A wonderful and sobering post on DailyKos by “Vetwife” has spurred me to write a followup to my last post. The dozens of comments that followed the Vetwife post makes it clear that we still live in a rape culture. Donald Trump is trying to claim that his disgusting behavior on the recently released video tape is only “locker room talk.” He claims it does not represent his attitude and actions toward women (almost certainly a lie) and that such talk is insignificant. Such talk is very significant because it leads to vile actions and a culture of violence. It should not be up to women alone to stop violence against themselves, so I’m aiming these comments at men.
Jackson Katz in his book The Macho Paradox describes our culture as one that condones rape, abuse and other violence. We condition heterosexual men to objectify and dominate women, especially in the sexual sphere and in intimate relationships. Although most men are not abusive or violent, far too many remain silent or passive when other men are derogatory, abusive or violent. If more men spoke up and made it clear that abuse and violence were not acceptable, it would be far less frequent. Abuse and violence are prevalent not because we have so many males who are psychopaths, but because so many normal men and boys consider abuse and violence normal and acceptable. Supporting a presidential candidate who directly condones and encourages violence, denigrates whole groups of people (especially women) and anyone who criticizes him, and reacts with aggression to even the mildest slight or criticism fosters a malevolent society.
Abusive talk is a precursor to aggression. Men must create a climate in which putdowns and degrading remarks and jokes about women and gays are unacceptable. We need a culture in which men who oppose sexism, abuse and violence are emulated for their humanness.
Insults men use on each other – wimp, wuss, pussy-whipped, mama’s boy, sissy, girl, girly-man, soft, liberal, queer, fag – imply that weakness, femininity and being like a woman is unacceptable for a man. If siding with or caring about women means being gay, then being heterosexual means not caring about women, at least not publicly. There is also an “us-against-them” mentality. If there is a battle between the sexes and we each have an “opposite” sex, then siding with the enemy is unacceptable – it’s treason and must be punished. It takes courage to go against the crowd and not conform to sexist attitudes.
Men who abuse women are not usually sick or deviant, they are products of our culture that glorifies and sexualizes male power and dominance and female subservience and submission. Rape is not so much an aberration as the extreme end of a continuum. We socialize boys to be sexually dominant and girls to be sexually submissive. And that socialization requires the cooperation of the majority of men, including those who would never be violent themselves. The mythic image of the rapist as a masked man who attacks strangers from the bushes not only strikes fear in the hearts of millions of women and girls, it is also oddly reassuring to both women and men. For women, it means they can feel safer by taking certain precautions. For men, it allows good guys to distance themselves from the problem and take no responsibility for changing anything. While stranger rapes can terrorize an entire community, they constitute only 20% of all rapes. On college campuses, 90% of rape victims know their assailants.
Sexual assault can seem remarkably similar to typical male sexual behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that 43 percent of college men admitted using coercion to have sex (ignoring women’s protests, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse). Men are taught to discount the word “no.” “No” is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. If you let someone talk you out of the word “no,” you are telling the person he is in charge.
Our culture equates masculinity with power and entitlement. The false message that men (especially successful, powerful men) can easily be wrongfully accused of sexual improprieties implies that success absolves bad-boy behavior.
Is “locker room talk” all in good fun, just male humor that critics don’t get? NO. Repugnant humor is not just harmless fun – it s not funny nor harmless to make jokes at the expense of real people.
Research shows that men’s violence against women is not biological but is some combination of personal experience and social conditioning. It’s not “just how men are,” it’s how men learn to be. A major factor is the power imbalance between males and females. The closer we get to economic, social and political equality, the less need there will be for one gender to learn to dominate the other.
We need all men, including business leaders, celebrities, and presidential candidates to understand the influence they have and to use it in a good way. And we need to stop idolizing and supporting those who don’t.