A ‘story’ by Matthew Mitchell.
Mary was with a group of friends. They went to the shops together. Mary’s friends all took some items of clothing and put them on in the change room before walking out of the store. Mary refused to do this, as she felt it was wrong. After leaving the store they did not get far before they were stopped by a security guard. The whole group was then taken before a judge, and all of them found guilty of shoplifting – even Mary. How would you feel if you were Mary? To make matters worse, the whole community now knew them as shoplifters (Mary included) and talked of them as such. One of Mary’s friends, Sally, also really felt bad about the shoplifting, and she never did it again. However, the community was not very forgiving and in the eyes of the community, Sally, – as part of that group – was a shoplifter and was always looked on as such.
This is a case of judging everyone in a group by the actions of a few. Certainly there is an element of truth in saying that the group shoplifts, but that is a generalisation, and it is judgement of Mary (and Sally) that is not true nor fair. It is even worse when Mary and Sally cannot possibly leave the group they are part of. Now you might ask how can they not possibly leave the group? Well of course in reality they could leave the group, but let me give another example of group judgement whereby the members cannot leave the group, and thus any judgments made of the group always also apply to them as individuals.
The other example group I am talking about is men. And the accusation leveled against this group is that its members have a problem with their attitude to women. The way this, and many other issues, are talked about is exactly like this – very often in the general case. Eg: we need to address male violence towards women. Such statements are a judgement against many innocent men, the same way Mary was judged guilty by association within her group. It connects violence with maleness, as though the two are inseparable. As a society we are just starting to understand the significance of words. Words are powerful. The way some men talk about women is hurtful and demeaning (and the way some people act is even worse). And it is equally hurtful to talk about men in general when what is meant is ‘some’ men – it is manifestly unfair. What is someone who is judged as such to do? They cannot possibly escape the judgement – maybe they are not like this, or maybe they once were but would like to change – no matter, such language still still judges them as though they are amongst the worst offenders. How do you think boys and men are to cope with this? Should they hate themselves? Or since they are to be judged with the group, perhaps they should just adopt those behaviours anyway? The One in Three foundation claims:
Regrettably, while well-intentioned, many past efforts to reduce family violence against women have inadvertently used incorrect or misleading statistics‚ which unfairly stigmatise men and boys as violent and abusive, while simultaneously denying or downplaying the existence of male victims of violence.
If boys cannot escape this stigma/judgement should they then try and turn it into a point of pride? In which case, the behaviours are only likely to become worse as each boy or man then tries to outdo the other in how ‘rebellious’ he can be? How worthy of the title ‘bad boy’? – since in the eyes of society they can never be good? I wonder how such judgements affect the behaviour of men? Perhaps it is evident in the ‘bad boy’ culture of black rappers? I say this because in America for black men the problem is even worse – many black men there are looked at as criminals – and harassed by authorities as such. Virtually all black men (other than presidents and such like) are viewed with suspicion and often treated as such, regardless of their innocence. Perhaps that fact lies behind the bad behaviour and language of some black American men (specifically evident in the music culture)? If you are to be unfailingly judged as a ‘bad ass’ then why not just be one? Why not make it a point of pride? The alternative is to forever hold your head in shame for something you cannot change, and even if you do personally, you will be judged with the group. The accusation perhaps makes the problem far worse?
In relation to judging behaviour there seems to be a long history of generalised judgements of men in feminism. Germaine Greer in her spiteful missive “The Female Eunuch” stated: “Some men hate women all of the time, but all men hate women some of the time”. This unscientific, unsupported, statement is presented as having some worth perhaps due to it being part of a PhD accepted by a major university. However, if made on a blog today, would no doubt be seen as a spiteful rant driven by someone’s own unresolved personal issues. There is one other problem I would like to raise in relation to claims of men’s attitudes towards women (I says men’s but of course, it is not all men, but only some). One of the most vocal advocates today for women not to be looked at as sexual beings comes from Jane Fonda. Now in her feminist views Jane Fonda says some very sensible things, and I would not want to hold her past against her – she also should not to be judged forever for what she did or thought in the past. But Jane Fonda is a woman who made her fame and fortune from doing exactly that – sexualising women. The roles she played in films were perhaps some of the most sexualised roles in the history of humanity – in one case involving an ‘orgasmatron’ in which a male operator uses a machine to pleasure young Jane Fonda (in her role in that film). Thus we have here an giant example of hypocrisy. How are men to react to that? How often are men confronted with this contradiction? Women insisting on being treated non-sexually yet being constantly confronted by images of women presenting themselves sexually?
I think this whole issue needs serious revision, and like many of the problems of today – which are wicked in their complexity – we need to move away from simplistic statements like ‘the need to address men’s attitudes’ (or behaviour) and start looking at this problem holistically and with a view to seriously fixing these problems (and violence in general; against children, the Indigenous and whole cultures), not just judging and blaming one half of humanity indiscriminately and responding with moronic slogans (like “real men don’t hit women“, as if the solution is simply to try and redefine stereotypes of men, and that the problem exists with men alone) and superficial approaches which are becoming too much a part of our modern political landscape.
This article was originally published on Matthew’s blog, The Invisible World.