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Sat Jun 7, 2014, 03:02 AM

How anti-feminism is anti-men

How often have we been told speaking about issues like rape and other violence against women amounts to "man-hating" ? Yet some of those same critics turn around and insist predatory behavior on the part of men is somehow natural, as is supposedly the case for all "great apes." This article gets at that paradox and shows how the feminist goal of including men in efforts to find solutions to sexual violence assumes a far more positive view of men.



Our colleague Cliff Leek convincingly wrote about the importance of involving men in rape prevention work. Today I want to go back to a ‘debate’ on Fox News earlier this year, in which feminist writer Zerlina Maxwell raised this issue by arguing that rape can be prevented if men learn not to rape – an idea that was shot down (no pun intended) by Fox News host Sean Hannity as an unrealistic liberal pipe dream. Rather, Hannity and Gayle Trotter of the ‘Independent Women’s Forum’ – a conservative think tank – argued that the right to carry concealed weapons is what can protect women from being raped. Although clearly being an attempt to intervene in the gun control debate by these conservative thinkers, their arguments reveal some of the underlying assumptions about sexualized violence and masculinities in mainstream discourse – assumptions that are in strong conflict with findings from research.


Earlier this year, Zerlina Maxwell made the case on Fox News that carrying guns are not the solution when it comes to protecting women from rape and sexual assault. She tried to re-frame the debate, arguing that instead of focusing on what women do (or wear, or not do), we should talk about how we can teach men not to become rapists (as Cliff Leek pointed out, there are numerous amazing initiatives working with men all over the world now). However, Hannity, Trotter and a number of conservative bloggers on the internet were quick to reject the idea of even having this debate. Even worse than that (and as if to confirm Maxwell’s call for connecting constructions of masculinity to violence against women), some corners of the internet went on to harass Maxwell for her supposedly naive, dangerous and ‘men-hating’ comments, sending her not only racist and sexist messages but even death threats.


Taking a step back and looking more closely at the content of the debate and its underlying premises, it becomes clear just how contradictory, misguided and ideologically charged the anti-feminist backlash against Zerlina Maxwell and other feminist activists is. Although Maxwell was accused as a ‘men-hater’ for drawing attention to the importance of taking men and masculinity into account when looking at gendered violence, her argument is actually one that is far more positive towards men than is the anti-feminist case: Essentially, Maxwell argued (and feminists have done so for decades) that men don’t have to be the problem but can be part of the solution – by learning and by teaching other men and boys how to reject violence and how to treat women (and other boys and men) with respect – and by asserting that men have the ability to change. In contrast to this nuanced and positive argument that sees men as potential allies, the anti-feminist solution can be summarized as: ‘Women need to shoot men’. In other words, the anti-feminist position must assume that men are always and necessarily a danger for women and there is nothing we as a society can do about it. Often, these discourses then fall back onto what Martha McCaughey calls the ‘cavemen mystique’: biologistic arguments that claim that violence and a ‘natural’ urge to rape are inherently programmed into men’s brains. In this way then, the anti-feminist view of the likes of Hannity and others is far more insulting towards men than that of the supposedly ‘men-hating’ feminists like Zerlina Maxwell, since the former must assume that all men are born potential rapists, unable to change, whereas the latter strongly and explicitly reject this assumption.

The claim that guns will protect women from rape is also revealing of the misconceptions about gendered violence on a different level. Thinking that women could protect themselves by carrying concealed weapons and shooting their assailants implicitly assumes that rapists are monstrous predators, lurking in dark corners and park, attacking women at random (an image also connected to racialized discourses of Black masculinity in the US). However, although some women are sexually assaulted by random strangers, the vast majority of rape and sexualized violence is committed by perpetrators known to the women, girls and boys they victimize (the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that less than 15% of rape victims were victimized by strangers): Rapists are far more often husbands, boyfriends, friends, acquaintances, fathers, uncles, ex-lovers or dates, coaches, priests or teachers than they are the random attacker ingrained into our popular culture. In other words, in order for firearms to be an effective solution to ending rape, women (as well as girls and boys) would have to be prepared to make use of them in their bedrooms and nurseries, at college parties, bars and in dorms, and often against people they trusted before the assault. The anti-feminist discourse has to ignore these realities and pretend that sexualized violence is the problem only of a handful of ‘sick’ men – it has supposedly nothing to do with the majority of ‘normal’ men they see themselves as. In other words: Paradoxically, the potential for violence and the urge to rape women are both inherent to men because of their ‘nature’, yet rapists are always a minority of others and sexual violence does not having anything to do with masculinity at all, the argument does. Go figure.

