Saturday, 7 March 2009

My oppression, your oppression

I have been stunned - truly shocked and appalled - at the level of hatred and wilful ignorance I've seen flooding the press and the internet over the past few days. Just look at the response to Amnesty International's campaign to end violence against women. A great deal of the comments, all of them from male avatars, claimed that Amnesty's statistic of 1 in 10 women experiencing rape or other violence was false, and that if it wasn't false it was irrelevant. That statistic is explained fully by Amnesty here, and I for one am happy to support it. But that's not the point. The point is that I've seen almost every debate around women's rights this week being derailed by a discussion of whether or not men have it worse, and whether or not feminism is therefore irrelevant.Jennie Rigg, as she so often does, put it best on LC yesterday:

You want to see a decrease in violence towards men? Why not campaign about it? Why derail every single fucking campaign about violence against women? You do see what I’m getting at, don’t you? I mean, you don’t see Save the Whale protestors derailing anti-seal cull protests, and you don’t see anti-seal-cull protesters at whale hunts shouting “but what about the SEALS??”

How about you support us, and we’ll support you? How about instead of rubbishing this campaign, why not say “great idea girls, and something I can fully support. No woman deserves to be beaten up and raped! Incidentally, I am supporting this other campaign, about male violence, fancy joining in?”

Well, quite. Derailing feminist arguments to complain about the poor menz isn't constructive. The point of all that bitching and moaning clearly isn't to make things better for men - if it were it'd be organised somewhere besides response forms to worthy women's rights articles - but to obstruct feminist campaigns. Instead of pouring on the scorn, instead of trying to play oppression top trumps, why can't men organise themselves and their allies to resist, say, violence against men, which I think we can all acknowledge is a problem? Why can't men organise to campaign for better mental healthcare, since the 18-25 male suicide statistic is so often quoted as an example of institutional misandry? Until I see any of that, I'm afraid I'm just going to keep assuming that men attacking feminists is just...well, it's just men attacking feminists, really.

Sunny quoted me in the Guardian yesterday (the comments to that one are well worth a read), and I'm going to re-state why I believe that men need to stop acting out how threatened they feel by women's rights:

A crucial mistake that continues to be made is the fallacy that acknowledging male gender oppression somehow invalidates the whole concept behind feminism. It does not. However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry 'but men don't have it easy either!' has been taken as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone's gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone's struggle is not an attack on everyone else's.

The truth is that any oppressed group struggling for equality and for full socio-political representation will meet with resistance from the overculture, and their efforts to organise against injustice and violence will meet with resistance - overt or covert - from that more privileged group. Part of the reason for this is that whilst equality battles are never an attack on the overculture, they always challenge it - they demand that it change its attitudes and its self-perception. That's what International Women's Day still does, by demanding that men and women across the world stop accepting violence against women as a fact of life.

So yes, guys, we are challenging you. We want you to see us as complete human beings, and we want you to be as outraged by physical and sexual attacks on us as you would be by physical and sexual attacks on members of your own group. We want you to unite with us to stop violence against women, without seeing that struggle as in some fucked-up way a threat to your own self-conception as men. Yes, we want you to change. Instead of shouting us down, stand up for your own rights alongside us, as allies.

And challenge us back: I guarantee that you will not find us wanting. Because, if you think about it, we all know what it's like to feel unsafe walking home alone at night. We all know what it's like to fear male violence. We know what it's like to be physically threatened, to be scared, to be cowed by the ubiquity of male aggression, especially if we're in some way weak, or feminine, or different. And we can all take a stand against that, without getting into these silly fucking scraps over whose oppression tastes best.

26 comments:

  1. Personally, as a male, I have ALWAYS been outraged when any innocent person, female or male, is bullied, brutalised or attacked by any other person or persons for any reason whatsoever.

    But matters are not always so clear cut and simple. Life isn't always polarised into right and wrong, black and white, just and unjust.

    For example:

    My sister was stalked by one of her ex-boyfriends for months. He wrote threatening letters to her and made menacing phone calls, usually in the middle of the night, posted presents to her nice (flowers and confectionery) and nasty (dog's excrement in a padded jiffy bag) and sat for hours in his car outside her home watching through binoculars. As you can imagine this crazy behaviour quickly invaded my sister's every waking moment and began to scare the life out of her. The police did next to nothing to help her saying that until her stalker actually assaulted her or broke into her home etc., they were powerless to act within the compass of the law.

