to many men with respect to their sensitivity to others - that many of them are shamed for crying or having feelings when they're young, and end up acting a bit psycho later, as a result - but those men usually end up endangering people like me.  Therefore, my empathy for their plight can only go so far before the need for self-defence takes over. My survival takes precedence... as is my right.

In my experience, discrimination's effects are measurable by the absences it creates. By that curious sensation that I get when watching men taking the stage or arguing their viewpoint fearlessly, and I realize that I have no such reserves of self-assurance to draw on... not anymore. Although I can remember that I once did, the exact place and time that they ceased to exist can't be nailed down; it was a culmination of so many small jabs and slaps that these same qualities in me almost seemed to evaporate. Except it wasn't a passive process, this evaporation: it was an eradication. An assassination that was planned and executed by nearly every man & every woman around me, nearly every day. 

Male Supremacy, Reversed

It's ironic that feminism, as many Men's Rights activists see (and resent) it, isn't really feminism at all. It's a fantasy of female supremacy - male supremacy, but reversed. This is "equality" re-framed in an unequal paradigm, where the 'haves' are always at war with the 'have-nots'. That, to me, really IS reverse discrimination. Female liberation is its own thing... not just the opposite of what currently happens between women and men.

This view presumes a reality that's made up only of takers and givers, leaders and followers, aggressors and victims, "top dogs" and "bitches". It presumes that women can never get what men have without men somehow being beaten down. It presumes that there is only one enough room at the top for one gender. That women can only reach that same height by making men OUR bitches. I find it ironic that anyone can believe this 'brand' of feminism - the brand that men are taught to hate - really exists, because feminism has put forth an endless succession of arguments AGAINST such a mentality. It's endlessly struggled to replace male supremacy with gender equality. Any textbook can tell us that.

It doesn't help that some women are outspoken advocates of the 'feminists are victimizing men' argument. One such woman is Christina Hoff Sommers.  A thorough takedown of her views has already been published here, so I won't laboriously dismantle each argument that she makes. I'll just take, as an example, her argument that young male students suffer worse grades because of feminism. She assumes that, because male students are doing badly at a time when feminism is in the spotlight, feminism is somehow to blame: a straight-up false conclusion, which is a logical fallacy if ever there was one. What is worse, she offers no real evidence for this conclusion. (Sommers rarely uses research to prove her points directly: she draws inferences from what hasn't been written or said, instead, and 'estimate' is her watchword). 

I don't dispute that many boys do badly in school today, but they do badly because they're rewarded for the exact same behaviours that schools frown upon, whenever they're anywhere BUT school. And who is rewarding them... is it the feminists? Are feminists telling them that it's cool to be a loud, rude, stupid thugs? Um, no: that negative precedent has been set by Hollywood; by the mainstream television; by the sports industry; by the military; by big business etc., etc., etc.

Young men and boys are being steered towards bad-student behaviour by the same male-dominated, patriarchal institutions that feminists have been trying to reform ever since the dawn of the Industrial Age. Yet, instead of supporting feminists in that reform, Sommers lashes out at them. Mindlessly blaming women for all that's wrong in the world in spite of any evidence to the contrary - that is about as sexist as you can get. And since Sommers is a favourite 'expert' of the Men's Rights movement, I can assume they are pretty much the same.  The vile (yet scarily normalized) hatred  toward women that can be found on its websites certainly backs this assumption up.

Equality = Equality

Gender discrimination is a depressing and inescapable reality in many female lives. Yet for the most part, feminism has always asserted that male victims of rape, domestic violence and child abuse share a common struggle with women. Men who really are suffering from these crimes can benefit from what the feminist movement has learned about challenging things like rape and partner assault. There's no need to oppose feminism in order to 'be heard', as Men's Rights activists claim.

It's true that the few men who experience sexual or violent assaults by women are usually afraid to admit that they've been abused, because they don't want to be ridiculed. In this respect, though, they are identical to every other survivor of male-on-female assault.  To claim that there is any glory in women reporting violence or rape is to ignore the testimony of nearly every survivor, which recounts horrific shame-and-blame tactics that are used by police and lawyers... not to mention family members, friends, teachers, neighbours, and so on. 

There is really no need for men to frame their struggles with gender violence as if it exists in opposition to the struggles women face. All these struggles face similar problems, and as such they should work together, not against each other, for the good of all.

The opposite of discrimination is not reverse discrimination, it's equality... despite what the Men's Rights movement says.

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