Andrea of Vociferate has written a post, Bring on the trolls, on the harm that ignoring male participation in the patriarchy can bring. I don’t agree with everything she says (I think there is, and needs to be, a place for men/men’s issues in feminism, and that sometimes it’s okay to step off a point in order to speak on a level that others can understand), but I’m 100% there with her underlying point. We can’t ignore, or downplay, male responsibility for hurtful acts just because we’ll be labelled “man-haters” or “offensive.” Guess, what? As long as we continue to fight for equal rights, we’ll be labelled that no matter what we say.
She said a lot of good things in her post, but these two paragraphs resonated deeply with me [emphasis mine]:
Sure, they live in a society which tells them it’s acceptable, good, fun, what they’re supposed to do, but the choice to do it is still their own. If we excuse the men who do these things, we must excuse anyone who commits an atrocity in a society which tells them it’s OK. Nazism must be OK, slavery must be OK, since nobody can resist what society tells them, can they?
But they can, every man who looks at porn and laughs at the retching girl deepthroating someone, every man who raises his hand to a woman, every man who rapes, every man who is disrespectful towards women and regards them as less than himself has chosen himself to do so.
So I do blame men, I blame men for what they are responsible for, and I blame them for what they allow other men to get away with.
I think that it’s useful to understand why the men in question do what they do. I think it’s useful not ony for feminists, because understanding the principles of oppression is the first step to finding ways to fight it, but also for all men – whether or not they subscribe to whatever action is under question – because ignorance is one of the most effective tools of privilege. If they can’t see the harm they do, then they can continue beliving that they do no harm.
However, understanding and excusing are different things. Yes, the reasons behind an unacceptable action should be taken under consideration. But that in no way, shape, or form gives a person a “get out of jail free” card for their continued bad behaviour. At some point we become adults and take responsibility for our own lives. And, furthermore, as Andrea said: if we refuse to call people on bad behaviour because society has condoned that behaviour, then we are condoning it as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m a feminist because I’m sick of the unnacceptable being packaged as acceptable. And if that makes me a man-hater, well so be it, because I don’t want to love anyone who doesn’t see and treat me, and my gender, as a worthy equal.
Hat tip: Mind the Gap