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.
“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 Schwyzer, Jamie Kilstein, Sam 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.
[…] beyond the victims of sexual misconduct. It extends to all of us. Many of us, myself included, have remained silent in face of unacceptable expressions of sexuality by men like Weinstein or Franken. We have […]
“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.
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… Read more »
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.
“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.
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.
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… Read more »
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.
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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.