last week, a privileged youth took to the streets to exact his revenge for the sex and affection he felt he was deserved and not given, leaving six dead and many injured in his wake. the internet went crazy, with both the feminist and mens rights movement exploding all over cyberspace. after reading probably a dozen articles, and having numerous discussions with both male and female friends, i’ve been questioning what gender relations and this “arab spring of feminism” mean to me.
academically, i am a horrible excuse for a feminist. i haven’t read any feminist literature, because i don’t find it necessary to spend time backing up with historical knowledge or quotes what i already feel, ideologically, to be true. i am, nevertheless, a feminist. of course i’m a feminist, because i not only believe women and men should be equal, i believe all people everywhere should be equal… i believe that the sons of a wall street executive and the daughters of a nigerian farmer should have equal access to food and education, and whatever else they need in their pursuit of health and happiness. as far as feminism goes, i don’t envision a world where women are superior to men or given preferential treatment, only a world where twelve-year old girls aren’t forcibly married to fifty-year old men, where girls aren’t held down by relatives while they have their clitorises scraped off with broken glass, where men don’t throw acid in girls’ faces for daring to go to school.
a male friend asked me why suddenly, with the rodger’s massacre, this issue of misogyny had blown up. i told him that i thought it had been coming for a long time, gathering speed and mass like a snowball rolling downhill, due to a lot of things that have been in the news for the last few years. i’d read, in one of the many articles responding to the massacre, that rodger felt women owed him sex and he sought to punish them for the “injustice” he suffered by not getting it, and that every woman nationwide who’d ever heard a man say something similar felt a shiver go down their spine. the story, and rodger’s motivations, had struck a chord not only with every woman who’d ever had to deal with male feelings of entitlement to their bodies, time and attention (which is all of us) but also with rodger’s sympathizers, who predicted more violence if their demands were not met. another male friend called me to express his viewpoint and argue that women are just as crazy as men, and perpetrate violence against men that goes unpunished. the point isn’t to argue who’s worse, and obviously all violence is bad, no matter who perpetrates it. the point is that women are not responsible for how men handle their own sexuality. the onus shouldn’t be on a woman to not wear a tank top and shorts in summer time so that she doesn’t get harassed in the streets… she just shouldn’t be getting harassed in the first place. a woman should be able to have a few drinks while out on a date without worrying about getting raped. and sorority girls shouldn’t be charged with fucking socially inept weirdos to keep them from going on murderous rampages. women deal with issues on a daily basis that will never be part of the male experience.
once, when i was fifteen, a female friend and i rode out far into the countryside with three guys that we were only casual acquaintances with. we were drinking and smoking pot. about an hour into this typical high school afternoon, i overheard the most popular (and thus powerful) of the guys first convincing and then making plans with one of the other guys to gang rape us. i panicked, but being fifteen, i didn’t know what to do; the female friend i was with wasn’t as scrappy as i and as i looked down the long dirt road i realized we were miles from town. so, i did nothing, and kept listening, trying desperately to think of a way out. the second guy, who was on board with the plan, was then charged with convincing the last guy, who was still sitting behind the wheel smoking a joint. to my relief, i heard the driver refuse to participate and tell his friend that he was stupid and crazy. the friend then went back, deflated, to the popular guy to tell him it wasn’t going to happen. my female friend leaned against the trunk of the car, listening to music, completely oblivious to how close we had almost come to a real horrorshow. i never hung out with those guys again, but i also never told anyone. because what would they say? well why did you go out into the woods with some guys you hardly knew? why would you drink and smoke pot with men in the first place? whatever could’ve happened to us, i knew i would’ve deserved, based on my decision to be in a potentially compromising position with men.
when i was in high school, i was raped by a male friend at a party. we had been making out, and i told him explicitly that i didn’t want to have sex. the next thing i knew, he was fucking me, and i laid there in total shock at what was happening for several minutes before gathering my wits and pushing and kicking him off of me. i kept it to myself for several months before one day breaking down crying in a convenience store while i told a good friend what had happened. she told me that he had later done the same thing to another female friend of ours, and i then regretted that i hadn’t said anything to anyone… but i had been ashamed. it was kinda my fault, right? i mean, i had been making out with him when it happened.
a couple of years later, during my first year of college, i was receiving a naked massage from two male friends. “just enjoy the sensuality,” they crooned, “nothing sexual has to happen, this is just about receiving pleasure. relax.” at the time, i was in a phase of exploration, of learning to feel comfortable around others naked and exploring my sensuality. i remember being incredibly uptight at first and then eventually relaxing as i was just receiving a massage and they weren’t actually trying anything. wow— i thought– maybe i CAN just be in sensual situations with men without having to do anything i don’t want to! this is great! no sooner had i thought that then one of them took off his shorts and began fucking me. again, i was shocked at the sudden turn of events. “i don’t want to have sex,” i said. he ignored me. “please, stop. i don’t want to have sex,” i said again, working to push him off of me. he was muscular and held me down. finally, my other male friend, a stocky, muscular navy guy, stood up and growled threateningly “if she doesn’t want to have sex, she doesn’t want to have sex!” the other man dismounted, gave me a smirk that was either supposed to be mischievous or charming, put on his clothes and left. again, i didn’t tell anyone. i had done it to myself, i reasoned, by putting myself in a potentially sexual situation with men, who could only be expected to try to exploit the situation, no matter what they promised.
