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.