    After about nine weeks of this kind of treatment my sister was a nervous wreck and so, despite the fact that she asked me not to intervene, I went to see her ex and tried to warn him off informing him, in no uncertain terms, what would happen to him if he carried on sadistically torturing my sibling in the way he had been previously; he called my bluff and my ultimatum failed; he blithely carried on psychologically menacing my sis as if it were his God given right. Not knowing what else to do, one evening I waited in my sister's flat until the creep was parked up in his car in the street below, crept up on him as he surveiled my sister's windows with his binoculars, smashed the driver side window of his vehicle with a hammer, dragged him roughly out by the scruff of his neck onto the street before spanking and pulping the scumbucket in full view of everyone.

    The result:

    I was arrested, charged with assault, got my name in the papers and ended up in court! But my sister was never bothered by that arsehole ever again.

    So, were my action justifiable or not? Matters would not have escalated to the given level if the law offered adequate protection to women.

    Unless the law fully protects both women and men under its aegis sometimes vigilante justice is the best that any of us can hope for.

    I was a hero to my sister.

    But am I a brute to you, Ms. Red?

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  2. Absolutely not. I totally agree with you that women need better protection under the law, and I applaud your actions in protecting your sister - although it saddens me, as I'm sure it does you, that you had to resort to violence. I'm glad that you weren't convicted, at any rate.

    You raise an interesting point: how far is it acceptable to use violence to protect others from violence? I'd say - only if the violence is proportionate, and only if every other avenue of protection has been exhausted. This seems to be the case here, but it's a much muddier ethical quagmire than I have time to explore fully in the 10mins before running out the door!

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  3. Violence is pretty much the only way to protect against violence - the question is the extent to which the state should be the only legitimate weilder of force. As the story shows, if the state doesn't protect people they are forced to take matters into their own hands.

    The problem with feminist campaigns against violence towards women is that they are asking for both equality of treatment and special consideration at the same time. Whats the point in having a campaign against violence towards women and a campain against violence to men, when a simple campaign against violence would do?

    Anyway, personally, I think we should all be rather more concerned about the focus and purpose of violence rather than its existence or the gender of its target.

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  4. A great deal of the comments, all of them from male avatars, claimed that Amnesty's statistic of 1 in 10 women experiencing rape or other violence was false

    As far as I witnessed it, they were claiming that it was misleading or meaningless, rather than actually false. I've no doubt that one in ten women experience rape or other violence per year, but if you take out the "or other violence" part it seems more like one in a hundred according to the BCS 2002:

    http://www.crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk/sexual/sexual06.htm

    Or one in forty from the other stats bandied around on LibCon.

    In my case it's not that I want to belittle womens' experiences nor say anything like "I'm okay with that level of rapes" but Amnesty have basically fudged the numbers on this one to get a better headline.

    I think that invading Iraq was wrong, too, but I'm not going to go around telling people that two thousand British troops die there every year, because that would be a lie and when I was found out I'd look pretty stupid. Amnesty are just looking pretty stupid right now.

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  5. "We know what it's like to be physically threatened, to be scared, to be cowed by the ubiquity of male aggression, especially if we're in some way weak, or feminine, or different. And we can all take a stand against that, without getting into these silly fucking scraps over whose oppression tastes best."

    That paragraph would be a brilliant expression of our common humanity, and a manifesto for how we should live as people, if you were to remove the pointless and weaselly qualifier 'male' from 'aggression'.

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  6. On the subject of what is "weaselly", it does bear some consideration that the statistics on violence do overwhelmingling indicate that the aggression comes disproportionately from men towards women. Not only is it disproportionate, not only is it a statistically significant difference, which in any other domain would lead to a crystal clear conclusion, but it is an overwhelming difference. The perpetrators of violence are overwhelmingly male, and the victims are overwhelmingly female. The odds of the observed gender break-down of violence statistics happening by chance are less than 1000 to 1 (and that's conservative), even when the waters are not muddied by categories such as "or other violence".

    If we're going to stop the violence, we have to understand the causes, and if we're going to do that, men as well as women have to acknowledge the reality of the patterns of violence, however uncomfortable that may be.

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  7. While I somewhat vehemently disagree with the contention that "it's not okay to stand up and say that violence against gay people is a small, irrelevant issue compared to violence against straight people" (especially because homophobia really is more about gender oppression than it is about sexuality), I don't want to pick apart the specifics of your argument. This is, after all, just another way of invalidating it, which is exactly what you're talking about.

