WASHINGTON, June 1, 2014 — The Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) killings last week added fuel to a long-running political conversation about misogyny in America. The conversation usually takes places on the fringes — on college campuses, in publications catering to feminist and queer audiences, and in blogs — but the hashtag #Yesallwomen in connection with the killings has managed to bring it to a larger audience.
We should be clear on two facts as we join that discussion: Women are on average at greater risk of violence from men than men are from women; most men and women are no risk to anyone.
We might want to add two more: Most black men aren’t criminals; most men aren’t child molestors. Those facts are relevant.
A common narrative in this discussion is one of patriarchy and male privilege. According to that narrative, women are nearly universally and constantly subject to groping, verbal harassment, and other unwanted attention from men. Those men, especially if they are middle or upper-class and white, are taught not to accept “no” as a permissible response to sexual advances. We live in a rape culture, every man is a potential rapist, and the culture says, “that’s okay.”
Many women feel a jolt of fear at the approach of a strange man on a dark street. Most of us know a woman, or about a woman who was assaulted in an empty parking lot, on a campus sidewalk, in a public park. Women read the news and have heard the grim statistics, and they’re afraid.
Because whether you’re a 9 year old girl or a 50 year old women, the fear of passing a man alone in the dark never stops #YesAllWomen
— Mare Issues (@Speqtacularmare) May 26, 2014
At the same time, a man walking alone on a dark street is likely to feel a jolt of anxiety — few will admit to the jolt of fear — at the approach of a strange black man. It turns out that it makes little difference whether we are black or white, we’ve read the news stories and have heard the grim statistics, and we’re afraid — anxious — of black men.
Nothing raises the hackles of a mother at a playground faster than an unknown, unaccompanied man. Nothing raises the hackles of an Asian night manager at a convenience store faster than the entry of young black men.
The odds are that the man at the playground and the black man in the convenience store are there for the obvious reasons — he’s there for his child or taking a shortcut, he’s there to buy a burrito. But we’re a fearful species, and we judge each other not as individuals, but as representatives of a class.
We’re more inclined to look at people different from ourselves as potential threats than as potential friends. This conversation is built on stereotypes and fear, not on hard data.
Say “domestic violence” and most people think of a battered wife or girlfriend. Yet 40 percent of domestic violence in England is against men, and an estimated 2.5 million men in the U.S. are attacked by wives and girlfriends every year.
Systematic domestic abuse is more often inflicted on women by men than the other way, but women are more than three times as likely to use a weapon other than fists during a domestic assault. And yet we have shelters for abused women, but few for abused men. A man would rather live in his car than admit to being assaulted by his girlfriend or his wife.
According to some studies, one in seven undergraduate males is the victim of sexual assault, yet we think of campus sexual assault as a matter of men versus women. Both men and women are subjected to violence. That violence far more often comes from an intimate partner than from a killer like Elliot Rodger. Seventy-two percent of assaults against women come from an intimate partner, and 7 percent from a relative other than the spouse.
Men get defensive in this discussion because we’re often treated as abusers waiting to happen. We hear about male privilege, but can’t help but notice that only 40 percent of college freshmen are male, and that number is lower at higher tier institutions. Boys are being badly abused by an educational system that is now geared to girls.
There are advantages to being a man, and to being white, and to being straight, tall, good-looking, thin, graceful, smart, and having rich parents. Recognizing that fact, we should also recognize that most of us who succeed work hard with our advantages.
There’s nothing more banal than unrecognized genius, so advantage isn’t everything. We should always be aware that luck plays a role in our success.
Recognizing that luck, however, does not obligate us to sit back quietly and be treated as representatives of a class. Politics isn’t everything. To assign political reasons for what happened at Santa Barbara reduces everything to neat little models. It induces us to forget that it wasn’t a mass shooting, but a mass killing — half the victims were stabbed to death — and that the victims were mostly men.
#Yesallwomen? That might just as easily be #Yesallmen, too.
— Jason Burns (@JasonBurnsdub) May 30, 2014
If we’re going to point out the evils of racial profiling, we might want to consider the problems inherent in gender profiling as well. The Santa Barbara killings were motivated by hatred of and frustration against women, but that turns out to be hugely dangerous for men who get in the way.
The violence that snuffed out those lives isn’t just a female problem, but a human problem.
Fixing it should start with recognition that men and women are all human, and that they should, in discussions like this, be treated as humans, not as representatives of a class. Each of us has our own experiences, our own frustrations, our own fears and hurts, and we naturally resent being lumped together according to a stereotype.
If we insist on seeing this problem as political, we should understand that it isn’t one of patriarchy.
Most men don’t get the benefits of being in the top 1 percent; most are now either unemployed, underemployed, or living hand-to-mouth, and they are entirely unmoved by discussions of male privilege. To make this problem man-versus-woman doesn’t help solve it.
Why anyone would tolerate discrimination against anyone, male or female, black or white, is beyond me. Why anyone would countenance unfairness against another human being is beyond me. Politically divisive categories go far to do both.
I want my daughter to grow up happy and secure and unafraid of the people around her. I want the same for my son. I want neither of them ever to treat another human being with disrespect. I worry about what our society does to both of them, in different ways.
My son is in greater danger of being marginalized because he’s a boy, my daughter is in greater danger of being victimized because she’s a girl, and both prospects fill me with dismay. Our sons are potential rapists the way all humans are potential killers and black men are potential drug dealers.
To treat everyone we meet as a potential anything denigrates what they are and what they work to become. #Yesallwomen is meant to encourage conversation, but it reinforces categories: It denigrates women, it denigrates the men around them. There’s no problem so bad, it seems, that it can’t be trivialized with a slogan or a hashtag.