The infamous “they,” who are the anonymous creators of all conventional wisdom, say that when men go out on first dates, their biggest fear is being rejected, but when women go on first dates, their biggest fear is being murdered. I’m fairly certain this originated around the same time that online dating became a thing, and scary internet strangers followed the already-established internet trends of generally being terrible people. This saying that “they” so ruefully divulge is meant to illustrate the severity of a woman’s plight in a man’s world. Death is much more deserving of fear than rejection, after all.

This fear is endemic beyond the realm of Tinder creeps, however, and men in parks, parking garages, and on transit are all potential attackers. The term “Schrodinger’s Rapist” was coined to illustrate that a strange man is both a rapist and not-a-rapist simultaneously until he has proven himself to be one or the other. By linking this fear to the intellectual heights of quantum physics, it becomes that much more convincing because people will always just nod along rather than pretend to know anything about the nature of the subatomic universe. The burden of proof to overcome this categorization lies with the man, of course, as men are the ones seen to be responsible for this fear.

When I first heard what “they” said, my first thought was, why? If there is even an inkling that a man on a first date is going to be a murderer, then avoid going on that date! Problem solved! This was the result of my ignorance of the endemic nature of women’s fear of men, but the question still holds against that generalized fear. Why? Fear is not self-justifiable. Someone can be afraid of spiders, just because, and no one cares because that doesn’t impact the world at all, but being afraid of a subset of human beings requires more critical analysis. A person that says, “It doesn’t matter why I’m scared of black people, just that I am and that fear needs to be respected” is clearly a racist and represents a systemic problem of anti-black sentiment that would need to be addressed. One could even argue in an American context, “The biggest fear of a black person going into an all-white establishment is rejection, but the biggest fear of a white person going into an all-black establishment is being murdered.” Remember that scene from Animal House? It’s not even that much of a stretch: an all-white establishment is more likely to be in a wealthier neighbourhood in contrast with the all-black establishment which will more likely be in a poorer neighbourhood with a higher crime rate, and blacks disproportionately commit more murders than whites.

This isn’t totally fair. Women who suffer violence are only very rarely attacked by other women, and men are so predominantly the perpetrators in this violence that the fear becomes justifiable as simple prudence. If a woman is walking down the street at night, it is far less of a gamble to come across another woman than a man. Yet an acceptance of prejudicial caution based on statistical probability can set a disturbing precedent. Aboriginals in Canada suffer alcohol-related deaths four and a half times more than their non-Aboriginal counterparts; does this mean a bartender or liquor store clerk should scrutinize their Native patrons beyond the normal purview? In the United States, of all the under 18 robbery arrests, blacks represent 68.6% of offenders (despite black people only representing ~12% of the general population); does that justify a store owner sending an employee to follow a black youth until they leave the premises? Increased racial scrutiny is quite rightly decried as racist among progressives, despite the statistical prudence, because it forces the conversation away from the structural causes of these statistics and onto individual behaviours which cannot be universalized. Placing the burden of proof on the “antagonist” in any of these situations and acting “prudently” until a verdict is reached will only ever serve to protect a harmful prejudicial worldview based on an unjustifiable fear that only ends up distorting the much needed conversation of the reformation of those structures.

Hold on, though. Violence against women is targeted. A store is usually robbed because of the economic incentives of the robber. This is not the case when it comes to violence against women. Similarly to how racial and sexual minorities are singled out, so too are women attacked for no other reason outside of the fact that they are women. Rape culture is emblematic of a society where rape victims are often blamed for their own rape, where the justice system fails to convict the majority of rapists, and these tragedies are met with apathy or bafflement by most public officials. There is a permissiveness in regards to violence against women that permeates the dominant culture that women have to swim in every day of their lives. Enduring that burden surely merits a fearful reaction.

And yet, the violence faced by men and women are at about parity. Yes, women suffer a greater number of sexual assaults, but men are more likely to be the victims of aggravated assault, homicide, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, etc. If we acknowledge the gendered implications of the prevalence of female victimization in specific crimes (as we should), then we must too acknowledge that men are singled out when they represent three quarters of all homicides, three quarters of all aggravated assaults, and two thirds of all assaults with deadly weapons. No one talks about these crimes as being gendered, despite the male propensity to being their victims, and the common criticism of “violence against women” that it doesn’t include men as the perpetrators is highly ironic when gendered male crime is just called “violence” and does not even acknowledge the victims.

