Every time there is a major act of terrorism there is a predictable response from liberal commentators. Most terrorists are not Muslims, we are told, which is true but obscures the fact that too many are. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, we are led to believe, which is false as Graeme Wood and Tom Holland have explained.

Conservatives and liberal opponents of what has been called “the regressive left” dismiss such statements. When scandals erupt concerning sexual assault, however, many of the same tropes appear in defense of men. Not all men are rapists, assailants or creeps. There is no essential link between maleness and abuse. I think the first statement is true but potentially unhelpful. The second, on the other hand, I think is simply wrong.

In arguing this I represent nobody but myself. I agree with many criticisms of progressives on this matter. High standards of evidence should be upheld when people are accused of heinous crimes. Hysteria can cloud our judgements on this subject. Different cultures have different rates of sexual abuse. Firm distinctions can be made for different forms of misconduct. Men endure abuse and rape as well. Most men are not dangerous.

Still, despite being no subscriber to feminist orthodoxies I disagree with much of what has been suggested in defense of men amid the #metoo social media campaign against sexual abuse. Ella Whelan of spiked insists that “actual cases of sexual misconduct…are rare.” According to the 2016 crime survey for England and Wales, more than 34,000 rapes and 68,000 other sexual offenses took place in a single year. How “rare” is that?

Helen Pluckrose in Areo compares “androphobia,” the fear of men, to “aviophobia,” the fear of flying. “100% of deaths by plane crash are caused by planes,” she writes, “But the vast majority of planes do not crash…Most violent & sexual crimes are committed by men but the vast majority of men do not commit violent and sexual crime.” These are not particularly close comparisons. There are few rational precautions one must take to avoid dying in a plane crash. Even traveling with Yeti Airlines is quite safe. Women, on the other hand, must be careful walking at night, meeting strangers, taking taxis and drinking alcohol.

Pluckrose continues:

“I dispute the argument that sexual violence or abusiveness or boorishness defines ‘male behavior’ because of the abundant evidence that they don’t, and I think they will be better addressed by addressing the behavior rather than maleness.”

I agree and disagree. Sexual violence, abusiveness and boorishness do not define male behavior, and earthquakes do not define Mexico City. On the other hand, sexual violence, abusiveness and boorishness are dangerous features of the male sex, and earthquakes are dangerous features of Mexico’s capital.

Most men are not dangerous — nor are most days in the Americas — but male tendencies towards predation, lust and status-seeking mean too many are. Such behavior relates to maleness without defining it and cannot be understood without an understanding of desires and neuroses mostly found in men.

I think that this is biological as much as cultural. Sexual violence has scarred all human societies from prehistoric tribes to modern nation states and I no more expect it to disappear than I expect the same of murder. Even as the primatologist Frans De Waal criticized Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion for arguing that rape is about sex more than it is power he lamely admitted that power is “a male aphrodisiac.”

Yet I do not think this is defeatist, still less self-loathing. Humans are awash with competing tendencies and civilization evolved to channel them. More can be done to obstruct and contain our worst instincts.

The scandal of Harvey Weinstein showed the sad extent to which abusers with institutional power are enabled by the cowardice and complacence of associates. Seth MacFarlane said he cracked a joke about the now disgraced producer at the 2013 Academy Awards out of “anger and loathing” after being told of his sins. Why this rich and influential man did nothing more to investigate and expose these charges is a question he will have to settle with his conscience. Some have asked why actresses Weinstein abused did not report him. Well, some did and men they told did nothing. This should carry far more stigma than it does.

Conservatives have a morbid fascination with “male feminists” who turn out to be abusive. A considerably less than comprehensive list includes Hugo SchwyzerJamie KilsteinSam Kriss, Devin Faraci and Joss Whedon. Perhaps there is a conflict between their progressive ideals and the coarsening aspects of the permissive culture. Perhaps they were just opportunists. Still, on the right Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, and Bill O’Reilly, its greatest star, were exposed as perpetrators of sexual harassment. Abusive men (and women) can be found in different forms. It is foolish of us to expect that people who share or appear to share our beliefs uphold our values in their private lives.

