Originally posted on July 19, 2010
Everyone has problems. Everyone experiences some relationship issues, job issues, family issues, and a host of other trials. Some of these problems occur because of social ills. Others because of the person’s own behavior. However, it is improbable that any one group’s problems are solely the responsibility of another group of people. The broader the group of people, the more likely that several factors converge to create or cause problems for them. More so, it is highly improbable that any one group is solely responsible for all its own problems. Again, the broader the group of people, the more likely that several factors play a role.
So when Hugo Schwyzer makes the bold claim that men bear sole responsibility for all their own problems, he ironically has a problem.
One of the major flaws in Hugo’s arguments is he deals in absolutes. Things are the way he says they are and can be no other way. The problem with this type thinking becomes apparent once Hugo dives into his argument. Hugo tries defuse Tom Matlack’s position that men should speak up for themselves and voice their concerns considering that feminism and feminists do the same in for women, first presenting a red herring about the media not supporting feminism, followed by changing Matlack’s position altogether:
But perhaps what Tom means is that the media celebrate women’s breakthroughs into traditionally male spaces, while spending very little time discussing the crushing burden of successfully occupying those spaces. That is a worthwhile topic for discussion.
Of course, that has nothing to do with Matlack’s position. It does, however, set up Hugo’s actual argument, which is that if men have problems to actually complain about, those problems are all the fault of men:
But the real problem, of course, is that both men and women live and work in a system that was designed and is maintained by men. Wealthy men, yes, but men nonetheless. When men complain about being overwhelmed by the demands of wives and bosses and children, they are complaining about a system that men themselves erected. When women complain about the old boy’s network (which still thrives in many public and private institutions today) they do so as outsiders; even affluent white women are still outsiders in a world where women make up 51% of the population and 17% of the US Senate. When men complain about the crushing burden of expectation, they do so as (to use one of my favorite expressions from Twelve Step programs) “architects of their own adversity.”
As mentioned above, Hugo deals in absolutes. One of these absolutes is that women never cause any social problems. Another is that all men benefit at all women’s expense. The illogic of both those positions is so apparent that Hugo feels inclined to acknowledge that it is actually wealthy men who designed and maintain the “system” that men and women live and work in.
Hugo does not explain why he holds wealthy (presumably white) men as representative of all men despite those men making up a fraction of the total male population. The vast majority of men are working class or middle class, do not own businesses, probably work at jobs they could get rather than in careers they wanted, struggle from pay check to pay check, may not have had access to educational opportunities, and in no tangible way control any aspect of the United States government, businesses, or institutions. Hugo provides no justification for holding the majority of men responsible for the economic and class disparities they experience. More so, the red herring about women’s population rate and power within the US Senate in no way explains how men are responsible for being overwhelmed by the demands of wives, bosses, and children.
However, rather than prove that his assertion bears any veracity, Hugo moves on to absolving females of any responsibility for the problems males face. He states:
It is absolutely true that wearing the straitjacket of masculinity makes most men miserable in the end; many do lead the lives of “quiet desperation” that Thoreau described more than a century and a half ago. For most of these men, that straitjacket doesn’t feel like a choice, as they learned to wear it when they were little boys. Many of these men blame women for demanding that their husbands wear it, some blame their kids, some blame their bosses. Some blame themselves. But the real culprit isn’t individual men, and it certainly isn’t women or children. The real culprit is the “man code”, a set of rules created and transmitted by men through generations.
Again, Hugo offers no evidence to support this assertion. Men’s experiences do not occur in a homosocial vacuum. How likely is it that women, as Hugo posits, in no way impact how men behave? How likely is it that the relationship problems men have with their female partners is unrelated to the women’s behavior or demands? How likely is it that the problems men have with their bosses is unrelated to the bosses’ behavior or demands? How likely is it that the problems men have with their children is unrelated to the childrens’ behavior or demands? Hugo attempts to deflect these questions by stating “the real culprit isn’t individual men,” however, that deflection does not parse with his overall assertion that men are collectively and solely responsible for any problems they face.
