People made fun of President Carter when he spoke of a national malaise. I’m not sure we were in one back then, but I’d say we are sure in one today. Everyone seems tired. The upcoming election is very important, but many can’t get up enough energy to decide to vote. But added to the tiredness is anger. You can see it in what is said about the President, in the disrespect shown him and the office. You can see it in the fear about Ebola. You can see it in the increased racial tension in Missouri and elsewhere. You can see it the attempts to restrict voting. I see the fear of “the other” manifesting as anger. But you can also see it in the anger against women.
Jessica Valenti had a piece in the Guardian the other day, “Why are Men so Angry?”. I’ve been thinking about it since I first came across it. She begins
There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.
But why are men so violently angry?
I believe that it is the same kind of fear that drives the fear of the racially other. When it comes to women, it is fear of losing some perceived superiority. Valenti puts it this way
Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she … well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.
But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.
I’m old enough to remember when no one talked about violence against women. We were just beginning to recognize domestic violence and create shelters. The concepts of sexual harassment and date rape were just being named. Rape was beginning to be taken seriously. Now we have special months, ribbons, and rape is generally depicted as a crime of violence. So it makes me tired to think that after all these decades that we are still trying to figure out how to deal with male violence. (And before someone complains that women can be violent also, yes they can be. But the vast majority of violent incidents are perpetrated by men.)
If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together – not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.
I think she is right, but I worry that the conversation about male violence will be like the national dialog on race which everyone talks about but no one knows how to begin. I’m not sure I know how to talk to the person who still believes that President Obama is really Kenyan, much less talk to someone to wants to commit violence against me to keep me in my place.
I don’t know either. I take baby steps – just trying to point out gender-shaming language (for both sexes). I’m as tired of hearing ‘be a man!’ as I am of hearing ‘what a pussy!’ The anonymous threats via the net are something new and newly terrifying – what do we do about this hate and vitriol? There will be someone who takes it too far and actually kills someone they disagree with online… I don’t want to to be me, do you?
No, I don’t want to be a victim and that is what is scary now. Back when I was working on reforming rape laws in the 1980s, some of the legislators thought you were a little nuts but no one would physically threaten you.