Conservatives are correct that in such cases as the Rotherham child abuse scandal, ethnic factors can been overlooked. Liberals are correct, however, that official snobbery and incompetence enabled the abuse. On this issue, as on others, relying on tribal impulses condemns us to a blinkered and obscurantist perspective.

Again, I often oppose progressive arguments and activism on this matter. When we criticize attempts to challenge sexual abuse, however, we should ask ourselves what we are doing. If somebody else is wrong, how are we right? Are we helping victims? Are we challenging abusers? Are we holding authorities to account? While, for example, we reject some feminist conceptions of masculinity, what are our models of the bitter, self-entitled sociopathy that drives thousands of men to acts of abuse?

This is partly an intellectual exercise but it also relates to practical behavior. Do we intervene if we observe harassment or abuse? Do we investigate charges against our associates? Do we give support to victims? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. But we should not sniff about unfair generalizations, or worry about witch hunts, if we do not oppose the rapists and predators among us. Not all of them are men, no, but most of them are, and as realists who care more about hard facts than pretty words we should accept and acknowledge and investigate that.

Last year, in a bar, I saw an old drunk seize a woman and thrust himself against her. She wriggled away with a tight, forced smile and he lurched off as if it had been  marvelous. If I had said something or done something it might have taught the stupid bastard a lesson. It might have taught potential stupid bastards a lesson. But I didn’t. It was over; I was a long way away; I didn’t want to make a scene; I didn’t want to cause a fuss. And in that moment I was a small part of the problem.

21 comments

  1. “In the case of Seth MacFarlane: he should not be held to account for not investigating and exposing Weinstein. That is the job of the police. They are the right and proper people to investigate powerful figures accused of serious sexual misconduct. Investigative journalists come a close second. I don’t think that MacFarlane is either of those.”

    The MacFarlane angle in the article reminds me of the so-called Copenhagen Theory of Ethics, in which any interaction with a problem that makes it at least slightly better begets demands that it solve the problem entirely. If MacFarlane hadn’t alluded to Weinstein’s creepy behavior AT ALL, we wouldn’t be talking about how he hadn’t done enough. He wouldn’t be on our mental radar in any way whatsoever and thus wouldn’t be tainted by the charge.




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  2. If we’re going to use the occasion of Harvey Weinstein’s scandal to spark a discussion on the relationship of maleness to sexual assault, shouldn’t we wait until there’s at least ONE conviction? (The same could be said of Cosby, and others). Surely out of the dozens of accusers, in a city full of recording devices, ONE has evidence to put a criminal behind bars. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

    The stats may show one thing, but what the media is showing us, time after time, in field after field, is men who are accused, but are generally innocent As a corollary, they are showing us, time after time, women who lie about sexual assault. Perhaps this doesn’t line up with the data, but it’s the story we’re being given. The question then is why the mainstream media always sides with the accusers, when it is so contrary to the message they are otherwise sending.

    I find it almost nauseating when, after a false accuser is exposed, we’re inevitably told that “at least it started a conversation”. How is that just? And when do we have the conversation about not perjuring yourself?

    There is already a societal loathing of men, and I am wary of any attempt, even in good faith, to discuss how maleness relates to sexual assault, in such a climate.

    We, decades ago, decided (or pretended to decide) that judging people based on their sex, addressing problems based on a person’s sex, was the wrong approach, because it led to prejudices and discrimination. What we need to do, even if men are committing more of these crimes, is to address the whole population. Because the tendency is still to forget that women do it do, and that it matters just as much to their victims.