Since gendered-violence as it relates to male victims hasn’t really been discussed very much, I’ll offer a theory of my own as a potential answer to why there is a social acceptance of committing violence against men: throughout history, men have typically been the warrior class. Historical acts are considered particularly savage when women and children are killed, because they are considered “helpless” compared to the men who are simply expected to be victims of warfare. The noble assassin in contemporary media is the one who refuses to kill women and children. The expectation is of men to participate in the Game (to steal a phrase from The Wire), and to be willing to kill and die to protect those women and children, as seen in the rules of boat-sinking: they are the ones to get into the lifeboats first. Based on the social attitudes that all men intrinsically belong in the Game, dramatic violence against them is therefore considered normal.

Despite the comparable permissiveness of violence against men, men are less likely to be afraid of violent crime than women. One study showed that 3% of men aged 25 to 54 stayed in at night to avoid being the victim of a crime, compared to 17% of women. Considering that men are more likely to be attacked by strangers in a public place than women, it becomes clear that the blanket fear of the male stranger is not based on the permissiveness of violence, but is as socially constructed as all the other discriminatory phobias.

Let’s look at another socially constructed fear: Islamophobia. The Middle East is a hotbed of normalized violence and cultural warfare with routine calls for the destruction of the West from groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. All these groups are steeped in Islam, yet the cause of the anti-Western sentiment is more than likely due to the forcible implementation of secularization on an unwilling populace and the colonial exploitation of the area for its resources. Islam became the vehicle for the inevitable aggressive reaction because it was already the established religion and does contain scriptural elements that denigrate non-believers.

Despite these external influences being the catalyst of the violent instability of the region, Islam is still rife with controversy. The Quran condemns homosexuality in a similar fashion to all the Abrahamic religions, allows moral exceptions to cheating and plundering non-believers, and advocates for a global caliphate as an appropriate method of world governance. The Quran also forbids murder, coercive conversion, and demands that prisoners of war be treated as cherished guests, meaning that most terrorist propaganda videos are distinctly non-Islamic. There are genuine problems with Islamic ideology, as with all religious doctrines, as well as many positive aspects. The root cause of violent Islam today is the reflection of the hostile and oppressive social environment in which it exists. Similarly, the horrific nature of medieval history under Christianity was a mark of the times, as was the Islamic cultural enlightenment as its stark contrast during the same period. Even Judaism is finally getting a chance at oppressing others based on the relatively new ideology of Zionism mixed with anti-Arab sentiment created by the unending hostilities with Israel’s surrounding nations. Context is key for understanding ideological violence, yet it does not forgive it and technology today allows the hatred of people thousands of miles away to kill innocent civilians in its name.

There is no dispute that there are more deaths caused by local violence than of terrorism, but that is a privilege of the West as cities like Fallujah succumb to terror on a near daily basis. Attacks on the West, such as Paris, Brussels, Boston and of course New York show that the possibility of a Western attack is non-negligible. It is also indicative of the targeted nature of violence against Western civilization which we’ve already discussed as grounds for justifiable paranoia.

Western media tends to hype terrorism with fear-mongering scare tactics, but how is that much different from the #YesAllWomen campaign that literally suggests all women are victims, or the uproar over Brock Turner and the permissiveness of rape in American justice? In both cases, people are pointing at their antagonist and shouting, “See? See? There is a culture of violence that establishes a permissiveness regarding targeted violence!” Not to dismiss the abomination that the Brock Turner case ended up being, but I feel that a comparison to the attacks in Paris is not unfair. The progressive response to the construction of Islamophobia is, completely ignorant of the irony, essentially #NotAllMuslims, and then detractors argue that acknowledging that not all Muslims are terrorists is irrelevant and distracts from the very real and critical conversation that needs to be had about the violent nature of the Islamic religion. What is Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims if not a prudent reaction against Schrodinger’s terrorist, placing the burden of proof upon them to quell his prejudicial fears? Is the Islamophobic response to terrorism truly based on a reaction to the horrific deeds of a Muslim minority, or the proliferation of media-hyped imagery creating a fearsome stranger? What about with men?