what i learned as a young woman is what a lot of young women learn: anytime you engage with men or make yourself vulnerable to them in any way, you should expect that you will get fucked, whether you want it or not. if you make out with a man you might get fucked, if you receive a massage from a man you might get fucked, if you sleep next to a man you might get fucked, if you take a drive with a man or do drugs or drink with a man or go to a party with a man you’ll probably get fucked. we could ask the steubenville rape victim what she thinks about that; these experiences are par for the course for teenaged girls in america. men cannot be trusted to be decent human beings when it comes to women’s bodies.
i remedied my early negative experiences with men by just not dealing with men in general for many years, and becoming a hardcore lesbian. women, i quickly discovered, having had many of the same harsh experiences that i had with men, had an innate sexual sensitivity and empathy and could be trusted with my body. i was delighted many years later when i discovered the poly and sex positivity movements that emphasized communication and clear boundaries, asking for what you want as well as hearing and respecting a ‘no’ (as a male, sex positive friend once told me, “anything less than an enthusiastic yes is a no”). through them, i learned how to assert better boundaries and only associate with men who respected those boundaries. sex positive men, who have been trained how to communicate their desires and respect women’s boundaries, may or may not get laid more frequently than other men, but they certainly receive more time, attention, and physical affection from women. why? because the women they surround themselves with know that just cuddling, or just kissing, or just fondling isn’t going to necessarily culminate in an experience they may not want.
i have friends who have been roofied and raped, friends who have gotten drunk and subsequently raped, friends who have been followed by men and stalked by men and repeatedly beaten by men. i have friends who wear fake wedding rings to keep aggressive men at bay, friends who won’t go to the gym because of the oogling and harassment they face, and friends who cut their hair short to receive less attention. i have many friends of all genders but all of these friends are women. and yes, sometimes shitty things happen in men’s lives too. but of all the ills that can happen to men (such as bankruptcy, childhood abuse, imprisonment, social ostracism, becoming handicapped, etc), all that they can experience and still more can happen, and does happen, to women.
so who is it, then, that we hold accountable for these crimes?
at the end of WWII, the invading allied forces came across the nazi death camps as they swept across europe, and were horrified to discover the truth of what until then had been only rumored. disgusted, the allies promptly went into the nearby towns and brought germans– nazi party members and regular old civilians alike– into the camps by the truckload. they made them tour the facilities, view the gas chambers and cramped, squalid living quarters, look upon the piles of emaciated dead. finally, they made the citizens responsible for burying those hundreds of thousands of dead. they wanted to make it real for the average german, make them see what their support or at least their complicity had made them a party to, understand the consequences of their action or inaction. they wanted to make them take responsibility for the crimes of their people. i feel that is what the feminist backlash to the elliot rodger murders is about: making men look, making men see what they’re implicitly a part of just by virtue of being men. and while i do want men to see, while i do want men to understand the differences between the male and female experience, i’m not sure that it’s right to hold them even tangentially responsible, or complicit, in the experience. because being a german during WWII, and being a contemporary man, aren’t the same thing.
there is a split happening in american society, and it’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. maybe it has always been here in different forms– a push toward abolitionism, a push towards women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights. but now, more than ever, society seems to be dividing between people who want to cling to the old ways and people who want to create the world anew. the same breed of people who protested interracial marriage and the blending of the races now protest gay marriage. the same breed of men who once spat tobacco on clara barton’s dress because she earned more than them now fantasize about a world in which feminism has been overthrown and women have no sexual agency. some people are learning to homestead, raising chickens and growing vegetables in their backyards and getting to know their neighbors, while others further imbed themselves in consumerism, quick to take a new loan on the newest car and buy the newest iphone every year. some dig their heels into their religion and condemn everyone who thinks differently, while others are “post-religion” and manage to live wonderful, altruistic lives despite this. it’s almost like we’re becoming two different species… those that want to live freely, in harmony with each other and the earth, and those who only seek to dominate and exploit others and the world around them. and the menfolk, like everyone else, are feeling this evolution, and dividing along different camps too. shit be crazy.