    My last point here is that if someone decides that it’s better to keep employment with a harasser and an assaulter, than to take other employment and stop his criminal behavior, that tells me A LOT about how real women, in the real world, view this sort of thing. It’s not important enough to prosecute. But it’s a nice thing to have lying around in your arsenal when you decide you want to take someone down a decade or two later, perhaps long after your legal remedy is expired. We’re missing a discussion about what the real seriousness of “harassment” actually is, and what are reasonable responses to it.




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  3. For the record, I wish I had told the bar staff, or confronted the man in the final paragraph, but I’m not suggesting that I should have gone over and punched him. That would have confused everyone, and, besides, I’m not much of a fighter.

    But I should have been more clear.




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  4. “According to the 2016 crime survey for England and Wales, more than 34,000 rapes and 68,000 other sexual offenses took place in a single year. How “rare” is that?”

    To answer your question Ben, take the rate of rape per 100,000 head of population, and the rate of sexual assault per 100,000 head of population, and compare and contrast them to other offences like murder, robbery, common assault, aggravated assault, and so on. Then, to find out if this is severe, compare and contrast to the USA, Australia, Germany and other developed nations with similar definitions and recording proficiency. Merely quoting the sheer number, absent the context of the population size, doesn’t give an entirely accurate picture.




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    1. It was a rhetoric question. That is simply *not* rare. Arguing that it is rarer than in other developed nations, or develop*ing* nations, would be one thing. Asserting that it is rare is nonsense.




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  5. I don’t disagree with Ben here much at all. Yes, there are more precautions women have to think about to avoid becoming victims of sexual assault than of plane crashes so it wouldn’t work well as a comparison in that regard.

    Yes, men are well over-represented among sex offenders and the fact that this varies culturally means that it can’t simply be dismissed as biological gender differences in abusive behaviour. We can do things culturally to reduce it further. I think we already do quite well at making it one of the most abhorred acts socially but also addressing sexual assault when we see it is important.




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  6. Egalitarian

    Yes, women commit horrible crimes as well. If you think men assault certain women because other women commit horrible crimes, it’s an interesting point.
    „ Proxy violence and child abuse are more likely to be female crimes but there is never any outrage for them when they are committed by women.” This is not true, if you think it is you missed the information.
    „Spousal abuse is not an exclusively male offense but we don’t talk about the other side.” Yes, we do. One example of many: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10752232/Our-attitude-to-violence-against-men-is-out-of-date.html
    „If we can start to understand that the ultimate distillation of male-on-male violence – male suicide – has causes that can be understood, and that some them are rooted in society’s perpetuation of ideas of what men are, we can perhaps begin to imagine that other facets of male violence – perpetration and victimhood – might similarly be understood as cultural constructs that can be dismantled, rather than as forces of nature. When it comes to male violence, focussing the attention exclusively on women is not merely to misunderstand the problem, but to miss the opportunity to start fixing the problem. No-one will be gladder to put a stop to male violence than men.„

    Afterall, this is not about gender and stereotypes as I see it’s about power, hierarchy and possession and society fails to stand beside the weak, over and over again. Like you did here.




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  7. The survey link you included notes that “sexual assault includes indecent assault on a male/female and sexual assault on a male/female (all ages).” The survey makes no distinction between male and female victims, nor whether they were minors or adults. The words “rape” or “sexual assault’ don’t automatically mean that the perpetrator is male.




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    1. I regret not elaborating more in this section. I hoped to avoid the quagmire of arguments that surround statistics relating to rape but that was a mistake. More victims *are* women, though, and most perpetrators are men (I should perhaps also have noted sexual assault by men *against* men, such as in prisons, though my not mentioning that was not intended to deny that it exists).

      https://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/Pages/victims-perpetrators.aspx




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  8. This piece is an unfortunate lapse into gender stereotyping and speaks to the need to define gender as a social construct rather than having an exclusively biological origin. The tendency towards predation in people who identify as male stems from the cultural phenomenon of male privilege. It is not something inherent in the biology of people who are assigned male at birth. Engaging in sexual predation is a *CHOICE* that people make – maybe it’s a choice made subconsciously but it’s a choice, nonetheless. The solution is to engage people in discussions of healthy, safe sexuality from an early age and to define and discourage acts of sexual predation committed by people of all gender identities. The solution is NOT to assign sexual pathology to people who identify as male.

