Violence, Women, + My Heart of Darkness
Apologies in advance, this is not about music. And it is about a very serious topic You know how you add people on Twitter but don't really know them at all...like all the time?
Sometimes that can be a terrible thing...but, sometimes enlightening.
Today I came across a tweet by a person whose Twitter handle is "Two-Hearted Boy" and that person posted the following:
#Meninism is the uninformed belief that men's feelings are more important than women's safety.
— two-hearted boy (@eieio1234) November 2, 2015
I read this and it made me profoundly sad, like it reminded me of something powerful and terrible that I was ignoring.
I think this is often how we pretend to erase the things we don't want to talk about.
It really caught my attention, and sent me down the following three thought paths (no idea if this will come across as coherent, but these were the paths my brain took me down):
Half Bear - Half Lion
Biological Heterosexual Men, we have a HUGE problem...HUGE
No sugar coating, no more bs...we care much more about our feelings than we do about the safety of women...over and over again.
About a year ago Louis CK had a special that came out on Showtime, it wasn't overall his strongest special but at one point he made the following joke
Half-Man - Half Bear...It is sad because it is true.
The World Health Organization puts it this way (read it a few times and let it really swim in your head):
Violence against women is widespread around the world. Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. Women who have been physically or sexually abused have higher rates of mental ill-health, unintended pregnancies, abortions and miscarriages than non-abused women. Women exposed to partner violence are twice as likely to be depressed, almost twice as likely to have alcohol use disorders, and 1.5 times more likely to have HIV or another sexually transmitted infection. 42% of them have experienced injuries as a result. Increasingly in many conflicts, sexual violence is also used as a tactic of war.
And of course there were the horrific statistics about sexual violence in the military....
This is usually where some yahoo will blast the statistics. I will go ahead and try to deal with this in advance:
- Even if you are right, whatever the real number is, even if it is only half, is a horrific and terrible number
- Anecdotally - virtually every woman I have ever met in my entire life has a story of an encounter inappropriate enough to be terrifying for them. I know it is a small sample size (people Josh has met) but, that is a HUGE percentage.
- A large number of men have told me stories about sketchy encounters they had at some time in their life (from guilt). I have taken responsibility and done time for my own transgressions (so I am not exceptional here either).
There is little doubt, that virtually all women find themselves at fear for their safety anytime they are out with people they don't know very well, when they have to do anything alone at night, often even when they are just walking around town (Jessica Williams did a really funny series on this on the daily show but I could not find the clips..apologies).
We have a massive problem, and I bet if (and when) we are honest with ourselves...virtually all of us have had some version of that problem at "times" in our lives. Me too.
We have to start be admitting we have a problem (and stop acting like it's not a problem).
It probably started when I was young.
I grew up idolizing Lucille Ball, she was the most dominant and amazing performer on television male or female when I was a kid (by far and away).
One of the most shocking memories from my childhood was seeing an episode (one of 4 when this happened) of I Love Lucy that they do not show anymore where Ricky literally spanks Lucy (it has been erased from the re-runs).
You can, I believe, find evidence online, but I refuse to give it currency...totally messed up.
We were (and are) raised in some crazy ways.
Violence against women was baked into our culture until very recently. There was acceptable and sanctioned violence against women...so accepted and sanctioned that the MOST powerful woman on television (maybe in America) could get spanked by her husband on national television and America laughed right along with the normalcy of it.
Men's feelings are more important than women's safety.
I am sorry, most of this will be about hetero men and hetero women. But much of this clearly plays out in repression across all the sexual lines. This is NOT meant to exclude violence against or within LGBT lines at all.
I believe, but could be wrong, that violence is socialized into us in some of the following ways (feel free to disagree with me - I am certainly no expert):
- Objectification + Projection
We are surrounded on all sides from birth by pictures and commercials of women who are heads + bodies but rarely voices.
Even when women are allowed voices, they are usually saying things that emphasize their sexuality and rarely their actual personality or anima.
We start to get used to the idea of projecting our fantasies onto these faces and bodies.
We start to see them as engaging in a dialog with us, even when they are silent...and even when they have no idea we exist.
We carry this into our relationships and encounters.
How many movies and television shows have reinforced and rewarded people chasing their dream woman....someone those people knew deeply only by seeing.
We spend years in our early development convincing ourselves we KNOW people we have never met...or worse, believing it is okay to see them ONLY as bodies and faces (letting us fill in the details for ourselves).
Usually everything is fine until that moment when the Face/Body stops following the script.
In my experience, and I have some here, most violence happens when people stop according people the right to their own personage...when people start to see them as an object they can project their own will upon.
I think this is what the philosopher E. Levinas was referring to when he suggested that we form a moral relationship to the others face. I think what he meant is that once we accept someone as a person, we are no longer able to commit the same violence against them.
