Lately, I’ve heard many complaints from men on the blogosphere who attempt to downplay or to minimize the issue of violent men on the internet. Many are simply ignorant of the terrorism that women live with daily. Others are just power tripping and refuse to see what’s out there because their ideologies implicitly support such violence. They are threatened by feminists because they have their whole lives invested in the status quo. But the majority of men out there are normal men, educated in a patriarchal world, who’ve never read or heard of scholarship that openly challenges or offers viable alternatives to a world they’ve always known and taken for granted. They pay no attention to the horrors that women experience daily or if they do, they see it as none of their concern. In fact they challenge us at every turn, “Come on, they say, you can’t believe THAT!” Or say, “Oh thank goodness my wife (insert female “other” here) doesn’t have to live that way.” In a way it’s not these men’s fault. They are clueless. They are sheltered by their patriarchal churches and patriarchal colleges. They learn from those who learned before them, and they never question the way things are. That’s a problem for others to solve, not them. They refuse to see. They are blind to the real world of women. Their wives may be blind to it too and they both blissfully float along, assuming those nasty feminists have axes to grind or that they hate men and authority. Those in power and privilege can’t see it any other way. Even conservative women, who should be the first to understand their own plight, blame feminists for being stronger than even they themselves are allowed to be. Oh, they know. And they are envious because they are trapped in roles defined FOR them, not by them.
But there is another reality out there that patriarchal men and women do not see, nor do they care to see it. In “What’s New About Terror, Part III” Doire Musings chronicles why she thinks it is that men do not understand women or what we live with daily in this age of watching for terrorist activities, in this age where we think terrorism is somewhere else; anywhere but right here. She writes,
We are instructed at airports to report “any suspicious behavior” and to be on the alert for any suitcase that is left alone. That is terrifying, isn’t it? A suitcase, left in the middle of the airport terminal, or on a seat in a subway car? A woman is taught to be on the alert when she is alone. And for many of us, this is often. We are taught to be suspicious of a man alone, or men in groups. The anxiety is particularly heightened on a secluded street, a park, a bar, a parking garage, a freaking Laundromat. We are taught not to GO OUT in the dark alone. NO place is “safe,” because every place has men in it and every man who is a stranger is a potential threat. And in many ways, for many days and nights, these cultural lessons curtail our activities.
But our activities are not the only things that get “altered.” Two young men recently moved into my apartment development. They sit on their stoop to smoke. Before reading Margaret Miles’ essay and before reflecting on this female condition of terror I didn’t realize how much I alter my behavior when they are outside. It is only through analytical hindsight that I see what I do; how differently I behave when they are there from when they are not there. And the alteration in my behavior is based on two facts; they know where I live and I do not know what kind of men they are. I find that as soon as I turn my car into my parking space I look to see if they are there. When they are not, I am glad. When they are, I walk like a “schoolteacher,” or how I imagine one to walk. The joyous lilt in my stride is gone lest it be interpreted as flirtatious. My walk is purposeful, with determined direction. I do not toss my hair, even if it is in my eyes, lest it be interpreted as provocative invitation. I say a quick “Hello,” but my eyes do not linger upon theirs, lest it be interpreted as interest. I must walk a tightrope between not-too-friendly, and cordial, lest I piss them off and they think me stuck-up and haughty. After all, if they turn out to be harmful, it will be my fault. When my door is closed and locked behind me, I breathe. I understand the risk of the confessional nature of these words; that there are those of you who will yet think I am paranoid. I exaggerate. I am nuts. But I assure you, this anxiety and these behavioral modifications are enacted by women in countless apartment complexes, in countless neighborhoods throughout this country (throughout the world) every day. As I think back to my interactions with female students and former students I cannot list all the reports shared with me of sexual harassment by male employers, of physical violence by building maintenance workers, fathers of childhood friends and boyfriends; of rape, physical brutality and intimidation. Failure to report is based in the same terror; that there will be violent retaliation….
And yet, we deny. We delude ourselves into thinking that these crimes are committed by individual men with abnormal psychological pathologies. We never see the violence as rooted in a systemic, institutionalized, cultural evil grounded in an ideology of national and global misogyny. But we must awaken from our sleep, like Snow White from the poison apple. My future and my daughter’s and the futures of any granddaughters I might have, depend on it.
So the man seized his concubine and put her out to them; and they raped and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As the morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. “Get up.” he said to her, “We are going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her upon the ass and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Judges 19:25-29
And he sent her throughout Israel in outrage, that the men had been so disrespectful to him and to his property. He dismembered this body that had served him and sent the pieces throughout Israel because he had been insulted. Had he loved her, he would have bathed her body in oils and wrapped her in a shroud of linen. Had he loved her, he would have buried her in the tradition of his elders. Had he loved her, he would have wept. Of course, had he loved her, had he even considered her a human being, he would not have handed her over to be gang-raped and murdered.
I do not know how this woman felt as she was betrayed by her master. I do not know how the women of the enemies of Moses felt when they became the spoils of war. I do not know how it felt to be a virgin of Shiloh, abducted and raped as strangers in a strange land. I do not know the terror of the captive woman who mourned the death of mother and father wrought by the hands of her captor who became her rapist. But I do know what it is to be a woman living among a people who consider the treatment of these women to be a part of their glorious and holy inheritance.
So what’s new about terror? Ask any woman and she’ll tell you-absolutely nothing.
