"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Men Can Do: Responding to Worthwhile Comments

Toy Soldier recently left a comment on a post of mine that dealt with encouraging men to better recognize connections between violence by men in general and violence by men against women--my suggestion being that a strategy one might employ to get more men to better understand the role that traditional masculinity plays in men's violence against women is to better understand the role that traditional masculinity plays regarding men's violence in general. Toy Soldier thinks that the fact that I didn't talk about women's violence against men is not only worth noting, but also implies that I don't think that such violence and its victims are unimportant:
It is unfortunate that in your description of the violence committed against males you fail to mention women as aggressors. Most child abuse is committed by women. Nearly 40% of the people who rape and sexual abuse males are women. Recent studies show that women initiate and commit the same amount of domestic violence as men.

By avoiding mentioning that important aspect of violence committed against male you present an inaccurate view of male violence. Unless you consider female violence against males as inconsequential or condone it, it insulting to male victims of female violence to pretend they do not exist. -- Toy Soldier

Respond, or Point to Feminism 101?
My first impulse was to send TS to Feminism101, specifically the FAQ on FAQ: Why are you concentrating on X when Y is so much more important? But, while I think that Feminism101 serves a great purpose in this regard sometimes, there are times when another sort of response is necessary, and called for, and worth my time.

Some Common Ground
Toy Soldier and I may simply have world views which are incompatible fairly deep down. But I think that some common ground can be found. So I think a more thoughtful response than sending him to F101 must begin with a few comments detailing where I think TS gets things right. First off, I think TS's blogger etiquette (for lack of a better phrase) is right on here--he comes in, makes his point succinctly (and politely, using language like "it is unfortunate that") and then leaves the rest of his discussion to take place in his own space, rather than derailing any possible discussion over here. This type of etiquette is a big deal to me, given the ways that we, as bloggers, sometimes talk to each other in comments, and it is much appreciated. Additionally, it represents a way of talking to each other where some work can actually get done, if both 'sides' want some work to get done.

Secondly, TS is right that the violence that women commit against men is important. It is also important that male victims of the violence women commit against men are often silenced; the ways in which boys and men are silenced, we might note here, may be different in important ways than the ways in which women are silenced. Mostly, in my opinion, boys and men are silenced by the institutional nature of conceptions of traditional masculinity.

My basic agreement with TS is this: These things are important.

Point of Disagreement: What Does Choosing a Focus Imply?
My disagreement with TS stems from (at least) two places. First of all, I have some trouble with his factual claims about levels and frequency of abuse, which I discuss below. I also have a problem with TS not providing links to the studies he refers to--when making a point over here, any self-proclaimed feminist critics ought to know that the burden of proof is on them, a good deal of the time.

More importantly, though, I disagree with TS that not mentioning female violence against men every time I bring up male violence against others is "consider[ing] female violence against males as inconsequential," or that I'm "condoning it" by omission. Instead, in my opinion, I'm focusing on what I see as one aspect of a larger problem: Patriarchy and traditional masculinity help to cause men to do violence against each other and against women. Sure, patriarchy and traditional masculinity also help to cause women to do violence against men, boys, and other women, but that's not the aspect of violence-caused-by-patriarchy that I chose to focus on.

Does choosing that focus mean I don't think other types of violence are important? I don't think so. But I can see where TS might see it that way, and why. After all, if we look back to any movement, including feminist movement, there are places where the thinkers involved were taken to task for not giving enough consideration to various groups. When wealthy white women try to tell poor women of color that they should wait for their issues to be addressed (or ignore their issues completely), they should be called on it. And I can begin to frame TS's points in that light (though I don't know whether he would see it that way, of course): Perhaps by not mentioning women's violence against men every time I talk about men's violence against men and women, I'm somehow leaving out something fundamentally important.

I don't think so, and here's why: I think that these problems are big and complex enough that there is plenty of room for work on all fronts--and I think that pointing out, like TS is doing, that women do violence against men too every time somebody talks about violence men commit against men and women does less to draw attention to the violence women do to men and more to distract from the fact that men do a lot of violence against women, and against other men. So, while I think the former is important and is worthy of discussion, and I think that it should be an important goal of feminist men to deal with the violence done by parents (male and female) against boys (and girls! and people of all genders!), that doesn't mean that I think it should always be the topic of discussion, or always the most important facet of the subject of patriarchy and violence.