    This piece also decidedly ignores the potential for men to be victims of sexual assault, rape, and other forms of sexual predation. And, no, it is not just at the hands of other men – women can absolutely commit acts of rape, molestation, et cetera.

    For gay/queer “men” like myself, it usually does happen at the hands of another man. And it often goes unaddressed by us because we are afraid to report for fear of further stigmatizing gay/queer sexuality. People already connect gay men with pedophilia, which has a major chilling effect on reporting. Additionally, male victims in general are not treated well by sexual assault service providers. I went to a training on sexual assault and sex trafficking; and although service providers acknowledged that men could be victims, nearly all of the training content utilized female gender pronouns and the terms “women and girls” instead of gender neutral content.




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    1. Again, given that men have committed sexual assault in all human societies across the world, throughout history, I cannot imagine the hoops that you will have to jump through to maintain that there are no biological roots to such predation.

      I don’t ignore the fact that men can be victims (indeed, it is mentioned explicitly) but I should have elaborated on that point.




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  9. While demography should be fair game in the investigation of criminal behavior, in the name of equality it’s time for inclusion of the idea that women commit horrible crimes as well. What I mean by that is this: some types of crime are statistically more likely to be committed by men, and we address this; some types of crime are more likely to committed by women, and we don’t treat it the same way. Proxy violence and child abuse are more likely to be female crimes but there is never any outrage for them when they are committed by women. Sometimes they are excluded from crime statistics altogether. Spousal abuse is not an exclusively male offense but we don’t talk about the other side. If sexual coercion can be held against men, I challenge women to ask their boyfriend or husband if they’ve been coerced into sex, because I have yet to meet a man who hasn’t been.

    Some things to think about in this discussion.




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  10. This piece is unconvincing. Most western workplaces are circumscribed by external human rights legislation and internal conduct rules enforced by ‘professional’ human resources personnel. An off-hand comment at the photocopier — not necessarily directed at another person — can instantly lead to a complaint, investigation and reprimand in the current politically-correct era. Well, at least for those ‘perpetators’ not ensconced in the C-suites.

    This piece seems to focus on workplaces and people connected by their workplace or potential workplace — hence the reference to ‘associates’ of the perpetrator and references to Weinstein and actresses. But, is that where most of the 34,000 rapes and 68,000 other sexual offences cited actually occurred? Is ‘actually occurred’ synonymous with ‘actually reported’ or with ‘actually led to convictions’? Is it more accurate/helpful to think of ‘rare’ in absolute or relative terms? And, how often is alcohol a factor in these incidents?

    As for the author’s wondering whether he might have done something that might have “taught the stupid bastard a lesson”, several Q’s spring to mind:

    1. Wouldn’t that have been yet another example, on his part, of males’ tendency toward violence? Does anybody ever investigate how frequently men pay a price for sexual offences when men in the womens’ lives exact unofficial punishments?

    2. How appealing would ‘doing’ something, rather than ‘saying’ something have been if the stupid bastard had been young and virile rather than ‘old’? Costs of all types play a role in our behavior.

    3. Is it really ‘blaming the victim’ to suggest that women could help themselves and other women by being more assertive in the face of ‘other sexual offences’ such as lewd remarks and unwanted touching when they are in circumstances that allow it? For example, slapping the face of the old drunk man MIGHT have called attention to the offence and drawn others to help her. Or, at least, with as much likelihood as the author saying or doing something MIGHT have done.




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    1. I should have been clearer in the final section. No, I don’t think I should have started a fight (less because I think violence is bad – indeed, the male potential violence can be a good thing when it comes to defending people – than because it was not an ongoing situation and because I’m not much good at fighting.) I think I should have informed the bar staff or said something to him. Yes, I think it can help women to be more assertive (a friend of mine’s mother broke a man’s wrist in Egypt when he tried to touch her up). On the other hand we should be understanding of the difficulties of doing this.