Hugo continues with:
Both men and women suffer, but they don’t suffer equally. As Robert Jensen and many others have pointed out, the reason a woman can’t walk safely in a parking lot at night and the reason her boyfriend can’t cry in front of his friends are the same: fear of men. But the cost of not being able to cry is hardly comparable to the cost of rape and the fear of sexual violence. It’s false equivalence to suggest that the fear of being ridiculed as insufficiently manly and the fear of being raped and killed are remotely the same. Those who claim that “the patriarchy hurts men too” need to remember that the potential injuries are rarely as severe.
Firstly, males are far more likely to be victims of violence. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey:
Characteristics of victims of violent crimes measured by the NCVS in 2008 were similar to previous years. Males, blacks, and persons age 24 or younger experienced violent victimizations at higher or somewhat higher rates than females, whites, and persons age 25 or older (table 4). Females were more likely than males to be victims of rape or sexual assault. Males experienced higher rates of victimization than females in all other violent crimes measured by the NCVS.
In regards to type of violence:
The percentage of violent crime committed against males and females by someone they knew (i.e., nonstranger) is driven by assault (table 6). Male victims knew the offenders in half of all aggravated and simple assaults against them. Female victims knew the offenders in approximately 70% of assaults against them. Offenders known to the victims were most often identified as friends or acquaintances, accounting
for a similar percentage of violence against male (42%) and female (38%) victims.
Strangers were responsible for about a third (36%) of all violent crimes measured by the NCVS in 2008 (not shown in table). The percentages of overall violence, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault committed by strangers were higher for males than for females. Robbery was the crime most likely to be committed by a stranger. Strangers committed 61% of robberies against men and 45% of robberies against women.
That women may express more fear about being assaulted does not change that the majority of victims of violence and the majority of victims of violence by strangers are male.
Secondly, Hugo takes two completely unrelated examples — women’s fear of random violence and social expectations for men — asserts that someone considers to the experiences the same, and then declares that the comparison is a false equivalence. That he is correct that the comparison is a false equivalence does not change that Hugo presented a strawman argument. He provides no example of anyone stating that women’s fear of random violence and social expectations for men are similar. Matlack, whose article prompted Hugo’s post, certainly does not make that claim.
Hugo simply created a strawman to attack, and it appears the reason stems from his absolutist views. If he wanted to make a fair comparison then he could have compared women’s fear of random violence to men being taught not to fear violence. While the two social norms do not cause the same reaction, they both stem from concepts about men and women created and maintained by both men and women.
Ironically, Hugo skips the most obvious way in which men are victims of violence in favor for using the analogy of war. However, this dodge only serves to demonstrate Hugo’s absolutist bias. For the most part, women do not directly participate in war. They are usually not soldiers, not officers, and not combatants. So to state that “men tend to be the ones who started these wars, be they on the global stage or on the mean streets of the inner city” is a moot point.
However, to claim that “[men] started these battles not infrequently because of an unwillingness to consider compromise, or because of a hypermasculine, hyperfragile sense of honor” gives a false impression of the reasons behind warfare and unfairly tarnishes the boys and men who sacrificed the lives for very good causes. Some wars are fought for the reasons Hugo mentioned; many more are fought for a host of complex, convoluted reasons having nothing to do with “a hypermasculine, hyperfragile sense of honor.”
Of course, that sort of biased comment is necessary in order to facilitate Hugo’s view that men and only men are responsible for their own problems. Acknowledging anything else would undermine Hugo’s argument and demonstrate that the situation is not black and white. Hugo’s unwillingness to acknowledge the shades of gray leads to comments like:
I’d like to point out that in [inner-city communities] it’s still men who are perpetuating the problem: absent fathers abandoning their children, adult men choosing a life of violence and indoctrinating young men into it. And if you want to blame policing, it’s a male-dominated white power structure that creates the culture of incarceration for young black men.
