I stumbled across an interesting post on a feminist blog. It concerned pro-feminist writer Jackson Katz who demands that males collectively take responsibility for violence committed against women. While the author attempts to add the caveat that he is not suggesting that males feel guilty about being male, based on his latter statements from the same quoted page, his caveat is clearly less than genuine.
However, it was the the conclusion the blogger reaches as to the reason why males, particularly those who support men’s rights, feel guilty that drew my attention:
As a side note: I have an intuition, one that I can’t back up without some more thought, that most of the entire men’s rights movement might be able to be traced back to defensiveness around feelings of guilt. Sometimes it seems as if there are two choices: Recognize the guilt and feel responsible, in the sense that Katz is talking about, or recognize the guilt and feel defensive. Allies do the former, and many MRA’s do the latter. Again, not something I can fully back up just yet, just a thought.
Actually, what is described is not guilt. Guilt implies that a person feels that he has done something wrong. While that may be true for pro-feminist males, what the majority of normal males are taught to feel is shame. Shame implies that there is something inherently wrong and that one should treat it as such. And in this instance the shame is directly linked with being male, .i.e. it is wrong, shameful and ultimately undesirable to be male. Granted, there is a lot of violence in our society and the majority of it is committed by males. However, the majority of the victims of the most violent and depraved crimes are also male. So the notion that violence against women is a more important issue, that women are more worthy of concern, more worthy of protection, can easily be translated by males as a sign of their inherent inferiority as potential people (one uses ‘potential people’ rather than ‘people’ because latter requires the acknowledgment that the overwhelming majority of males are not violent and do not condone it).
Taken in this regard, the defensiveness males displays is a natural reaction to being forced to accept responsibility for actions they have not individually committed. This would be akin to demanding anyone with the name Adolf or Saddam take responsibility for the actions of the two men best known by those names. The reason why this is the most applicable analogy is because males are not a collective group. Concepts about masculinity differ from culture to culture, nation to nation, racial group to racial group down to region to region. To demand that males collectively take responsibility for other males actions makes about as much sense as demanding American Muslims take responsibility for the actions of the terrorists who attacked this country six years ago. When this has been suggested, it has been rightfully challenged and dismissed as it has no bearing on the reality of the situation.
Such a demand would require a five-year-old boy to take responsibility for the murder of a woman in another state whom he has never met simply because he has a Y-chromosome. There is no direct rationale for this demand other than the notion that by virtue of his gender (an unchangeable and uncontrollable aspect of who he is) the boy is fundamentally at fault. Curiously, this notion does apply in the reverse. Despite the same FBI data mentioned by Katz demonstrating that women are the majority of child abusers and child murderers—both of which are the most cowardly and despicable acts anyone can commit—there is no demand for women to collectively take responsibility for those crimes. There is little demand for them to take individual responsibility either, but that is beside the point. The victims of these women are primarily male, typically small boys and usually the acts are quite violence and include sexualized violence, i.e. physical assaults to the boys’ genitals.
Again, at no point does anyone demand that women should be collectively responsible, feel ashamed or experience any kind of collective guilt. The violence, which is as common as the violence men commit, either gets ignored or diminished as an extension of male violence, i.e. the woman is the real victim; the beaten, battered, raped and/or murdered boy is not.
The conclusion reached by Katz and the blogger is an oversimplification of a rather complex problem. Male violence extends primarily towards male victims, not female victims. Our societies treat males as wholly disposable to the point that even when a little boy is brutally murdered, there is less outrage than if the victim had been an adult woman. This implied uselessness of males has a direct affect on them. When combined with negative stereotypes about males and masculinity, the notion that the very thing that makes them male (testosterone) produces nothing but violence, that they are oppressors and privileged, it is hardly surprising that males would be defensive when accused of an act they have not committed and met with the expectation to take responsibility for crimes committed by men they do not even know.