I think what he is suggesting is that thinking we KNOW someone allows violence, accepting that they are, essentially, OTHER means we cannot control them.
In his ethics, I believe, connecting honestly to the face is accepting the animus of the person...seeing them as a radically free being.
I guess in my formulation of this it would be the voice not the face. But, I think we are probably in the same universe here.
In much more practical terms - we, as men, should spend much less time trying to project our desires on to people we don't know (models, attractive strangers, people on social media) and much more time being in awe that the people we do know are not exactly who we want them to be.
We should celebrate that we do not own, control, or possess anyone - all the time..That it is really cool that women (and all people) are radically free to be themselves.
When we do encounter new women, we should open ourselves to THEM and not project our expectations on them.
None of this means that we cannot think people are attractive...what it does mean is that we should stop pretending that somehow their attractiveness is because of or attached to our desire/s.
And we should probably always question any social structure that nods along to violence as if it is okay. Anything that makes violence against women seem normal or acceptable.
For instance ideas like that women can "ask for it" or "deserve it."
How often have you seen someone talk about how a woman dresses....The error here is the assumption that anyone (biological man or woman or any other form) dresses the way they dress FOR YOU.
It is true that often the way people dress is a performance. Sometimes it is a way of telling parents to fuck off...sometimes it is a way of making a statement about who you are...sometimes it is just silly...but, the error is in thinking about how other people dress is that it has anything to do with you.
One thing is 100% certain, it makes them feel creeped out and often scared and unsafe when you persist in treating it as a performance for you.
Even if you are the accidental audience, the performance is really ALWAYS really intended for someone else...a lover, someone they are angry at...whatever.
I suspect no man likes being judged in this manner, many will say they like it, but I bet they would not after about the second minute of constant leering. Try to stand in a bar and just watch the men staring...Keep on watching, you will see what I mean.
The idea of this is hard, I will freely admit it is a struggle for me....we have years of programming working against us (way to go marketing agencies). But stop leering at women or making them feel unsafe simply because you think how they dress is an invitation....Or because you/we assume the world is their for our consumption.
It might not be a performance, and even if it is, you can bet all your money the performance is not for you...and you have no right to treat people as objects with your eyes.
Yes, the initial reaction is hard to avoid...but, this is what makes us supposedly a higher life form....If you notice yourself starting to leer....stop.
2. Immature Processing of Emotions
Another set of problems comes from our inability to process anger and frustration in positive ways.
I grew up in sports culture...violence is, again, an acceptable response to frustration in sports culture as long as you act out your violence within a set of rules.
Many are raised in military culture...again violence is acceptable within certain coded rules.
And cultural assumptions about raising boys cause lots of problems too...Men are not supposed to show emotions (bottle them up), share feelings (bottle them up), or ever be afraid (bottle fear up). Repression is a time-bomb.
And cultural assumptions about teaching boys sexuality do not help at all. Boys are culturally told relating to partners is as much (or more) about copulation as about caring. We are told that we will be judged entirely by our sexual ability (but are usually never trained in any way) and by our unit size.
We are told women just want to be taken.....we are told all kinds of insane stuff that could take hours to write out.
We are raised with no real emotional maturity...no real understanding or relationship to our emotions...no real emotional processing skills.
And most important, and I think this is true for everyone bio male or female (and everyone else) - we are told that sex is shameful and that desire is both okay and disgusting.
We always feel both virtuous and like we are doing something wrong. The dissonance that results makes all sex seem sinful and all physical intimacy feel great and at the same time rife with shame.
So much dissonance comes out of this....and when people try to resolve such dissonance, bad things can and do happen.
How can healthy sexuality come out of such a mess?
Apparently it cannot.
We need to stop insisting on raising men this way if we want anything to change.
No matter how many people talk about the wussification of america....strength and these things are not really related. What those people are really talking about is change..They don't want the world to change.
This part of the world HAS TO change.
We cannot pretend to be an advanced culture when we are producing half the population to be predatory and emotionally stunted and the other half to be constantly wary (if not terrified).
Okay, I ask, sincerely, before anyone blasts me on this...Please at least try to square your world view with the statistics above. Explain how the traditional model can be good in a wold where so much violence against women is normal (and mostly accepted).
I am just asking people to ask themselves why traditional cultural traditions are okay when they continually produce such awful results.
So, anyway, we have to change how we do this.
The way we do it now is reproducing violence and terror for over half our population.
How I Learned To Totally Understand Terror And Stop My Manism
As I have mentioned before (and is on my bio) I went to prison.
I wish I could just be the hero of this story...but, I have been part of the problem too.
Before prison, I would have told you I was a feminist...and I truly did (and do care) about women and feminism and the world being a better place.
