Within modern societies, there is a cultural power system of aggressive, sexist and structurally violent masculinity that most heterosexual men, to varying degrees, take part in. As an academic who in the past has described himself as a feminist, yet who occasionally lapses into this same culture, it is important for me to speak out clearly about how this culture connects to sexual violence, predominantly against women.
In its least sinister and most popular form, this culture is one of male bravado and stereotypes that sexually objectifies and commodifies women’s bodies. Many men are socialised and brought up within this culture, and many of us know it when we see it in others. At the same time, as active members of the culture, many of us miss our supporting role in it. The behaviours do not seem wrong when we are among a group of male friends. Often it is part of the membership rites and language of the group.
Social psychologists suggest that somehow, when we’re with other people, we lose our rational capacity or personal identity which controls our behaviour. And that it is acceptance of the norms and the values of the group that becomes most important. To better understand that not all sexual violence means rape, academic Liz Kelly suggests understanding women’s everyday experiences of sexual violence along a continuum from “choice to pressure to coercion to force.”
This helps to understand the subtleties of sexual violence, the point being, sexual violence is more complicated than violent assault such as rape, but starts with and involves far more common, everyday situations, such as harassment or targeting someone who is drunk.
Now many men might take offence to being swept up and placed in a culture that produces sexual violence. Many of us consider ourselves empathetic, caring, sensitive to women’s concerns—ie, men who support women. And in many cases this is true. It is certainly problematic to argue, as some do, that every man is a sexual predator-in-waiting.
This does not avoid the initial claim that many men are part of a sexist culture that generates disrespect and violence against women. What is this culture of masculinity that many are part of? It can begin with actions many feel normal and non-threatening. What some might see as a compliment might actually be an unwanted compliment.
Not all might be offended, granted, but it’s not like women have choice in the matter. Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment, says: “Street harassment is often an invisible problem or one that is portrayed as a joke, compliment or the fault of the harassed person. In reality, it’s a human-rights violation.”
Colleagues in the workplace making suggestive comments—especially superiors—can be classed as harassment too. Men might deem it nothing, a harmless piece of flattery, but again this is part of a culture where men get to decide what behaviours women should accept. These behaviours often become internalised by women and expected of men. This produces the ironic situation that a female’s attractiveness involves legitimation by male heckling or flattery. The male world of objectification becomes the cultural norm.
Another issue within this culture is that men often push the responsibility for crimes of sexual violence onto women. They make claims about the way a woman dresses or claim she gave them signals. Yet no is always no, and harassment is still harassment, no matter what a person wears. Furthermore, people should always have the right to change their minds and remove consent at any point in an encounter—from flattery to sexual relations.
The situation is so bad that we teach women what not to do in order to avoid sexual violence while ignoring that it is men who are perpetrators of 99 per cent of sexual violence, and it is men who need educating. If we want to fix the problem, it requires attack on multiple levels. Research suggests the strongest enabling factor in sexual violence is the idea that such behaviour is covertly condoned. That is the culture I’m talking about here. And that is one level we can attack.
It just takes one man in a group of men to be offended and to make that point in front of his peers for the smokescreen of acceptance to be questioned by others. Many men might feel like they don’t want to be that man because they will lose credibility with their friends. Yet losing that credibility compared with being part of a continuum of sexual violence against women is a straightforward choice all men can and should make.
I realized that they had never understood that women produce the whole labor force and that that work is not acknowledged and not even considered as work. It’s like, “What did you do all day?” was a very popular way that men would greet women when they came home from “real” work.
And so, we then, you know, talked about the unwaged work that women were doing. That is, you got some payment, you got your food and board, if you were a housewife, but you didn’t have the autonomy of money, which ensured that everybody knew you were working and which gave you the independence of having money of your own. But that was really only the beginning, because then we began to understand that most of the world had no wages, that we—that the subsistence farming in Africa—you know, 80 percent of the food that is eaten in Africa is grown by women, unwaged—you know, no money, nothing, just very, very hard work—and that all of this work, the volunteer work, you know, the reproduction of the human race, really, that women do, not merely, you know, in giving birth, which is quite important, not merely in giving children the food that they want and that they need, which is breast milk, but just caring for everyone and fighting for everyone. You know, it’s women who fight to get justice for their children and for men. You know, we have a slogan in London: “Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, fighting for our loved ones’ lives.” And that’s not a Romantic view of women’s work that—women’s justice work. That is the reality. That’s who does it. That’s who’s on the line in front of the prison where men and women are held unjustly. It’s women who are doing this work. And it’s an extension of the caring work that we have always done.
Now, I want to make it absolutely clear: we do this work, and we are civilized by this work, we women, and have a much greater understanding of human beings, because that’s what we’re dealing with all the time. But we don’t want to be the only ones to do it. Men need to do this work, because men need to be civilized by this work as we have been. Men don’t—we don’t want them to be doing this work for capitalism and not doing this work for ourselves, for each other, you know, for the society generally. Men have to start making society, along with women, not to help—I’m not talking about men helping. Sometimes we have to fight so that they give us a little help, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about that being the aim and purpose of our lives, to be with others, to care for others, and to, as I say, to make society with us.
Why are Women Devouring Fifty Shades of Grey? - Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. (via mehreenkasana)
Having not read it that helps me to understand this craze a lot better
nice blend/picture of gender, power (wealth, violence, structure), patriarchy and popular culture