The inherent contradictions of the conservative case against connecting masculinity and violence as well as the ignorance towards the reality of rape and sexual assault found by numerous studies show that only a feminist analysis of gender and violence can move us forward towards eliminating rape and gendered violence. Clearly, the majority of men never become rapists and would strongly reject the notion that they would sexually assault another individual even if they could get away with it – disproving the anti-feminist argument that rape is simply part of ‘male human nature’. At the same time and as pointed out, data shows that rape is not a problem of only a handful of perpetrators, either. Rather than pretending that carrying firearms or telling women what to do or wear can be the solution to gendered violence, Zerlina Maxwell’s suggestion that we should figure out how toxic constructions of masculinity result in (some, but still way too many) men becoming perpetrators of sexual violence and creating educational tools to address this connection of masculinity and violence is well called-for.

http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/2013/10/24/anti-feminists-to-women-to-prevent-rape-just-shoot-men-constructing-rapists-vs-normal-men-in-public-discourse-on-sexual-violence/

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 04:00 AM

1. What a women are often told about weapons, especially guns

Is that "they'll take that away from you and use it one you". I've heard this many times. Perhaps the RW has badass women just ready to pop a cap in a rapist, but with a gun, you gonna shoot, you go for the kill, not the kneecap. In an assault situation , I guess you go for what you can get. It's not exactly the OK corral, is it?

When people talk about killing, I think oh really? It's that easy for you? Really? REALLY?

The cognitive dissonence pointed out by the article is one that is extremely puzzling, because teaching men not to objectify, to harass, to rape should be obvious. We know most men are not rapists and we know that's not the point. The perpetuation of sexual entitlement, if you will, is more to the point I guess. Certain Men, who are not rapists, feel that they "deserve" sex. "I'm gonna get me some tonight" "I'd love to break a piece of of THAT ass" "she's fat but p****'s p****, "go for It, man I had her, give her a few drinks and she buck wild in bed" on and on ad nauseum. You'd think this is working class talk, but no, it's too often how women and their sexuality are discussed. The words might differ, the meaning is the same.

A friend of mine used the poisonous snake analogy today, women approached by males, have no idea if they are harmless or not, so must constantly be on their guard in case there is danger. A poisonous snake instead of a benign one. That just the way women live.

And there are far, far too many kind men, decent men or gentle men or intellectual men or nurturing men or even not particularly sexual men in the population to give any credence at all to it being "nature" rather---rape is an aberration. A malfunction in social evolution. A result of the victories of patriartical systems that considered women property. Sometime a sheep was worth more. The Evo-psych rape apologist "procreation" bullshit is just that-- bullshit. Humans are complex creatures and we diverged from our common ancestor from the apes eons ago.

Great article-- I'm going to have to read it a couple of times to get the full nuance of it.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #1)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 10:50 AM

6. This is a great post

There's nothing worse than the RW pseudo-machismo "Just shoot to kill" garbage that's constantly thrown out there. "Under attack by a rapist? Draw your weapon and shoot!" Their whole perspective of guns and using them is straight out of a cheesy 80's movie, where the hero pulls out a gun, says a cheesy one-liner, and fires with perfect accuracy, killing the 'bad guy.'

First and foremost, women aren't sure that the 'bad guy' is the 'bad guy' until he becomes the 'bad guy.' The idea that women will have the luxury of knowing that they're about to be attacked is fairly ludicrous - even when being attacked by strangers. The odds are even worse after a night of heavy drinking, or being slipped a date-rape drug.

I'm not saying, "Just give up - there's no defense against rape." That would be pretty stupid. However, guns aren't the cut-and-dry solution the NRA claims they are. They are not at all a solution to rape, especially as a cultural problem.

Imo, men are not born rapists and murderers. Those who are are either born with something wrong in their head (like being a sociopath), or are taught that this behavior is okay. Even things like rape jokes subtly dehumanize women. The dehumanization doesn't happen all at once - it's a process of constant reassurance through either a guy's family or his social group.

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 05:15 AM

2. Thank you for this post.

I find it interesting, and not a little distressing, that the author didn't address the fact that -- statistically speaking -- "armed" women are likely to have their weapon(s) used against them.

Also, it's past time to ask men (like Hannity) why they think the patriarchal precepts that underpin rape, rape fantasies, sexual assault, and the almost ubiquitous objectification of women (and children) are immutable (read: sacrosanct). There are too many members of this forum who wholly embrace these patriarchal precepts, and belittle/ridicule/dismiss those of us who adjure that these precepts can -- and should be -- eradicated.

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Response to chervilant (Reply #2)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 05:38 AM

3. Yes, we hear it all the time

by those who portray views of men not dissimilar to the conservatives discussed in the article.

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Response to BainsBane (Reply #3)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 01:18 PM

9. +1

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Response to chervilant (Reply #2)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 11:04 AM

7. Because of slimy like cretins like Tucker Carlson and their attitudes about rape.

It's not shocking that Carlson publicly endorsed rape when others quietly endorse it by beating around the bush. Another favorite weapon of theirs is to misrepresent the issue. O'Reilly is also famous for this (e.g. 'If women are allowed to press charges if she wants to stop having sex and her partner doesn't stop, then women have the power to press charges at any time for no reason during sex with a man!"). I'm not kidding - he really had a segment on this.

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 05:46 AM

4. Thanks, again men have to be part of the solution

and that does not mean being a knight in shining armour to the woman or the old sensei teaching the way of the gun (or the knife or the fist or the sarcastic put-down). Yes, a man can intervene if another person, male or female, is being harassed or harmed or shown disrespect but that is not being manly, it is being human.