But, I found out, and it took lots of work and reflection, that we are complex and contradictory beings.
And sometimes we don't live up to who we think (or pretend to ourselves) that we are.
I went to prison for saying some terrible things in internet chat rooms.
In other words, I am not exceptional. I am (was) part of the statistics.
I pleaded guilty and spent three years in prison and another two on parole/probation.
This is not about me, but feel free to blast me about that too (I will most likely agree with you).
I am in no way proud of anything I did.
I fully believed I was exceptional, that it was just words, that the people online were not real, that it was free speech, that saying it was different than doing it.
It was all horseshit.
I was acting out my male privilege in chat rooms.
I was putting my own feelings of anger and frustration at the world into a really disgusting box and putting that box in front of the mental safety of others.
No matter what I consider myself, I was a manist.
But here is what I learned in prison. The most important thing.
I learned what it is like to spend every moment of your life being radically vulnerable.
In prison, at least the lower-levels where I was, you are warehoused 16o inmates to a pole barn.
Units are split into "cubes" of 8 (where I was) and half walls separated the "cubes."
If someone wanted to come "get you" while you were asleep, nothing would really stop them (unless you got really lucky and a guard improbably came to your rescue).
If someone wanted to "get you" while you were awake, they could...it wasn't hard. Happened pretty much every day I was in prison to someone.
Even if you weren't looking for trouble, trouble could find you, and there really was not much you could do about it except try to defend yourself...which was not a strong bet because, in prison, people tend to attack individuals in packs.
So, even when you feel "normal" you always feel like at any moment you could be in danger.
You always feel like even the people you get along with could turn on you and hurt you at any minute.
You feel, no matter how tough you are, vulnerable at all times.
I suspect this is the way many (if not most) women feel at least some of the time every day.
And most women did nothing to deserve to feel this way (at least I committed a crime to go to prison).
Most women are serving a life-sentence to radical vulnerability.
Not because they are victims, or weak, or haven't taken enough self-defense classes, or because they were asking for it...
Because of MEN...Because of heterosexual men, like me, who put (or have put) their own emotions before women's safety.
Because of Manists
Some people will tell you this is the way the world really is.
But what they are really trying to do, even subconsciously, is probably to continue to benefit from a violent system (to preserve privilege)
We should aspire to more, and we should NEVER accept that a world like that is okay.
Even when it seemingly "benefits" us.
I would like to believe that the point of civilization is to grow beyond our basest instincts...To be the best people we can be.
If what you are doing is hurting someone, stop it immediately. You know when what you do is wrong (I did even when I pretended I didn't).
I wish it didn't take that experience for me to learn that.
But however I learned it, I learned it.
I am a work in progress, and this seems like progress.
I have worked very hard to connect my moral core to my actual actions in pretty radical ways over the last 7 years.
I know it is possible for change to happen. I have seen it in myself and others.
I hope I can convince a few people to come along with me.
Because continuation of the status quo is not acceptable. We cannot accept over 50% of the population expecting to live in terror and being in constant danger of real violence.
The first thing we must embrace is that we are mostly thinking about how we should act in the world wrong, we are accepting things as entitlements that are not appropriate, and we are endorsing actions as natural and okay that are not okay.
We don't have a right to sexualize conversations with random women, or leer at random women, or treat women like sexual objects.
We should always put the person first. If we don't know the person, we should allow them to speak...we should get to know the person (not the look).
Marketers should always let people speak (or communicate) who they are not just sell sex through their image. This does not mean people (or women) do not have the right to present themselves sexually...It means they should also be presented by marketers as having a unique personality first.
How different might the world be if before we saw a woman's image as sexual we knew she had a Phd or had started her own business. Or that they worked with the poor. Or just that they loved pumpkin latte...whatever.
We should question our cultural norms for men/boys, we need to stop trying to tough the emotion right out of boys. We need to stop teaching unrealistic and confusing sexual expectations.
I am trying to persuade people, not trying to dictate. If I am not persuasive, or you disagree, that is fine. I am in no position to tell anyone how to run their life.
These are just things I have thought about.
As I have for a long time, I am very apologetic for my own mistakes. I am trying to live my amends, not lecture anyone.
Sorry if this has been too intense, it has been pretty draining for me as well.
I guess what I am really trying to say is this...we should not care more about our feelings than we do about women's safety.
Thanks to "Two-Hearted Boy" for posting the definition of "manism"...it was a very powerful post. Maybe the most powerful short tweet I have ever seen.
One of my favorite albums that speaks clearly about some of these themes is Sleater Kinney by Sleater Kinney you can listen to that album here:
Feel free to disagree with me. Feel free to dislike me but I hope you will listen to what I am saying. Feel free to share your own stories as comments.