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Last Updated: 03/28/2015Men Who Hate Women: Gender, Empathy, & Power in The United States' Rape Culture
In the United States, gender defines far more than how people dress, or the roles they must assume in their intimate relationships. Gender socialization sets the stage for how individuals think and interact with the world around them. In the United States, male gendering socializes aggression, domination, and hatred for women. This paper examines the role of socializing hegemonic masculinity in eliminating empathy and fostering entitlement resulting in what is known as rape culture. By examining socialization and men's violence against women within a cultural context, gender-based violence can be seen as a societal problem, not an issue of maladapted individuals.
“And the problem is that you think it’s out there: and it’s not out there. It’s in you.” (Dworkin, 2005, p. 16).
In order to explore alternatives to hegemonic masculinity and ways in which men can challenge traditional assumptions of maleness and the requirements of men in a patriarchal neoliberal society, bell hooks (2004) first establishes that, “[t]here is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger. Real men get mad” (p. 14). With this essential understanding, an examination of gender and power in the United States can begin.
Gendering is the process by which children are socialized into the culturally accepted roles of a woman/girl or man/boy in accordance with the sex organs with which they were born. This process is embedded with power dynamics. Via the promotion of so-called masculine traits, and devaluing of characteristics deemed feminine, patriarchy has constructed a social hierarchy. To be clear, patriarchy is defined as, “a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence” (hooks, 2004, p. 18). Within this system of gender oppression, what is known as rape culture has developed.
In the preamble to the anthology, Transforming a Rape Culture, Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth (2005) ask, “What is rape culture?”
It is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent […] A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women and presents it as the norm […] Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change. (p. XI)
Further, rape culture objectifies the bodies and the sexuality of women and girls, offering them as fodder for men and boys. Rape culture glorifies the sex drive and escapades of men while shaming that of women, calling them sluts. Rape culture makes abortion illegal and eliminates comprehensive sex education while erectile dysfunction pills are widely covered by insurance plans and advertised for on national television. Rape culture teaches women and girls that violence, sexual or otherwise, harassment, and negative attention, is their fault; that men react to stimuli, and are without blame for their actions. Rape culture blames the victim. Rape culture allows for a society in which:
[…] an estimated 19.3 percent of American women—23 million people—and 1.7 of men—an additional 2 million Americans—have been raped […] In addition, 43.9 percent of women and 23.4 percent of men have been the victims of "sexual violence other than rape” (Schultz, 2014).
Rape culture is fundamentally about power and sex is the primary weapon. Through this lens, rape can only be viewed as “an act of war against women, one that can be committed only because of an entire culture of support, which makes most rapes permissible” (Macaulay Millar, 2008, p. 29). Rape culture denies that there is a rape culture, only individual acts of deviance; “[t]here are supposed to be no structural problems, just individual maladaption” (Penny, 2014, p. 7). Without deconstructing these conditions and examining gendering processes, specifically the processes by which boys are socialized to be real men, rape culture cannot be dismantled, women and girls will not know what it feels like to live without daily fear for their safety, and gender equity will be unobtainable.
The Gender Straitjacket
Initiation into the system of patriarchy is a process of dehumanization, in which boys are taught to suppress their natural inclinations toward a caring, empathic nature in preference of more competitive and aggressive behaviors. “To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings” (hooks, 2004, p. 22). Rape culture evolves from this construct:
[p]atriarchal men have no outlet to express their pain, so they simply seek release […] Male sexual obsession tends to be seen as normal. Thus the culture as a whole colludes in requiring of men that they discount and disown their feelings, displacing them all onto sex (pp. 82-83).
Gendering is dehumanization: “[b]eing a woman, or being a man, requires effort, attention, the suppression of some parts of your personality and the exaggeration of others” (Penny, 2014, p. 12). When gender determines ones behaviors, rather than behaviors determining ones gender, it is fair to see gender as:
a straitjacket for the human soul. Gender works us all over, makes enemies of the people we’re supposed to love […] (p. 13).
Thus, when a woman is raped, specifically on a college campus, or by a group of athletes, it is framed in mass media as simply as boys being boys. Women have been relegated to a position in American society as appropriate outlets for male aggression and sexual release. Because the feminine is something to be dominated, a man exerting his power over a woman is merely fulfilling his societal role. Rape culture is not only perpetuated by social acquiescence, but also actively taught from a young age via negligent responses to abusive behaviors.
Listening to the stories of young women’s experiences of sexual harassment in schools has led me to the see that schools may in fact be training grounds for sexual violence: Girls learn that they are on their own, that the adults and others around them will not believe or help them when they report sexual harassment or assault. The harassers find that their conduct is treated with impunity, sometimes even glorified. And other students, who may be witnesses of and bystanders to the harassing behaviors, absorb the lesson that sexual harassment is a public performance which is normalized, expected, and tolerated (Stein, 2005, p. 61).
Through these instances, violence is tolerated and normalized, successfully minimizing and invisiblizing the emotional, mental, and physical experience of (predominantly) female victims.
Within a patriarchal system, androcentric perspectives and masculine traits have been normalized as the baseline; female and femininities are, therefore, a deviation from the norm. Interactions between women and men, or girls and boys, are warped with imbalance from the outset:
Male acculturation (a better description would be males’ seasoning) is antifemale, antiwomanist, antifeminist, and antireason […] Most men have been taught to treat, respond, listen, and react to women from a male’s point of view (Madhubuti, 2005, p. 175).