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  11. A bit of a missed chance. It is interesting to acknowledge men have a greater tendency to (sexual) violence than women, and to ask how we can use that information to diminish the occurrence (not STOP it, that would only lead to a police state without really making things better). What exactly happens between men and women? What drives men to criminal behaviour? Is it just ‘entitlement’, the easy feminist idea, or are there other factors important? To be clear: looking for causes is NOT the same as defending crimes or blaming victims. It is just discovering the mechanisms that make sexual communication often such a mess, and both the biological and cultural aspects of that.
    Instead, the only conclusion of the article is the simple one we hear everywhere: that men should take their responsibility. And the examples give are exactly why this whole metoo-campaign is so dubious: it doesn’t take much for men to be ‘guilty’. I expected better from areo.




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    1. Well, men *should* take more responsibility. While I agree that there is no ending sexual violence – or any form of violence – I gave several examples of where men taking responsibility could have ended *instances* of it. Your final point asserts that my examples show “it doesn’t take much for men to be guilty” without demonstrating it.




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  12. I think your point about acknowledging that men have a greater proclivity towards sexual abuse is a good one, and one worth acknowledging in this debate – although I think Helen Pluckrose presents a better argument overall.

    However I think you must be careful of presuming that direct intervention is the correct course. The two examples you give both point to two different issues. In the case of Seth MacFarlane: he should not be held to account for not investigating and exposing Weinstein. That is the job of the police. They are the right and proper people to investigate powerful figures accused of serious sexual misconduct. Investigative journalists come a close second. I don’t think that MacFarlane is either of those.

    In the second case, your behaviour was absolutely correct. From your account the woman handled the situation herself. She deserves credit for that. You getting involved after the event would have been stupid and dangerous. I presume you are not a trained fighter. The reason I presume so is because I am a trained fighter, and one thing that startles some beginners is how much harder fighting is than you think, and how often you get your arse kicked by trained people in your class who outwardly look like easy targets. If you were trained you would not recommend involving yourself after the event. You had no idea who that guy was, what he was capable of, or who might have been accompanying him and what they were capable of. For your own safety, next time speak to a bouncer. Although I suggest the woman involved was capable of doing that if she wanted to. Note that this is not the same as failing to intervene when the act itself is in progress. I think that is fair enough, but my comments about your safety still apply – be very careful and try to intervene in a group. Or better yet find a bouncer or a policeman.

    That said, I fundamentally agree with Pluckrose. Target the behaviour. Understand it in its context of course, but realise that it only defines the perpetrator, not the population.




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    1. Yes, I regret not telling the bar staff more than I regret not doing something myself. I’ve endured a few bar brawls and don’t think we need more of them. I disagree about MacFarlane, though. The least he should have done is tipped off a journalist. Bear in mind that this was not simply a rumour; it was a direct account from his friend.




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  13. Great article Ben, as always.

    Just on the last para, if you wanted to fight that man, there would be feminists opposing you on your chivalry. Chivalry died, killed by feminism since the 60s. What we see now, is a post-chivalry world where men are not taught to treat women with respect, but as equals and even rivals in a chaotic vortex of progress. Equality under the law, gave way to forced similarity, even biological. Naturally in this unnatural chaos, predators rise, and good men become ambivalent towards society. No one wants a thankless burden, mate.

    Imagine that incident, a few months back, when a transgender man thumped a woman. Who would you defend? They are both women, according to our post-modern society.

    Feminism brought it upon themselves.

    On a better, and far more eloquent note than I could ever muster, Sommers and Paglia discusses that here.




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    1. I’ve got a bit of stick for “white knighting” in that last paragraph but in all honesty I think the best thing to have done would have been to have told the bar staff and not muscle in myself. Not that he wasn’t asking for a punch, mind.




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