    Instead, I want to say that I agree wholeheartedly with you. It's difficult to rise above polarization and get to the heart of the matter, which in this case that we're all oppressed (in insidiously myriad ways) by dominant (and invariably aggressive) constructions of masculinity. I know that I couldn't have stated it better than you have, so thanks for giving me the words to express my own outrage at this situation.

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  8. it's definitely not okay, for example, to be openly racist. It's not okay to say that focusing on the rights of BME people is harmful to the poor, poor whites, not unless you're saying it in an incredibly back-handed manner.

    Certainly it's not okay to be openly racist. It's not okay to say that focusing on the rights of people who aren't white is harmful to white people. That doesn't mean either of these things don't happen, every day. And it doesn't mean white feminists don't commandeer race issues to serve their own rhetorical ends.

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  9. That paragraph would be a brilliant expression of our common humanity, and a manifesto for how we should live as people, if you were to remove the pointless and weaselly qualifier 'male' from 'aggression'.

    If I had ever experienced fear when walking alone, from seeing a woman, then I might have some sympathy for this statement.

    But the fear I feel is all thanks to the actions of men, and relates to how I feel when I am alone and see men around.

    Culturally (and counter-culturally, in fact) from top to bottom, violence is socialised for men to carry out and for women to rely upon men to do for them.

    Male aggression is ubiquitous; female aggression, while it does exist, is certainly not.

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  10. Women's rights is the only contemporary equality battle where there really are two open and distinctly drawn 'sides'.

    This really isn't true. To take the first example you casually invoke without discussing, what do posts like How to Suppress Discussions of Racism and The Art of Defending Racism address, if not a continuing issue? Even as a well-meaning white person on the sidelines of race-related discussion, I can see that the interactions you describe wrt gender issues happens all the time, even if you don't see it. Ask Boris "Piccaninnies" Johnson how far he's been cast from the civilised mainstream.

    It's horrificially problematic to invoke other oppressions only so you can say "but they're not that much of a problem", even in a limited context, because doing so diminishes other people's experiences. You - we - don't know what it's like. You have worthwhile points, why do they need to be couched in terms of "and this is the WORST oppression because..."?

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  11. Iona, Vermiliona - I think you misunderstand me slightly. The point I was making isn't that racism is any better or worse than sexism, nor that anything is the 'worst' oppression. I'm fully aware that, just because in mainstream debate it's become more and more taboo to say anything racist *does not mean that racism does not happen*. Far from it. If anything, that's a whole other agenda - the face that racism is, in many cases, largely non-verbalised but nonetheless breaks through everywhere.

    But I do believe that it's more taboo to talk disparagingly about someone's race than it is to talk disparagingly about someone's gender. Boris 'pickaninnies' Johnson may well still be in public office - but that one instance of racism came back to haunt him right through his campaign, and indeed is something that still tars him in the eyes of mych of the city's BME populations. I doubt if he'd once called a group of teenage girls 'slappers', he'd have been raked over the coals in quite the same way.

    And I agree with you that white feminists sometimes co-opt the language of race to serve their own rhetorical tends - but actually, I don't think that's what I'm doing here.

    What I'm talking about is not oppression per se, but the language of oppression, and how it is employed (in this case, specifically in Britain). It's just the case that certain things are taboo and certain things aren't. That does not mean that Black and Asian women don't face a whole host of problems that white women don't. But- in my experience, at least - verbal abuse of those same women in gendered terms is far more normalised now than abuse of those women in gendered terms. It struck me, particularly, that if I took some of the comments I've been getting, most notably on LabourList today, and replaced 'women' with 'black people' in every instance, the abuse would almost certainly lead to the site being shut down.

    But no, I don't know what it's like - you're right - and I'm trying to interrogate my own privilege every day.

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  12. No, Christ no, actually, I'm completely wrong aren't I?

    I've just been sat here thinking, 'I'm sure on mainstream blogs nobody would be telling me that it's natural for whites to be the dominant race, or that anti-racists are frothing madpeople who should be locked up, the equivalent of what I've been getting today'.

    And then, just to check - just to CHECK - I went to the first mainstream race blog I came across and looked at some of the comments.

    Christ. I have no way of measuring badness, but it's fucking bad enough.

    I am genuinely fucking shocked, and I apologise sincerely.

    I am now going to go and eat some humble pie and check my privilege over again.