Obviously there are problems with the culture of masculinity, just as there are problems with Islam and all other dogmatic ideologies. One could even argue that the toxic aspects of masculinity pervade the toxic aspects of Islam. Hell, even I would argue that, but fear is not the solution to either of these cultures, and a blanket fear of one cannot be condemned while tacitly accepting the blanket fear of the other.

This was my belief for the longest time: that androphobia was going unaddressed in progressive circles because of blind hypocrisy or intellectual incompetence. Sadly, the greatest threat to my convictions came in the form… of a meme.

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Memes! The Scourge of the Internet!

 

I was a cyclist for four years, riding my bicycle to and from work every day. I am well aware of the open hostility cars display toward cyclists, as well as the fear that grips your heart each time you feel the wind of a car passing by just a little too closely. Was this the answer to my confusion over the progressive acceptance of what I found to be a crippling hypocrisy? Differing races and religions would just be different makes or models of cars, equal in every basic respects, so a fear among cars is unjustifiable, whereas the fear of a cyclist on a road full of cars undoubtedly is. Luckily I eventually remembered that memes are stupid, and came to my senses.

Cars and bicycles are not equal. An argument could be made for an equal share of the road, yes, but cars are monstrous machines of death, and cyclists are fragile. Which means that if this metaphor is adopted as the reason a woman’s fear is justifiable, then it must also be accepted that women are inherently fragile creatures. Not physically weak, as weakness is only a single aspect of being, and a weapon of an attacker would make physical strength irrelevant (remember men are attacked twice as often with weapons as women, making their natural physical strength superfluous in defending themselves). Strength is also relative, and a fear in weakness would mean a scrawny man is justified in a fear of a strong man who is justified in a fear in a stronger one. This scale of fear in men does not exist. Steve Rogers started out weak before his magical super serum, but was still courageous enough to fight back, undaunted. Weakness is not an excuse for fear, but fragility is. Fragility is holistic. It would encompass her whole being. The lightest touch of a passing car would destroy a cyclist. That is not an inability to defend oneself, that is glass.

If we accept that men and women are not equal, then feminine dependency loses its status as a social construction and becomes biological. For a just society to function, the fragile would need to be protected. We do it with developing children in their inherently fragile state, and if this extends to women then a potential solution the Middle East has already established is the insistence that women cannot go outside unaccompanied. In America, where a mandatory male escort may seem too patriarchal, maybe there could be a new law decreeing that all women must carry a gun since guns seem to solve everything. Women would need to be excluded from physically demanding careers, such as the police, fire fighters, or military, as their fragility would prevent adequate performances in those roles. The infuriating “equal but different” theory would need to be reexamined, as the nurturing role of women and the provider role of men would have new evidence supporting it.

If men and women are equal, then a prejudicial fear is exactly that. If they are not, the fear is justified, and feminism is irreparably broken. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which option I prefer.

If a woman is victimized, is she justified in her fear of men? Of course! Trauma-induced phobia is common, associated with many prejudicial fears, and is never condemned by a competent counselor. The counselor would never reinforce those beliefs, however, and would eventually help the person overcome them in order for that person to reintegrate into functioning society. And really, most women are satisfied with their personal safety. The fear of men is not crippling the women of our country, and most live quite harmoniously despite the statistics and culture. It’s just that when that fear does arise, it needs to be acknowledged for what it is, lest we fall victim to a Trump-esque response.

Post-script: The FBI database of crimes-by-race I linked to earlier here, needs to be understood in regard to the racial makeup of America. Whites account for 63.7% of the total population, so if a percentage of white crime is hovering around that area, it is proportional to the population size: ~60% of the population is committing ~60% of crime X. If that number is including Hispanics, which it might because they’re not represented elsewhere and for some reason the Wikipedia page I linked to for racial populations has a “whites” count that includes Hispanics that would make white people 72.4% of the total population, then that second number would represent the proportional value. I’m not sure I get the distinctions, but “black” is pretty clear cut at ~12% and that’s the example I used in my post. I’m just adding this if somebody wanted to explore the link, which they might since it’s an interesting read. For instance, white people are worse at the variety of liquor violations than black people, despite the racial ghettoization that black people were forced into. Makes you think!

 

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