This chart says it all. Women are not the enemy, with 1 in 4 facing a sexual assault. Of those, 1 in 6 will go to the police. Only 0.2% of female accused rape cases are false. Who is the enemy then? Not men, with 1 in 6 facing a sexual assault in their lifetime. Only 6% of men commit rape. The answer is obvious, isn’t it. The enemy is not a gender. The enemy is rapists. Why, then, are young girls growing up in fear of men who “only want one thing”?
When discussing issues surrounding feminism and gender equality, women often take center stage, but we should also acknowledge how patriarchy affects men. Before I go on, let me say that I know the sort of inequality and discrimination women face is far more frequent and often more violent than what happens to men. Still, patriarchy has negative effects on the male gender that are worth discussing.
The cultural definition of patriarchy is “a family or society in which authority is vested in males, through whom descent and inheritance are traced.” I, however, see patriarchy as something less related to one’s biological gender and more related to society’s definition of masculine and feminine. The man who displays culturally accepted attributes of masculinity is held high while the man who displays culturally accepted attributes of femininity is on the same level as the female gender. The man who enjoys theater, who is more compassionate or who is attracted to other men faces his own brand of persecution for being something other than masculine.
This is why I see patriarchy today as being more closely related to masculinity than to the male gender. In many countries, women may keep their last names, have careers and survive independently without getting married. We’ve come a long way from the days where woman couldn’t vote and marital rape was legal. While all this is good, the law will never truly be able to enforce equality. That will only come when people choose to treat all genders equally.
Last week, I read and article titled ‘I Don’t Care if “Not All Men Are Like That”, or, Why I Assume the Worst.” The author wrote about why she has gotten used to assuming the worst from men. The short of it is that she, and other women, have trust has trusted men and had that trust betrayed enough times that she now always suspects ulterior motives. This got me thinking about my own experiences with men and, more specifically, how I was raised to think about men.
My father told me many times that ‘men only want one thing.’ This was a lesson I learned from an early age along with ‘violence is not the answer’ and ‘eat your vegetables.’ I was very nervous around boys my age, an attitude which only increased when I experienced bullying in the form of sexual advances. Words like ‘no’ or ‘stop’ never deterred them, leaving me no other option than to leave the room or run to an area where an adult would be present. If this sounds like an elementary experience, that’s because it is. I was a child and my bullies were children. At that early age, I had already learned to fear men.
When girls grow up learning to fear men, every bad experience they have with the male gender fulfills their expectations. It’s like the self-fulfilling prophecy of a Debbie Downer. You know those people who always expect the worst? Daily events may go their way 90% of the time, but they only notice the 10% that fulfill their expectations. As such, they always expect the worst. I wonder if fear and mistrust of men is built the same way. It seems unlikely to me that most men are little more than monsters who can’t help but force themselves upon women at the sight of flesh. Yet, if we raise our young girls to think ‘men only want one thing,’ we turn them into that self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is why the push to teach *people not to rape instead of teaching *people how to avoid being raped is so important. Setting aside the fact that most victims of rape are victimized by someone well-known to them, while they are sober and within or near their home, teaching women how to avoid rape also teaches them to fear men. They learn that men can become monsters and attack them based on what they wear. ‘Boys will be boys,’ and women need to protect themselves. Call me an optimist, but I like to think most men are better than that.
Perhaps it is unfair to look at this as purely a gender issue. This concept of fear isn’t exclusive to rape or men in general.We have become a society which suspects the worst out of every stranger. When I moved from my small town to the suburbs, I was constantly warned to watch out for muggers and thievery. If I ever speak of living in the city, the first reaction I get is that I will get shot or raped in an alley if I move there. Is it any wonder that people seek the aid of technology to find friends?
I think we would have a far better society if we switched our thinking to assuming the best out of everyone regardless of their gender. After all, women are not the exclusive victims of rape, domestic violence and gender assumptions just as men are not the exclusive assailants.
*I used the term people because any person of any gender or sexuality can be a perpetrator or victim of rape.
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