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  13. I'm glad, because I was going to dissect your previous comment, and I'm glad I don't have to. I've fallen prey to the "replace ____ with the word black" meme many times in the past and am trying to give myself mental wrist-slaps when I consider it at all.

    xx

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  14. I like to think that I'm big enough to actually think about things and admit why I'm wrong. I doubt you'd be my friend otherwise, considering how many times, etc...

    Also? Blogging is about learning. That's what interactive journalism has to be.

    Thank you, and sorry again, both of you. Aside from the sites you link me to, are there any other good 101s out there? No pressure if you're rushed.

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  15. I think it's a good idea to leave it as you've edited, tbh. Openness about mistakes is an appealing characteristic, and helps one remember what you did wrong & how to reassess...I mean, there are arguments either way, if words may cuase hurt is it worth leaving them in the open for the teachable moment? But I think you've made the learning curve clear. hmm.

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  16. Umm, going back to race issues, I find the top posts on http://resistracism.wordpress.com/ very helpful. There are also quite a lot of posts focussing on various things at http://delicious.com/vermilliona/beinganally that I flick through every so often, the titles are usually self-explanatory.

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  17. But Penny... you're *always* wrong...

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  18. "it does bear some consideration that the statistics on violence do overwhelmingling indicate that the aggression comes disproportionately from men towards women."

    That rather depends on the stats you're using. According to the most reliable statistics we have on domestic abuse, 3.6% of women and 2.2% of men are the victim of partner violence or partner threats of violence every year. So women are more victimised, but only by a small proportion.

    (if you add psychological abuse into the mix, the genders are equal again, but I'm not sure it helps to complicate matters by getting into a discussion about the relative impacts of physical vs psychological abuse.)

    In terms of violence other than domestic violence, yes, men are vastly more likely to perpetrate it than women - but it's also perpetrated almost solely against other men.

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  19. Oh wonderful. Yet another blog overrun by the angry menz posting - it's not the like internet is already full of it :(

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  20. The automatic assumption around male victims seems to be that women must be the perpetrators when, in fact, by far the majority of perpetrators are other men - gay partners, fathers, brothers, uncles etc. This is still classed as "domestic violence" if it occurred in the home.

    When women are violent towards their partners it's statistically likely to be a one-off act of self defense or retaliation, they tend not to use weapons and the violence is not systematic.(which is the big one btw)

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  21. "when, in fact, by far the majority of perpetrators are other men - gay partners, fathers, brothers, uncles etc."

    If you're right about the majority of partner abuse against men being perpetuated by gay partners, then about 20% of gay male relationships must be violent and abusive in a given year, compared to under 4% of heterosexual relationships. I'm sceptical that this is the case.

    angry menz

    No, they're the ones on LiberTory-an blogs talking about feminazis and Harriet Harperson and such. Questioning assertions from a progressive-liberal perspective *because they don't appear to be true* isn't angry-menz-ery. Although fact-free assertions like Mark's are.

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  22. Who exactly are you talking about here? Cite some instances or I'm going to consider this a raging, flaming straw-man, Penny.

    And fiddling from someone who quite clearly can't critique Unity's empirical take-down of Amnesty's bizarre and totally unnecessary statistical distortion.

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  23. Culturally (and counter-culturally, in fact) from top to bottom, violence is socialised for men to carry out and for women to rely upon men to do for them.

    This protects women a lot, as memes such as "You don't hit girls" and comparisons between male-on-male and male-on-female violence rates bears out. From Iraq to East London, as a man you're a lot more likely to get killed. In the former location, for instance, it's only the explosives that kill evenly. The death squads get through 10:1 men: women, as I recall.

    Not saying that it makes anything better or that campaigns to end violence against women shouldn't happen, but not a lot of people think about it. I think that our culture has just decided that male deaths don't matter. Look at the comparative coverage of the soldiers who died recently: all focus on the female. She even had a bigger picture in most newspapers.

    Pretty damn sick.

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  24. *ahem*

    Not that that's in any way relevant to the Amnesty Campaign, mind you...

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  25. That statistic is explained fully by Amnesty here, and I for one am happy to support it.

    And what Amnesty explain is that they wanted a big scary sounding statistic, and did not really care if it was true.

    Hence sanbikinoraion's comment that Amnesty are just looking pretty stupid right now.

    Personaly, I would say that they and their campaign are looking dishonest. Why should they be popular with the people they tried to mislead?

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  26. Why did you edit the post and take the apology down?

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