not all men

Back to basics: questions from the search terms, vol. 2

This edition of “questions from the search terms” covers some 101-ish topics!

“why is victim blaming wrong”?

Ok, I totally remember a time when I didn’t really understand the problems with victim-blaming. Some of the underlying theory is not inherently obvious, and it is often talked about as if it is, so I’m going to try to make it all explicit here.

The main reason that victim-blaming is wrong is that it involves placing responsibility on Person A for the fact that Person B decided, of their own accord, and for their own purposes, to do something bad to Person A. This actually means removing some of the blame from the person who did the bad thing, and suggesting they are not fully responsible for their actions, which is problematic. Very often victim-blaming takes the form of suggesting that Person A wanted whatever terrible thing to happen, that they “asked for it” and brought in on themself, and that’s just not how things work.

But, the counter-argument goes, people need to take precautions to protect themselves from bad people. We encourage people to have strong internet passwords and to never share them, and that’s generally considered ok. People keep their houses and cars locked so they won’t be robbed, and these kinds of recommendations don’t get the same reactions from feminists as suggestions that women should dress more modestly, or that they should never go anywhere alone ever.

There’s… a lot going on here. I can’t unpack it all, but there are specific reasons why victim-blaming in cases of abuse or sexual assault can be particularly damaging, and counter-productive. There are multiple reasons for this, including these:

  • A lot of the advice on “how to avoid rape” is just plain wrong, in some sense. It mostly only applies to cases of stranger rape, which is a pretty small subset of actual rapes. Most abuse, both sexual and otherwise, is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victims.
  • Victim-blaming in cases of abuse/sexual assault teaches abusers and rapists what circumstances will allow them to get away with their abuse (because it lets them know what circumstances will cause others to blame their victims instead of them).
  • Reinforcing the idea that an abuse or sexual assault survivor is responsible for the abuse they experienced only adds to the self-blame that they are almost inevitably already inflicting on themselves. We already know all of your bad advice; we already know all of the reasons why it was our fault, and trust me, we’ve been even more creative about it and found reasons you probably never even thought of. We don’t need your “help” here.

There is so much more to say about this, but I will leave it here for now.

“why is it bad to say ‘not all men'”?

A couple of things, here.

Firstly, a lot of the time, people feel the need to jump to the defense of men as a group, and declare that “not all men” do whatever thing, in conversations that are explicitly about the behaviours of some men. And usually, the people in these conversations know that not all men are terrible, that not all men are rapists, that not all men do whatever thing is being complained about. And the conversation isn’t about all men. It’s about the things that some men do, it’s about how hard it is to be affected by those things, it’s very often about the real lived experiences and hardships of women (yes, all women) and/or people who aren’t men and/or people who aren’t cis men. And by stepping in and making it about whether “all men” do the thing misses the point of the conversation entirely. Don’t do that.

Secondly, it is very important to note that to some extent, regardless of whether all men do x thing, all men need to be a part of these conversations. All men benefit from male privilege in various ways. And this is not a fault, or a flaw, or something to be guilty about. But it is something to be aware of, and it is something you have a certain amount of responsibility to use for the good of those who do not have that privilege. So yes, all men.

“can i omit parts of consent”?

I… um, I don’t know exactly what this question is supposed to mean, but it is very concerning. I’m going to try to address a couple of different interpretations here.

I suspect that the “parts of consent” here refers to something like the “enthusiasm” required by the standard of “enthusiastic consent”. Enthusiasm is a great ideal in many situations, but requiring enthusiastic consent in order for a sexual interaction to be considered truly consensual ignores the actual lived experiences of many people, particularly asexual people and sex workers, both groups for whom sexual interactions may very well be genuinely consented to, without there necessarily being any enthusiasm about the interaction itself. So, yes, there are some situations in which true enthusiasm is not strictly necessary, though it’s a vital touchstone to aim for, in developing any sort of ongoing sexual relationship.

