I wouldn’t bother calling attention to the article at issue except that its author, Jody Allard, is a fairly widely published journalist, having written for The Washington Post, Time magazine, Vice, the Guardian and, yes, HuffPo and Everyday Feminism.
Her new piece, “I’m done pretending that men are safe (even my sons)“, appearing on the website Role Reboot, is also worth looking at because it shows how someone who is apparently sane can nevertheless demonize all men as instruments of misogyny who foster what Allard says is a “rape culture.”
Now, I don’t know exactly what people mean by a “rape culture”. Rape is a serious crime in the U.S., nobody I know takes it lightly, its incidence has been falling (85% since 1980, according to government statistics [and a drop of more than 50% for college-aged women since 1996]), and, at least from my own experience, I’ve never heard a man say anything about rape other than it’s horrible and offenders should be punished severely.
Of course I don’t inhabit all American cultures, but Allard’s sons, as white, educated middle-class males, can’t live in a milieu much different from the one live in. But I hasten to add that rape is still far too common, with roughly 15% of women experiencing it at least once in their lives. That horrifyingly common! But if we do live in a “rape culture,” then we live even more in a “robbery” and “aggravated assault” culture, with the rate of the former four times higher and the latter nine times higher than the rate of rape.
The need to reduce the rate of sexual assault, catch more offenders, and punish them severely should not, however, mean that all men should be demonized as potential rapists and/or misogynists. Yet that’s exactly what Allard has done in her article. She says there is no such thing as a “safe” man—even her own sons. I think that’s an exaggeration, but let’s hear what she means by “safe”:
I have two sons. They are strong and compassionate—the kind of boys other parents are glad to meet when their daughters bring them home for dinner. They are good boys, in the ways good boys are, but they are not safe boys. I’m starting to believe there’s no such thing.
Apparently Allard’s sons were quite upset when she wrote a Washington Post essay saying that her sons were enabling rape culture and were blind to their own sexism and misogyny. Since then Allard has been “educating” her kids, but I’m not sure whether the kind of “education” they got from that essay was good for them (they were in fact appalled). It’s one thing to be told why rape is a horrible crime, and another to be told as a young kid that your own behavior allows those crimes to happen. Surely “not all men” are rape enablers, right?
But Allard disagrees (my emphasis):
As a single mother, I sometimes wonder whether the real problem is that my sons have no role models for the type of men I hope they become. But when I look around at the men I know, I’m not sure a male partner would fill that hole. Where are these men who are enlightened but not arrogant? Who are feminists without self-congratulation? If my sons need role models, they may have to become their own.
I joined Bumble recently, after a six-plus year break from dating. I’m not overly interested in dating in the first place, but I’m starved for adult conversation so dating feels like a necessary evil. Bumble, as I explained to my married friends, is like the feminist Tinder. Women have to initiate contact with men, so at least there’s no inbox full of dick picks every day. But, feminist or not, the men are no different from the men anywhere else and I quickly felt deflated. If the feminist men — the men who proudly declare their progressive politics and their fight for quality — aren’t safe, then what man is? No man, I fear.
I know I’m not supposed to cast an entire sex with a single paint brush — not all men, I’m sure some readers are thinking and preparing to type or tweet. But if it’s impossible for a white person to grow up without adopting racist ideas, simply because of the environment in which they live, how can I expect men not to subconsciously absorb at least some degree of sexism? White people aren’t safe, and men aren’t safe, no matter how much I’d like to assure myself that these things aren’t true.
It may be true that all men absorb sexist ideas, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t try to root those ideas out, or, more important, act on those ideas and treat women as inferiors or sexual objects. Allard doesn’t think her sons will be rapists, but for some reason she doesn’t feel “safe” around them. Why? Because, like all men, they don’t believe everything women (and rape victims). That kind of doubt is in fact embedded in our legal system when it adjudicates rape, as it does all crimes, by looking at all the facts and convicting only when the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt.
Allard continues (my emphasis):
My sons won’t rape unconscious women behind a dumpster, and neither will most of the progressive men I know. But what all of these men share in common, even my sons, is a relentless questioning and disbelief of the female experience. I do not want to prove my pain, or provide enough evidence to convince anyone that my trauma is merited. I’m through wasting my time on people who are more interested in ideas than feelings, and I’m through pretending these people, these men, are safe.
I love my sons, and I love some individual men. It pains me to say that I don’t feel emotionally safe with them, and perhaps never have with a man, but it needs to be said because far too often we are afraid to say it. This is not a reflection of something broken or damaged in me; it is a reflection of the systems we build and our boys absorb. Those little boys grow into men who know the value of women, the value that’s been ascribed to us by a broken system, and it seeps out from them in a million tiny, toxic ways.
What bothers me here are the notions that feelings always trump ideas, that someone’s feelings are not just to be taken seriously, but believed absolutely, that those who don’t accept every word are rape-enablers, and that all men are not just tinged with sexism, but dyed with it to a degree that their actions enable “rape culture.” (I have to add that, in her Post piece, Allard says she was once raped.) I wonder how many women I encounter share her feelings, and see me in this way? And I wonder whether teaching all boys that they’re perpetrators of “toxic masculinity” doesn’t demonize them without justification, and represents the wrong way to educate people how to treat each other as moral equals.