so, i’ve noticed that the same (white) people who argue about the existence of white privilege or the relevance of cultural appropriation are the same ones raising their voices against the “militant feminism” of the #yesallwomen crusade. maybe they’re sick of divisiveness, or maybe they just don’t want to be blamed for everything anymore. and who can blame them? “we did not own slaves,” they said a year ago, “and we are not racist, so the fucked-up state of minorities in america is not our fault.” today, they say: “yeah this sucks, but it’s not me. i don’t rape people. i don’t disrespect women. it’s not on me.” i can see their reasoning. they are socially conscious dudes who i absolutely believe love and respect women, and no one wants to be made to feel bad about themselves for any reason, let alone for something they themselves did not do. and they’re sick of it, given all of the talk in recent years about white privilege and appropriation; they don’t want to hear “you MAN. you WHITE MAN. you DEVIL” from anybody anymore. and frankly, they don’t deserve to hear it. it’s hard enough to have positive self esteem in this world as a person of ANY race, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status, without taking on the blame of everyone else in your group. and we’re not going to get anywhere by placing some kind of collective guilt on the people who have the most power to help us.
because ultimately, they *are* most beneficial to us as allies, not antagonists. during the civil war, slaves didn’t free themselves; ultimately, a majority of “oppressors” came to believe that slavery was immoral. in 1920, after years of campaigning by the suffragettes, the 19th amendment was passed– by men– guaranteeing women the right to vote. sometimes, we do need our brothers to take a stand and do the right thing in the face of their male peer pressure. thank god that teenage boy on that country road refused to accompany his friends in their plan to gang rape me and my friend, thus disrupting the plan, and thank god my navy friend was there to menace the guy who wouldn’t stop having sex with me after i told him to twice. women wear fake wedding rings for a reason: because men will defer to another man’s “property” more easily than they will a woman’s refusal. men don’t sexually harass women around other men for a reason: because they fear and respect another man’s power to challenge him, physically if need be. most women, i think, have learned to play it safe and placate a guy who is harassing them to avoid a potentially more damaging confrontation. the rare woman has learned to tell a man in no uncertain terms that she is not interested– and in doing so, believe me, she is prepared to face the consequences– whether it be throwing her drink in his face or scratching his eyes out with her car keys. but when it comes to a potential physical altercation, men will almost always dominate a woman (who hasn’t had training in the martial arts). a friend told me a story of how when her sister was in a market in egypt, and a random strange egyptian man suddenly grabbed her crotch, her sister’s husband turned around and punched the man in the face. so yes, although a woman should always have the confidence to stand up for herself and the prowess to defend ourselves physically if need be, sometimes we need our men to be our knights, to combat any man who dares to grab our genitals in public markets, figuratively or literally. simply put, many men respect other men more than they respect women.
so in times like these, when the collective female soul is crying out for redemption and healing, i would urge our knights to be bold, and rather than shrinking into petty self-defensiveness, seek to understand things that they can never understand. i, for one, will never know what prisoners of japanese internment camps during the 1940’s experienced, so i read to understand; i know that in at least one instance, a little girl and her sister stood peeing upright in the camp’s bathrooms so they would pass as boys and be left un-raped by the male prisoners. that was not me… i did not imprison the japanese… and still, i seek to understand, to know the crimes of my ancestors so i can avoid those same crimes in the future. i read to understand; through lydia lunch’s life i feel closer to understanding a neglectful “white trash” trailer park childhood, drug abuse, and forced prostitution… an experience so far removed from my own, but in doing so, realizing a fuller sense of my own humanity. so read to understand, conscious men: even if it’s just 140 character tweets, rather than promoting anti-feminist mentalities to preserve your own self esteem. this isn’t a war or a duel, with sides trading intellectual shots across a battlefield. it’s a banquet of knowledge at which we can all become sated and feel closer to one another, if that’s how we choose to interpret it. the “arab spring of feminism” isn’t about blaming men or making them responsible for the sins of their brethren, it’s about being understood, and having men take our side against the corrosive, virulent misogyny that ruins the world for us all.
as the world divides, domination against cooperation, liberation against subjugation, we are all working in our individual ways to bring forth a world that works for everyone. so yes, in america, as a feminist, i envision a society where even elliot rodger can get laid, because he has the skills to ask for what he wants in a non-threatening way, and doesn’t adhere to some impossible fantasy of only getting that affection from blonde supermodels, rather than the average, willing girls who were almost certainly in his path the whole time. i envision a world where young women can hang out with young men without the inevitability of having sex they don’t want to have, whether it’s through their own intoxication, what they’ve chosen to wear that night, or how far away from shouting distance they’ve allowed themselves to be driven. i envision a society where women can have casual sex or sex for pleasure without being slut shamed, and where women can politely reject men without fear of retaliation. most of all, i envision a world, a future, in which we all “get it”. that black, white, mexican or asian, male or female, gay or straight, we are all worthy of love and respect, and the unerring support of our brothers and sisters as we strive to claim our rightful place on the thrones of kings and queens, masters of our own destiny, co-conspirators and writers of the magnificent theater of humanity of which only our children’s children will know the epilogue.