Argumentum ad caritatis

Another day, another rant!

When certain men’s issues are discussed – e.g. male victims of domestic violence – I often have people telling me “well, if you’re so concerned about it why don’t you volunteer at a shelter, or start one of your own?”

Now, it’s true I’ve never volunteered at any kind of DV shelter – perhaps one day I shall.  However, I am not aware of any minimum amount of voluntary work one must put into solving a particular issue before one is permitted to voice an opinion denouncing it, so I’m calling this particular red herring argumentum ad caritatis, the Appeal to Charity.

Usually when people make this sort of statement, I’m often criticising the utter disregard our society has for male victims of DV, which often in turn entails criticising a few sacred cows – it’s a pretty trivial exercise for the reader to imagine which ones.  I observe that even though feminists and women’s issues activists constantly speak of women’s suffering in increasingly dire terms (not least with respect to DV, and these issues are certainly considered by them to be more urgent than men’s issues), it is not considered an acceptable response to them to challenge them to do more volunteering work offline before they can publicly comment on a problem online.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re all shouting online about the issues that concern us.  Why is it suddenly a problem when I do so?  Of course more concrete actions are helpful, but so is discussion of these issues in the first instance – something that is usually called “consciousness raising” when not done by the “wrong” groups.

A couple of asides:

1.  While it is not the only necessary action to take against issues in our society, I don’t personally consider writing about these issues to be a lesser action.  I think writing, and in particular writing to denounce injustices, is one of the most valuable things one can do. I admit that I can pick my battles better, which is part of the reason I’m endeavouring to blog more rather than comment more.  But I notice that people also have a dim view of online commenting below articles, a view I don’t seem to share.  Very often I read entire comment threads stretching into the thousands of responses, and I usually learn as much from them if not more than I learned from the piece which prompted them.  One of my personal heroes is the writer Christopher Hitchens – not someone I always agreed with, but someone who brought passion and depth to discussions about injustice with an adroit turn of phrase.

2.  There’s a bit of a disconnect to my mind between the ideas that DV suffered by males is such an infrequent problem compared to DV suffered by females, and yet we must prioritise allocating our resources to solving the latter.  Surely violence suffered by men, if it is a less frequent problem would be much easier to resolve as it would require less resources? Why, if it is a problem of smaller magnitude is there such heel-dragging towards solving it?  If DV against men is such a small problem, the resources required to fix it would be a drop in the ocean compared to the resources taken up with tackling DV against women.  Why begrudge the male victims even that?

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Teach Men Not To Rape? We’re top of the class.

“Teach Men Not To Rape” is a slogan one commonly hears when discussing rape and rape-related topics online, often accompanied with accusations that someone has been engaging in victim-blaming of rape victims.  A notable recent example of this was when Slate’s Emily Yoffe criticised the culture of heavy drinking on college campuses in relation to their reported incidences of rape and sexual assaults.

So, is telling women to stop being so drunk really the best advice you can give people to prevent rape? It’s like telling people not to drive late at night because they might die at the hands of a drunk driver — these people aren’t breaking the law, yet they’re the ones being targeted and asked to compromise their lives. What about teaching men not to rape?

I’m attempting to keep this one short, and yet there’s so much I could say about what’s wrong with this slogan – aside from its reinforcement of the notion that rape is only notable when done by men (see also “Teach Black People Not To Steal”, “Teach Jewish People Not To Defraud”, and “Teach Muslims Not To Blow Up Buildings”).

But I recently realised that for all the rapes that are committed by men, they (and society at large) are at least cognisant of the fact that it is possible for men to rape.  One of the reasons I believe in actively agitating for men and men’s issues and not simply assuming they will be resolved by simply addressing women’s issues is due to the number of times I’ve had to explain to people – women included – how it is even physically possible for women to rape men.  Indeed, society in general tends to downplay this possibility – one only has to look at the gendered definition of rape in the UK, where it can only be committed by penetration with a penis.

As much as any of these issues imply any sort of collective responsibility, men do have a long way to go when it comes to reducing the number of male rapists.  But we need to be “taught not to rape”?

We at least know we *can* rape – which is more than I can say for a lot of the women I’ve encountered, who are ignorant of the fact that women can rape.  I’m not sure who is in more urgent need of instruction here. We might not be A-students, but in that particular classroom, we’re outperforming the women.

Teach Men Not To Rape?  Teach Women They CAN Rape.

#HeforShe campaign reply – I still refuse to sign

Apologies to the tumbleweeds for not posting anything for six months O_o

anyhoo

Rather remiss of me not to mention in my HeForShe pieces that I had emailed the campaign to convey my concerns about their pledge wording in the light of Watson’s speech.

I’m not the quickest even with mspaint, so I’m going to just copypaste the contents of the emails into the article here, then comment on them.  Screengrabs of the emails are available (with identifying info blanked out) upon request. 🙂

My initial email to HeForShe, sent 23rd Sept 2014:

Hello,

I appreciate you may have received many inquiries of this sort already, but your campaign was brought to my attention following Emma Watson’s publicised speech to the UN on its behalf.

I didn’t feel I could sign the pledge she was promoting, for the simple reason that while she correctly identified both men and women as being in need of gender equality and having gendered issues affecting them both, your pledge is currently gendered – where it calls on men to help women.