Really, I think the concept people are aiming for in pushing enthusiastic consent, is “non-coerced” consent. This may not always be easy to identify, because often the coercion that causes people to “consent” to sex they don’t want is cultural rather than something that comes directly from their partner. Asexual people are pressured into giving sex a try, or are repeatedly told that if they want to be loved, they’re going to have to have sex. And women generally receive similar sorts of messages about obligations to have sex. Being aware of these things, and explicitly reassuring your partner that they are under no obligation to do anything they don’t want to do, will make it easier of you to make sure your partner is comfortable, and to actually figure out what they want. It is better for everyone, in the long run.

I am struggling to fully nail down all that I want to say here, really, but this post from the Asexual Agenda has a great, nuanced exploration of some alternate models of consent. It is very worth reading.

Alternatively, though, the “parts of consent” in question here might be indirectly referring to the idea that consent needs to be acquired for some things, but not others. All I will say is this: the standard of non-coercion should apply to all interactions you have with all people at all times (yes, sometimes coercive force is necessary in self-defense, or defense of others, but these sorts of situations are definitely not what we’re talking about here).

“Not all men!”: redirecting defensive energy

not all menIt’s a really common derailment in conversations about rape culture: the clarion call of men who would totally never rape a woman, and definitely think rape is bad, and want to make sure that you know that not all men are like that. Not all men, they say, rape, harass, or otherwise demean and objectify women.

Which, um, I mean, the reason this is a derailment is that it is not helpful in addressing the very real problems of rape and harassment. The thing is that regardless of whether this is a problem with all men or just a few (and yes, I know that it is just a minority of men that rape women, ok?), it is a real problem and it needs to be talked about. It is, in fact, more important to stay on topic in discussion about rape and harassment than it is to waste time soothing feelings and reassuring individual men that we don’t think they are personally rapists.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don't 100% endorse this flowchart, but it's a pretty nice starting point.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don’t 100% endorse this flowchart, but it’s a pretty nice starting point. Click through to the source for full size, y’all.

The thing that really gets me about the not all men defense, though, is that it’s being directed at the wrong audience. Because yes, it’s true that not all men are predatory rapists, harassers, and general objectifiers as women. And I mean, I’m super glad that’s the case, because the world would be a whole hell of a lot worse if they were.

But the thing is, dudes, feminists know you’re not all like that. Women, be they feminist or not, who complain about harassment and predatory behaviour, know you’re not all like that. Most women have positive relationships with men; friends, partners, co-workers, family members, whatever. Women have met men that aren’t awful people. And thus, they know you’re not all awful. You don’t need to tell them that.

But you know who doesn’t know you’re not all like that? Rapists. And harassers. And general objectifiers of women. Misogynist men genuinely believe that all men see women the way they do. The really do. And when you make “jokes” about raping, harassing or objectifying women, they take that as proof that you are like them. When you laugh at their jokes, they definitely think you’re on their side.

And I’d really like to think that it’s important to you that rapists don’t think you’re one of them. Like, at least as important as your clear need to make sure that women know you’re not.

So, dudes, the next time you see a discussion about rape culture, or about harassment, and you feel yourself getting defensive, and worrying that people don’t know that you’re not like that, do me a giant favour. Don’t tell that to the women who already know that. Take that energy, that desire you have to communicate a thing, and to do something, and use it to do something worthwhile.

Use it to criticize your friend when he demeans, harasses or objectifies a woman in your presence. Make it clear to *him* that you’re not like that, and that that behaviour is not acceptable. Make it clear to *him* that the world isn’t men vs. women, and that there are men in the world who don’t think it’s ok to talk about women like their only worth lies in their appearance, and that women’s desires are important, and they don’t just exist to fulfill men’s fantasies.

Stop telling us these things. We know these things. Tell the dudes who treat women like shit that their attitudes are not universally shared by men, and that their behaviour toward women is unacceptable.