Men have to help by teaching other men to show the same respect for others that they show to men like themselves; they must help teach men not to rape, not even to give unwanted complements and not to touch another person without explicit approval.

But most of all men have to help by listening to women and actually noticing what they say.

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 08:56 AM

5. Men should realize that they are also unwitting victims of patriarchal stereotypes

with the military draft being an excellent example. Another example: men as "breadwinners" for their families--which essentially constructs males as laborers instead of human beings with multiple interests and talents.

Excellent post, BainsBane.

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Response to scruboak (Reply #5)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 01:20 PM

10. Many do. However, there are also benefits to their higher status position.

It seems that on balance, most people (men and women) are still ok with the status quo.

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Response to redqueen (Reply #10)

Mon Jun 9, 2014, 02:38 PM

16. They're ok with it because it's what they know

And the entire system is designed to perpetuate itself.

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Response to scruboak (Reply #5)

Sun Jun 8, 2014, 02:19 PM

11. They are indeed

patriarchy limits all of us, including men.

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Response to scruboak (Reply #5)

Mon Jun 9, 2014, 02:13 AM

13. Most feminist theory argues just the opposite. That men are allowed to have interests and talents.

Being the breadwinner is just one aspect of his life. He can have a life outside of work and outside of his family. Whereas women are often not allowed to possess any life outside of the domestic.

This is the historical issue. Men get to be whatever they want as long as it doesn't involve the domestic. And women can't be anything they want unless it involves being domestic.

In this sense, it is women who are reduced to laborers, not the men.

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 11:55 AM

8. Another great article,

another thanks for posting.

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Response to BainsBane (Original post)

Sun Jun 8, 2014, 05:50 PM

12. If I may inject an opinion here, I'd like to suggest that deeply anti-social behavior,

(which assault, rape and killing are the ultimate manifestations of), has roots in male childhood. Bullying, manipulation of and control over and humiliation of others begins to be learned at a fairly early age.

I grew up in a tough, blue-collar town, where many of the families were at least somewhat disfunctional due to rampant alcoholism and spousal abuse by a generation of men who returned from WWII with many unresolved issues of PTSD and generalized rage. They took their rage out on their spouses and children. Boys seem to respond to bullying in the home in one of two ways - they become frightened and traumatized themselves and go on to develop deep trust issues (me), or they emulate the behavior themselves with other kids.

A frightening percentage of the boys I grew up around were bullying and manipulating others by the second or third grade. I was frequently the target of their bullying, but that's not my point. These kids learned that this behavior was OK somewhere, and that somewhere was in their own homes. Without any kind of intervention (teachers looked the other way back in the day), these guys just got away with more and more violent and disturbing behavior as time went on. By the time they were young men, they prowled the streets like wolves. Then they went on to pass this horrific behavior onto their own sons.

So yeah, obviously men are the problem, and good men can call out anti-social and misogynistic behavior when they see it, but I think if would be better to prevent these behaviors from taking hold in the first place. My own approach with my son was to teach him love, respect, and boundaries, and a firm understanding of No at an early age, which sounds obvious and cliché, but seems to be so often lacking by the time our boys reach their teen years. Add in alcohol and you have a ticking bomb of male aggression.

We've had nearly non-stop war for thousands of years, affecting nearly every generation, and men returning from war fucked up in so many ways. I don't know how to break the cycle except by ceasing to send young men (and now women) off to kill each other. And if kill we must, then I fear we're going to continue this vicious cycle.

On edit: I'm talking about really hard-core nasty people, which doesn't nearly cover all the otherwise 'nice guys' who rape. But I maintain that it's just a matter of degree. The 'nice guys' think, "Well, I'm surely not a son-of-a-bitch like so-and-so", but the same effect is at work.

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Response to Flatulo (Reply #12)

Mon Jun 9, 2014, 10:33 AM

14. The point about the connection between war and violence in the home is an excellent one

and not explored enough. It makes sense to me that a society that so often makes war depends on violence being entwined in the social fabric. I've thought of gun culture as part of that, and it makes sense that domestic violence and rape would go hand in hand.

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Response to BainsBane (Reply #14)

Mon Jun 9, 2014, 02:37 PM

15. Interesting points-both of you

The idea that horrific crimes like murder, rape, and domestic violence are isolated incidents, or are not related to other pathologies of our culture like bullying and other forms of abuse, or are not related to the violence that America exports abroad (or the culture of police violence and other parts of the criminal justice system at home, for that matter), just may need to be reconsidered, if we ever even hope to end any of this violence.

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Response to YoungDemCA (Reply #15)

Mon Jun 9, 2014, 03:17 PM

17. I keep thinking of our Canadian cousins. Demographically, other than the native peoples, we're

pretty similar - and mostly descended from Anglo-Franco-Germanic European immigrants. Granted, Europeans have been very war-like since before Roman times, but the Canadians don't seem to share our penchant for violence.

I really started thinking about this after I saw 'Bowling for Columbine', where Moore compared the demographics and crime rates of Vancouver and Seattle. Similar populations, similar rates of gun ownership, but much higher rates of gun violence on the American side.

And then, how many wars have the Canadians started?

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