This is quite a common approach among those seeking gender equality today – but it is not egalitarian.  Such a pledge should be gender neutral – or, if it is acceptable to request that men help women resolve issues that affect them, it should surely be acceptable to request that women help men resolves issues that affect them.

Is an alteration of the wording of the pledge possible?  Please find a suggestion linked below:
https://medium.com/@garethrhughes/a-better-commitment-990fe7f9e316

Alternatively, would an accompanying She for He campaign be a future possibility?

Regards,

Martin

HeForShe team’s response, delivered 20th Feb 2015:

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your message of support, and I understand your concerns. Since we are UN Women, this campaign aims to eradicate discrimination and violence against women and girls. However, as the campaign and movement progresses, it will naturally address the many significant aspects of gender inequality. This points to the significance of every single individuals involvement in the campaign as we recognise that gender inequality is unequivocally about both genders, and equally about those who do not identify as male or female too.

I hope that you will consider joining this campaign to help end gender inequalities for ALL people.

For your interest, I am listing some ways in which you can further great support:

– You can inspire others by using the action toolkit http://www.heforshe.org/action-kit/, and use this link: http://bit.ly/1vPyeEH for posters and logos of the campaign.

 

– Your stories are very important to us and we would love to hear about all of the inspiring men and boys out there who are embracing #HeForShe so please, write to us!

– Through social media you can really boost the message of the campaign! Take lots of pictures and videos of the boys and men who sign up and send them to us so we can blast our social media pages with your motivating images.

– You can do this too by using the # whenever you post something HeForShe related and by filling out the HeForShe reporting tool so we can credit your great efforts towards our global goal.

You can help spread the message by purchasing our HeForShe T-Shirts and Pins from Amazon.

Thank you again for your support; your part in this movement is instrumental to our success! Please make sure to keep in touch and tell us of your actions.

Warmest wishes,

Ella


So six months on, where do I stand with this campaign?

I’ll try and keep my thoughts even-handed.  In retrospect, I feel my email was far too preachy and I should have made more of a focus on the apparent discontinuity between what Watson was saying the campaign would do and what the campaign was actually seeking to achieve.

The response from the HeForShe people, while somewhat underwhelming, has admirable candour in response to a rather terse email I sent them, and it’s good that they took the time to reply to one email out of the many thousands an organisation of that scope must doubtless receive.

However, while written in a positive spirit and apparently with good intentions, I can’t say I’m particularly reassured by this response.

However, as the campaign and movement progresses, it will naturally address the many significant aspects of gender inequality.

I appreciate I’m going by my personal experience here, but I nonetheless feel it’s common in this debate for many feminists to assume that greater equality for women necessarily (or “naturally”, in this case) entails greater equality for men.  In theory, perhaps – but in practice, I’ve had to actively point out to many a feminist precisely why and how men suffer as a result of their gender roles.  If we are going by the logic that the members of a particular social group know best how to solve the problems that beset them, how is a group predominantly populated by women going to have much impact on men’s issues?

This is before we get into the frequent hostility people who speak up for men and men’s issues face, often from feminists.  In a couple of spats I had with friends and online commenters about this campaign, I had to repeatedly point out that Watson said that this campaign would help men and their issues too.  Actually pressing for specifics on how this campaign would do so – not least when their own campaign pledge and strategy material make little suggestion of how men would be helped by this campaign and are focused almost entirely on how women can be uplifted – is often met with an accusation of trying to make it all about men instead.

As Ally Fogg pointed out in his (much more timely) followup piece, When is it acceptable to ask “But what about teh menz”? it isn’t derailing/whataboutthemenz/making it all about men to point out that it was Watson who made the suggestion that HeForShe could help men in the first place.  Pointing out the inconsistency between what Watson said and what the campaign actually involves is none of those things.

When I heard Emma Watson’s speech last weekend, I was given the impression that what we were being offered, finally, was that space. What she was describing, as I heard it, was the inseparability of men’s and women’s gender issues. My objection to the HeForShe campaign pledge was that after that the small print derogated wildly from the sales pitch.

 

 

My critics were correct. I was quite consciously saying ‘But what about the men?’

 

 

I maintain that under these specific circumstances, that was justified. I think if someone launches a campaign which proudly proclaims that it is (in large part) about the men, in which most of the examples offered of gendered injustice and harmful consequences relate to men, which generated global headlines that focused on the benefits to men, then it transpires that the campaign explicitly excludes a pledge to take action to address those issues, “But what about the men?” is a perfectly legitimate response.


Returning to the email:

I hope that you will consider joining this campaign to help end gender inequalities for ALL people.

That’s…not actually what this campaign is about though.  From your own Action Kit, the overall goal it is to be used to implement is stated as follows:

The overall goal of the campaign is to spread awareness and spark action on the responsibility that men and boys have in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and violence against women and girls.
Indeed the email itself claims this as well.  Now, I agree that solving issues facing women as a result of their gender roles and expectations is part of moving towards gender equality, but this campaign is the only sort of its kind you seem to see – where men are demanded to “step up” to help solve women’s issues.  Watson’s speech hinted at a more mutual dynamic of people of all genders helping all genders, but the campaign she was talking about provided but more of the same.

The rest of the email is little more than a pitch to encourage me to sign up to their campaign and to post stories – only if they’re about embracing #HeForShe, of course.

Six months on, my answer to this campaign is still a resolute no.