Patriarchally trained men keep asking with incredulity in their voices, “You can’t believe that??!!” or “I’m a man, and I would never do that!” or my favorite, “I’ve never seen that where I go to school (work)!!” i.e. if I don’t see it personally, it doesn’t exist mentality. Well, of course you haven’t dear, you’re a man. Men do not silence other men. Men don’t realize that the fact that they are ONE man who would never do that means zilch in the real world. The fact that you’ve never seen it proves my point. It’s not that man, or this man, or that man over there! It’s the culture of masculinity that teaches men and women implicitly or explicitly that women are objects to be used as men see fit. It’s the culture that says women have their proper role, and to stray outside that role invites censure, even violence. It’s the total relegation of women to the status of “Other.” The status of “them.” It is the culture that teaches men that it is their “holy inheritance” and their right and privilege to be above women, because women are forever “sinful” beings and must forever pay for that ignominy. Yet, it’s also the culture that sexualizes young girls and turns women into dress dummies for men’s gaze and amusements. Yes, women buy into it too, in more ways than one, but it’s hurting them and the rest of us, whether they realize it or not. They are products of a culture that promotes women’s denigration whether men will admit to it or not. “But, men suffer violence every day too!” they opine. Well, I say so what? I’m not concerned with man on man violence. That’s a politically level playing field. No, I’m concerned with violence against those who have no level playing field.
This privileged and objectifying mindset runs so deep in our culture because religion runs so deep. There is nothing more dangerous than a patriarchally trained man who believes in the hierarchies of humanity where women and children are at the bottom. Why? Because a male God, born and raised in the image of a fundamentalist man, inherently denies women the right to be, the right to exist on her own, in her own right. Because, as Mary Daly says, “If God is male, then the male is God.” Master of Divinity professor, Doire Musings writes in “Dismantling the Castle (Cathedral), Part II,”
For women, the spiritual consequences of exclusive male language and imagery for God should be obvious. Whereas men are able to identify with the divine being and enjoy the full experience of truly having been “created in the image and likeness of God,” women cannot. Women’s interior lives offer a spirituality that is always characterized in relation to, but not through identification with the divine being. No matter how hard one tries, the interior experience of God is always relational/separated/distant. For women, God is always the absolute “Other.” Now it may be argued (with a nod to Martin Buber) that God should always be experienced as “Other,” but men experience this “Otherness” only by degree. God is more powerful than men, but men still share in that power. God is more perfect than men, but men still reflect the divine image. There is no passage perhaps more disturbing to the Christian feminist theologian than St. Augustine’s thoughts on the ability or inability of man and woman, respectively, to reflect the divine:
How then did the apostle [Paul] tell us that the man is the image of God and therefore he is forbidden to cover his head; but that the woman is not so, and therefore is commanded to cover hers? Unless, forsooth, according to that which I have said already… that the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman is joined with him in one. — On the Trinity
Augustine hit the proverbial covering on the head. A male God is reflective of males, a mirror in which there is no room for the female.
One giant leap forward would be to at least acknowledge that feminists have a point and that we should, as a society, try to change this culture of misogyny. The chief purveyor of this woman objectification is the church. “OH, but we honor women!” “Oh, but we’ve always placed them on a pedestal!” they all cry. That’s it right there. We are either Madonnas or whores, never just ourselves. Why must we be objectified at all? Notice that the categories themselves are all about sexuality. We are either mothers or playthings. Never a PERSON, always a uterus, a vessel, a container for something else.
Heart over at Womens Space/The Margins says it well,
I have also been devastated, over and over and over in my life, by the violence of men– sexual violence, physical brutality, spiritual, emotional, verbal violence, violence of all kinds which have often made my and other women’s lives a living hell. I want the world to pay attention to the violence that harms us all– not only little girls, but little boys, not only women, but men. This is violence we are so accustomed to, so inured to, so used to, that it doesn’t even fly across our radar as violence– the violence of pornography, the violence of female infanticide, of “honor killings,” the violence and pandemic-ness of domestic violence and rape. To get the world’s attention, those of us who have been devastated by this violence must have a voice and our voices must be heard, however raw or unforgiving or raging or angry or bitter or not-motherly, not nurturing, fearsome, and yes, powerful and unapologetically so. Women who comment to my boards and blog, all them, have their own stories to tell. All have lived through indescribable horror at the hands of men. It does not set well, it’s true, for mothers to wish their sons not born. Mothers, of all people, are expected to be endlessly loving and nurturing, even when it costs us our very lives, everything we have, are or could be. But this is wrong and it must end. And in increasing numbers, women have to be brave enough to say this is wrong. What is expected of mothers is wrong. What is expected of women — that we act in ways which harm us — is wrong.
This is what patriarchally trained men will never, ever understand; the violence we have all around us and the violence women continually live with. They will never understand the mindset of always watching your back. Our defensiveness they say is entirely unrealistic! It’s in our own imaginations. Surely we can’t believe that. Such incredulous tones drip of sarcasm and utter lack of understanding. But you know what? It happens even if the privileged men are unaware that it happens. Yes women are still harassed, harangued, and stolen from. Yes, women are beaten, raped, or tortured every minute of the day. And not just with physical violence do men wield the power. Yes women’s research and writing is still co-opted or questioned as suspect. Yes, women are still labeled too fat, too skinny, too black, ugly, a lesbian if she questions men or a whore if she loves them too much. Yes, women live in fear. Yes, yes, yes. If you think it doesn’t happen, or you wish women would focus on something else instead, then you have your head in the sand and are a very large part of the problem.