Thursday, 8 September 2016

Is there a patriarchy? If only there was!

"Michelle Marks is dead, Brock Turner is a rapist, and men are still blaming literally every single thing but themselves for their crimes against humanity." So claims feminist blogger Laura Louise, in along and frustrating expose of male violence against women.

I make no secret of my opinion that feminism and social justice activism in general have become absurdly reductionistic, labeling whole categories of people as either privileged or marginalized, and treating individual members of these categories as though they were the powerful or powerless abstractions that the theory made them out to be. The obvious rebuttals to Ms. Louise's presumptions, never stated outright but subtextually implied throughout in boilerplate feminist fashion, of collective male responsibility and her equally boilerplate dismissal of counter arguments as "mansplaining" present obvious temptations to keyboard warriors like myself. Another stupid SJW needs some cluing in about the way things really do, or don't work.

But these are temptations I'll have to resist for now. Because theory and ideology aren't the most important things here. What matters is that Michelle Marks, and many other women besides, are dead prematurely, for no good reason, and rapists like Brock Turner get insulting slap on the wrist sentences for gratuitously horrible crimes, and don't even serve these paltry sentences in their entirety. More children have lost their mothers, more husbands have lost their wives and more fathers have lost their daughters. This outrages me, as it should outrage any conscientious and sensible human being. We want answers. We want justice. We want the pain and the killing to stop.

And that is where our thinking so easily goes wrong.

The natural human response in the face of the problem of evil is to assume that a pattern entails conscious agency. Evil is caused by the devil, or by a conspiracy or by the patriarchy. If only it were that easy. If it was a simple matter of all us guys deciding together that there would be no more rape or murder of women, that would be great. I'd love it. I love my mother and wife and there's lots of cool women in my life that I don't want shitty things happening to. A devil we can exorcise. A conspiracy or the patriarchy we can expose and neutralize.

But what answer is there to ungrounded uncertainty that defies our best attempts to impose order on chaos?

Ultimately, we blame patriarchy and rape culture for the same reason we blame the female victims being scantily dressed, or having drank too much or being such fools for being out alone after dark. In the face of evil, we crave the illusion of control. Something could have been done differently by somebody to prevent this - men can be taught not to rape and ABRA-CADABRA, it just stops happening! Women can dress more modestly or not drink too much and HOCUS POCUS, they're guaranteed safety! These are comforting things to tell ourselves. They give us power and agency, or so we think, to at least protect ourselves and the ones we love, if not cut the problem off at the source.

But the truth of the world around me is actually far worse than the devil, the Illuminati, or the patriarchy.  It's far worse because there's no simple and easy pattern.  Women kill men too.  And men kill men.  And women kill women.  Perhaps not as often, but that doesn't make the dead any less dead.  And I don't say this to dismiss the plight of female victims or to imply that men have it worse or otherwise claim, "I didn't do it!"  But so that we do not get lost in the comforting illusion that a patriarchy or male privilege is somehow to blame for all of this.  So that we do not give ourselves license to hold accountable the entire male gender, or all non-feminists for the very real crimes committed against women.  Not because falsely accusing men (individually or collectively) is less serious a problem than rape itself - it isn't - but because good and evil don't work that way.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  Violence against women is terrible, but is not a license to blame innocent men for it, or to foment a culture of distrust between the sexes that will only make things worse.

Social constructs such as power, patriarchy and privilege are not magical, bullet proof armor that renders one immune to tragedy simply by virtue of being a white male.  I can be as easily killed, and the lives of my loved ones as easily shattered. Privilege will not bring me back to life nor make the grief of my loved ones less acute.  To ascribe to me a "power" or "privilege" based on my race or gender that makes it okay to be okay with this might be cathartic in the short term, but is no more than a hollow rationalization.  Accuse me of "mansplaining" all you want; it will not change the reality.  And the reasons differ from case to case to case.  

None of which is to say we should refrain from teaching men not to rape - my gender doth protest too much at this notion, though I also wonder how much of this isn't just feminists seeking further license to finger wave and scold men for the poor judgement of sharing the same genitals as most rapists.  How could they, after all.  So in the interests of equal time, let's teach women to be good citizens too.   Perhaps there is more that the legal system could do.  Maybe women can do more to protect themselves?  Why not?  But let's not fool ourselves here, complete security of person cannot be guaranteed to anyone.  Human beings have a tendency to defy all efforts to subject our behavior to rationalized control. 

I can't help but wish that these kinds of terrible incidents were as easy to prevent as feminists make it out to be.  Me in my cloak of male power and privilege could simply decide not to kill or rape women any more, and compel my fellow men not to do it either, and compel the courts and the police to crack down on those who did.  Because I love the women in my life, and wish I were as formidable as feminist theory made me out to be.  I'd do it in a heartbeat.

But I'm not.  And there's no devil, no conspiracy and no patriarchy making men do shit like this.  And insisting that there is only serves to foment feminist ego-driven militancy and male guilt, and erode what little love, respect and trust between the sexes that still remains perhaps our best bulwark against misogynistic violence.  There is no source of all evil that, if neutralized, could end pain and suffering. The world around me is not about white male privilege.  The world around me is about chaos.  And I'm sure the women I share it with would be aghast to learn just how powerless I really am.  To judge by how reactive they get when I suggest I don't have male privilege, something tells me they're much more afraid of male powerlessness than they are of male power.  Because they know that means that instead of male power and patriarchy, they are subject to the mindless whims of a chaotic universe.

And that's far, far worse.

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