Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Men have a collective responsibility for ending misogyny, sexism, and violence against women in society

Matthew Vickery

“Young men need to be socialized in such a way that rape is as unthinkable to them as cannibalism.” – Mary Pipher

As a male, I occupy a privileged position in society, and to ignore that is wrong. And to ignore the atmosphere that the male collective creates and maintains, is not a position any man should take. That atmosphere is a misogynistic and sexist one, one that places men above women and normalises sexual harassment, violence, and rape, and in doing so perpetuates those very crimes.

The fact is that from an early age males are given a mixed message regarding what is acceptable and what is not. Teachers for example are more likely to condone misbehaviour of boys than they are of girls; after all, “Boys will be boys.” Those boys may be punished but their behaviour is still regarded as something expected. This attitude develops throughout childhood where misbehaving becomes a ‘badge of honour’ and a way to impress other males in the peer group. Male socialisation has to an extent manifested into forms of behaving badly, aggressively, or in bad taste, yet all of this is regarded as male ‘banter’ and therefore as ‘banter’ it is allowed: “Boys will be boys”  after all.

Yet it is within this, that sexism, misogyny, and jokes that normalise sexual violence appear, whereby bonding is made easy through the creation of an “Other,” the sexualised, stereotyped female. Women are therefore positioned below men as beings that exist for male gratification. The socialisation of the male collective produces these attitudes and thoughts, and yet when a woman questions this, the result is further sexism, rape threats, and bomb threats.

Of course, not all men join in on such sexism and misogyny, yet while it exists then all men have a responsibility to stop it. Rape and sexual violence against women, to borrow the words of Jackson Katz, is a male issue not a female one; it is because of the socialisation of the male collective that rape and sexual harassment continues to exist. It is not a completely individual crime; it is born out of causation factors in society.

As the American Psychological Association has reported, when women are portrayed as objects of male gratification, males are more likely to accept sexual harassment and everyday sexism against women, rape myths, and the stereotyping of women; this culture exists within the male collective and it will continue unless every man helps to change the collective from within. Lads’ mags, and Page 3 are two tangible examples, however this objectification of women is created directly through rhetoric, ‘banter’, misogyny, and sexism, that is created by the male collective and is prevalent in day-to-day life, not just on shop shelves, but on the streets, in schools, universities, and workplaces. Indeed the National Union of Students has published two independent reports (2010, 2012) showing just how sexism and the normalisation of rape through male bonding and ‘banter’ in UK universities has encouraged sexual violence against women.

For many males, ‘banter’ that is formed from sexism and jokes that degrade women and portray them as objects of male gratification rather than as equal human beings, gains commendation and identity-reinforcement (of masculinity and heterosexuality) from surrounding friends. An individual may never wish to encourage violence against women, however by participating in the creation of an atmosphere which does encourage such actions, they play a crucial part in forming and maintaining such an atmosphere. The collective does not become harmful through its mere existence; it becomes an agent of harm through the actions, rhetoric, and identity-reinforcement of its constituent members.

Longer jail-terms and more convictions for perpetrators of sexual violence are crucial, but it will never solve the problem in the long term; this is a problem that is ingrained within the male collective. To change it every man must accept the reality of their collective and challenge it. There are men who do this, but the majority do not, and even if individuals do not join in explicitly, their silence is a form of complicity. Men must start to speak up against sexism, against misogyny, against harassment, against violence; and we should not expect any kudos for doing so, this should be the basic default stance for any decent human being.

Furthermore men cannot just pick and choose what to be for or against within this issue. It is impossible to be against violence against women, yet claim sexism or degrading comments about women are acceptable, not a problem, ‘just’ banter, or a grand issue of free speech.

And let’s be clear, when individuals in one group are facing harassment and potentially dangerous situations daily because of another group’s socialisation, arguments of free speech are null and void. The creation of a dangerous atmosphere for another group in society is nearer to hate speech - and I would argue in many situations that it is hate speech - than anything else. It is certainly not free speech. Indeed sexism and misogyny often denies a voice to women.

Collectives create their own reality. They produce outcomes that individuals cannot create by themselves; however these outcomes are formed through the collective effort of those individuals and the group dynamics created. Men must realise this and challenge their collective from within. If men do not do this, sexual harassment, violence, and rape against women will only continue. This is an issue of collective responsibility, and all men are responsible for stopping the perpetuation of these crimes in society.

Matthew Vickery is a feminist, political activist and blogger, former journalist in the West Bank, and freelance writer who specializes in issues regarding Israel/Palestine, human rights, and feminism. He can be contacted at @mmvickery and blogs at www.whatsleftoftheleft.com