Mothers and sisters are not responsible for fragile urban hypermasculinity. Absent (and present) fathers are; distorted images of machismo in the media are; appalling institutionalized racism perpetuated largely by a male police force and the male-dominated prison industrial complex are. If racism and classism weave their way through every aspect of our lives, so too does sexism, with equal (if not greater) deleterious effect on those who are its victims.
And the ubiquity of sexual violence can’t be ignored either — young girls are raped and molested (often by family members or at least members of their same race) across all social classes. Statistically, a middle-class white woman is more likely to have been sexually violated than is a young black man in the inner city (or a young white man in the suburbs). Rape is as soul-scarring as any form of gang violence.
Who kills young men? Boys, taught by older men, not women. Who rapes young women (and young men)? With a few spectacular exceptions (Mary Kay LeTourneau, take a bow), it’s predatory sexual violence committed by men. Racism and classism are awful and real, but misogyny is just as real, with the wounds it leaves just as deep and soul-scarring and community-destroying.
PM, my blood boils when I read that young women of color risk less “injury” than their brothers, as it reflects a grossly distorted understanding of what injury is. Is rape and sexual molestation not injury? Do you think boys and men suffer sexual violence equivalently at the hands of women?
So severe is Hugo’s absolutist view that women never cause any problems that he makes the unfounded, indefensible statement that mothers in inner-city communities are in no way responsible for their sons’ self-image and behavior. Never mind that violence in the home against children is often a precursor to violence committed by the children when they grow up. Never mind that the majority of the violence against children is committed by women. Never mind that abused children are more likely abuse drugs and alcohol. Despite that all of those are factors for why inner-city communities experience violence, and likely some of the many reasons why fathers in those communities are absent, Hugo skips them in favor of blaming men.
He goes on to mention sexual violence against females, first by making an unsubstantiated claim about middle-class white women being more likely to be sexually assaulted than a young black man from the inner-city, and then by asserting that no women outside of “a few spectacular exceptions” commit sexual violence. He balks at the sexual violence committed by women against boys and men while also downplaying the general violence young men suffer, the latter of occurs far more frequently than any violence against females.
As I noted on Hugo’s blog, according to a study featured in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40% of men abused as children reported that their rapists were female, which disproves Hugo’s assertion that women never rape boys. Hugo harbors extremely disturbing and hostile views towards male victims of female rapists, so it was unsurprising, particularly in light of Hugo’s absolutist views, that he dismissed the above study, although in his dismissal he misrepresented the statistics listed on the Wikipedia page concerning child sexual abuse.
This level of intellectual dishonesty by feminists like Hugo is part of the reason why men like Tom Matlack would state:
…the media are still consumed with the old feminist battle cry, to the exclusion of the predicament of boys and men. Maybe guys need to complain more publicly about how hard it is to be a good father and husband, and still bring home the bacon. Maybe we should have our own cable network — not for ultimate fighting or pornography, but for guys to talk about trying to do it all while the wife, kids, and boss expect more than ever.
It is not just a matter of men not talking about their problems, but also feminists like Hugo misinforming people about the reality of men’s experiences. Feminists like Hugo are not interested in addressing Matlack’s position or addressing any of the issues men face because doing so would require them to throw aside all their preconceived notions, admit the flaws in their theories, and actually require those feminists to listen, really listen, to what men have to say. Instead, feminists like Hugo attack males, masculinity, and even male victims of rape and abuse, deriding them, minimizing their experiences, and blaming them for their own problems.
The irony of all this is that these feminists do this to men as they complain about people doing the same thing to women. None of the dozens of posts Hugo wrote about women holds women responsible for anything they experience, whether it is something done to women or something women do to other people. It is not just a double standard. It is the result of an unrelenting assuredness coming straight out of abject bias against men. That kind of open bigotry never fixes problems. It only worsens them and leads to people writing their convoluted theories on double-sided chalk boards.