I have a small suggestion for feminists who want to help male survivors of abuse: if you want male survivors to think you are on their side, stop hitting us in the face.
Normally, I would not address this issue because I care far more about actually helping male survivors than playing politics. I am more than willing to challenge misinformation and sexist rhetoric, but I find the tit-for-tat tactics boring and pointless. However, there is one very common refrain that gets to me, and it is something Joanna Schroeder wrote in response to some criticism about a poster addressing sexual violence against women. In her comment, Joanna wrote:
You want to talk more about awareness of women abusing men? Then DO SOMETHING about it other than complain and antagonize in a thread dedicated to a poster that is designed to HELP PEOPLE HELP each other.
When I see you three actually working for domestic abuse organizations, even if you wrote stories for GMP about it (I, myself, publish these pieces with some regularity, I even seek them out) then I’d have more respect for this stuff.
Instead, I see a group of men saying that a group of men who want to help men help women is somehow hurting you.
This kind of refrain does no one any good. Instead of reaching out to help male survivors, it attacks them and their advocates in a way no one ever does to female survivors and their advocates. Of the dozens of articles published on GMP about violence against women, I cannot recall a single instance in which someone stated that they would not take someone’s concerns or criticism seriously unless the person proved they were doing something in the “real world” about to stop violence against women.
That is never the criteria for addressing violence against women, and yet this refrain pops up often when people talk about male victimization.
I could speculate about the reasons why feminists do that, but the truth is I do not care enough about their opinions to even make the effort. What I do care about, however, is who the above comments were directed at.
Some of those criticizing the ad are male survivors. The reason I know they are male survivors is because they have publicly stated such. But rather than speak on their behalf, I will speak for myself. Let us pretend I have not spent the last decade volunteering my time at different organizations to help male survivors and foster kids. I did spent the first fourteen years of my life being physically, psychologically, and sexually preyed on. I am 29-years-old, meaning I spent half my life in that situation.
Even if I never set foot in a crisis center, I think I have earned the right to talk about my experiences and have my concerns and criticism taken seriously because by speaking publicly about my experiences I am “doing something”. Every male survivor who comes forward and says “This happened to me”, whether he gives his name out or remains anonymous, whether he works for an organization or just speaks out, is doing something. They deserve respect because they earned it the hard way. Their advocates deserve respect because they are talking about issues no one wants to talk about.
Telling them to prove their credentials is nothing short of punching them in the face. I do not personally care if anyone takes a swing at me because I have been hit much harder when I was younger by an ironically better class of people. But neither I or anyone advocating for male survivors should have to tolerate people claiming to be our allies punching us in the face when we say something they do not like.
All violence is a serious issue, yet people still believe that violence against males is at best negligible. There are still organizations that paint sexual and physical violence as something only men do to only women. There is a host of misinformation that masks the severity of violence against males. The very act of speaking out about it, of demanding changes to sexist language and misandrous policies, is doing something.
It is what every social movement does, so to take issue with it only when men do it on behalf of other men smacks of hypocrisy.
And before any feminists get upset, please understand that I am not asking for anything other than the basic decency that every other group gets from you. I do not want your agreement, your condolences, your sympathy or empathy, or your help. I am not even asking for feminists to defend male survivors when someone says, “If you actually are a guy who can’t figure out how to ‘defend yourself’ [from a woman] by simply grabbing her hands and holding them down by her sides: *do a push up” (which is fortunate, since no feminist objected to that statement). I simply want feminists and other women’s advocates to stop hitting male survivors and their advocates in the face for saying things you do not like. You do not have to attack us, insult us, or mock us to disagree with us.
There is a certain level of civility and decency that is remarkably absent from these discussions. While both sides are guilty of throwing out basic civility to score points, only one side seems to do it with the condescending smugness that the above quoted remarks showed. It is unhelpful to anyone to play that game, particularly when no feminist ever asks any woman, black person, or gay person whether they are working with any group before respecting their concerns and criticism.
I said before that I would not speculate about the reasons for such comments. I am going to take that back a little. I think this happens because it is very hard for some people to see past ideological worldviews. Once you decide that you have all the answers, anything that does not match your preconceived notions is an inconvenience. More so, when one’s arguments simply do not work, which is what happened on the article that prompted Joanna’s comments, one only has two choices: concede that the other side a point or double down.
In this situation, doubling down does not make one look good. There is a clear bias against addressing male victimization. There is a problem with using gendered language. There is a problem with framing violence as something only men do to only women. Doubling down in support of those positions does not help you win over male survivors. Doubling down is simply about scoring points, and that is fine if one does not care at all about male survivors and their issues. However, if one wants those people to believe you are on their side, you have just done yourself a great disservice by disrespecting them.
That is the funny thing about respect: it works both ways. Joanna has lost mine.
Update: The Good Men Project declined to post this article on their site.