And, while TS seems to center his take regarding the abuse that men can suffer on feminists for various reasons (talk about killing the messenger!), he doesn't only do that. His blog, though filled in my mind with lots of rhetoric and misinformation (I'm sure he'd say the same of this blog...), is also full of good resources for men. So, while I don't agree with his general worldview, and I don't agree with the implicit argument that his site seems to make about feminists causing all the hardships men face (rather, I think it's patriarchy and traditional masculinity, often, which contributes the most to the suffering men feel), I do agree that men and boys aren't as likely to report violence done against them (especially if it's done by women), and are likely to suffer greatly because of the ways in which traditional masculinity influences how they deal with their trauma. (Plus: Many of the boys who are abused by their mothers will go on to abuse their wives, sons and daughters, in part because they aren't given good ways to voice their pain.)

And I hope all of this isn't taken as lip service. I know that questions of focus can come down to real differences in conceptual underpinnings, and that can lead to real differences in practical considerations. Again, my example from feminist movement: When feminist movement (more) ignored women of color when doing feminist work, and women of color said something about it, sometimes feminists reacted by noting that those problems would get dealt with later--and TS might well interpret my reactions to his position here as a similar move. I don't think it is. If you read this blog with any frequency, you'll see that I take the way men are harmed by patriarchy seriously, and address it quite often. (That's what the Feminism Helps Men posts are about, for instance.) If you really think that I'm condoning female-on-male violence by not mentioning it every time I mention male violence in general, then we're going to have to agree to disagree.

I'll admit that I wanted to not respond to TS at all, at first, but then I checked out his blog some more, and I see that you're genuinely interested in helping men who are victims of abuse (TS gives links to various groups that support men who are victims of abuse)--though he oftentimes focuses more heavily on women-on-men violence than I do--and that's my central point: There's plenty of room for both talk about men's violence against women (and men), and about women's violence against men--that doesn't mean that they both have to be talked about in every discussion.

Back to the Stats
TS doesn't give us specific links to his facts, but his points are worth at least some looking into--and I think that things are much more complex, at the very least, than TS is willing to admit in his comment:

Just as one 'for instance'--even if 'most child abuse' were 'committed by women', (and again, TS doesn't provide us with links to the studies he mentions) isn't it important that in single-parent homes, which account for almost a third of all families, single mothers account for 5/6ths of all of 'em? And yet, the percentage of men who abuse children is almost as high as the number of women. We should expect, if all else were equal, that women would be abusers at rates around 3 times higher than men (at least)--though it's hard to gauge because not all abuse happens in single-parent homes, of course. Instead, we find that, of people convicted of abusing children (80 percent of whom are parents), 58% were women and 42% were men. So, even though women are much more often (to the tune of 3 times as often) parents than men are parents, women who are convicted of abusing children do so at only a 10% higher rate than men who are convicted of it. This isn't even going into the societal stuff around the likelihood (in my mind) of women being convicted for it more often because male-on-male violence from father to son is more socially acceptable. Sources:
There were an estimated 11.4 million single-parents in 1994.
Women comprised
about five-sixths of all single parents.

Nearly 80 percent (79.4%) of perpetrators were parents of the victim; Approximately 58 percent (57.8%) of perpetrators were women and 42.2 percent were men.

The point is, it's much more complex than TS lets on in his comment. Basically, I have some concerns about what appears to be an oversimplification of the situation, and of the interpretation of the statistics involved.

1 comment:

geo said...

In looking at several websites, I note that domestic violence rates for women in lesbian relationships are not far from the rates in male-female relationships. The common factor is that women are victimized. I asked my partner what she thought the male-male violence figures would be and she said lower. Her rationale is that men won't stay in relationships where abuse is ongoing as commonly as women would.

and no doubt other websites have many illuminating statistics concerning violence against women.

We live in a culture that in many ways supports male violence. "Quarterback Kills" in football, the multiple killings (e.g. Crandon, Wisconsin most recently), and many other examples show how common Male Killing, being violent and threatening to be violent are common among men - with women (in some areas) and men (in others) being the most common victims.

Women certainly can be violent! Women's violence seems to me to be most prevalent within areas of "relationships". Battered women do kill their partners occasionally. Women also have jealousies related to partners which may in some cases result in violence towards female "competitors" or male partners.

Some (more than a few) men do go out seeking female companionship and intimidate and/or rape women they meet or want to meet. Some, more than a few, men have problems letting go of former partners and stalk and in unfortunate cases kill these women.

It seems to me (no statistics here) that it is relatively rare for women to initiate violence towards men outside of adult partners and children.

When I, as a partnered male, meet women, they may logically fear that either I may hit on them (not necessarily with any violence) or that I could be potentially violent towards them.

When I, as a partnered male, meet women or men, my only fears might be in rare situations where I might fear that the man might rob me of money.

IF - I'm naive about the threats to myself, I'd like to be better educated. I don't believe that women are naive in being cautious around men.