Since boys are not socialized to experience empathy, they are not conditioned to understand or even appreciate a full range of emotions. Thus, the only available option to boys in reaction to the emotional experience of a female person in their life, is an expression of anger.
With this understanding, it is unsurprising that:
[a] recent survey asked high school students what they were most afraid of. The girls answered that they were most afraid of being assaulted, raped, killed. The boys? They said they were afraid of ‘being laughed at’ (Kimmel, 2005, pg. 147).
Another way to put these results would be to say that high school girls are afraid of boys and men. While the fear of being laughed at could originate from a variety of causes: fear of not being accepted by their peers, fear of being misunderstood by their peers or family, or fear of failure at school or in social settings, etc. It can be assumed that the reaction to being laughed at would be anger, or alternatively a suppression of outward facing emotions. The fears expressed by both the girls and the boys are intentional designs of patriarchy and in the interest of perpetuating rape culture in the furthering of neoliberal policies:
Patriarchy both creates the rage in boys and then contains it for later use, making it a resource to exploit later on as boys become men. As a national product, this rage can be garnered to further imperialism, hatred, and oppression of women and men globally. This rage is needed if boys are to become men willing to travel around the world to fight wars without ever demanding that other ways of solving conflict be found (hooks, 2004, p. 51).
The United States depends on this patriarchal construction of male identity for self-preservation and exponential capitalist, imperialist growth, requiring that conflict resolution only occur through violence and domination. No alternative method is valued. This is true of both the public realm, as in the national/international domain of States, competing with militaries and economies, and the private sphere, within interpersonal relationships and the domestic domain.
From My Twisted World to #YesAllWomen
In examination of the violent tendency of boys, specifically highly publicized acts of violence such as the Columbine High School shooting, hooks (2004) observed:
Tragically, were it not for the extreme violence that has erupted among teenage boys throughout our nation, the emotional life of boys would still be ignored. Although therapists tell us that mass media images of male violence and dominance teach boys that violence is alluring and satisfying, especially when they murder randomly, pundits tend to behave as though it were a mystery why boys are so violent. (p. 43)
In May of 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old male college student, killed seven people, and injured 13 others in Isla Vista, California. An intended, but ultimately unfulfilled target of Rodger’s was the Alpha Phi sorority house. Prior to the attacks, Rodger uploaded the YouTube video, Elliot Rodger’s Retribution, detailing his intentions, followed by a 107,000 word manifesto titled, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger” (Hill, 2014). Because of the sheer quantity of Rodger’s self-reported data, including his sizeable social media presence, the reaction and analysis of the murders was very different from similar incidents such as the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of elementary school children. The discourse was not about video games, bullying, or even gun control. For arguably the first time in the United States, the discussion focused on male sexual entitlement and that men are socialized to hate women.
What transforms the aggrieved into mass murderers is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man. Aggrieved entitlement is a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine (Kalish & Kimmel, 2010, p. 454).
It must be acknowledged that:
Rapists are created, not born. While female sexual empowerment is an important factor in the struggle to end rape, it will not succeed without corresponding shifts in how boys are taught to experience sexuality and gender (Perry, 2008, p. 198).
Within the normalization of rape culture, boys are socialized into rapists; although violence may not manifest physically, and most will not actually force sex upon anyone, most men engage in acts of violence against women via their acquiescence or their active participation in the myriad of ways female objectification, degradation, or subordination manifest in societally acceptable ways. The greatest violence perpetuated by the majority of men in the US may be their silence.
To prevent sensationalizing and exceptionalizing of the attack, the Twitter campaign #YesAllWomen began. With this hash tag, female-identified and female-presenting people were able to share their experiences of sexual harassment, violence, and degradation. The like-minded UK-based website and Twitter account @EverydaySexism compiles women’s daily experiences of misogyny and sexual harassment in order to highlight normalized abusive behavior and micro-aggressions in even the most mundane of situations. By not allowing sensational coverage to treat this act of violence as unique or at contrast with the rest of civil society, #YessAllWomen forced the conversation to focus on how Rodger acted in line with rape culture, taking it to the next logical phase in a society where men are conditioned to hate women, where dominance is expected, tolerated, and encouraged.
Only Yes Means Yes
Male sexual entitlement is predicated on socialized selfishness, a lack of empathy, and failure to establish value on the distinction between intent and reception. “The presence or absence of sexual harassment depends on the victim’s perception of ‘unwelcome’ sexual behavior” (Stein, 2005, p. 64). The person on the receiving end of a comment or action is the sole authority to say whether they feel harassed or victimized [although third parties can also be triggered by, or identifiers of, inappropriate sexual behavior]. The perpetrator, despite the tendency in United States’ culture, cannot dismiss how something is received by arguing that it was not their intent; “You should take it as a compliment!” or “It was just a joke!” does not negate the harm received by the victim. It is essential to recognize that male sexual entitlement is a product of a culture that fosters rape ideology in order to begin considering what must change:
[u]nderstanding how boys are socialized to view sexuality can show us where to bend the approaches of sexual violence prevention and sexual health promotion, and how to enhance the effectiveness of programs rooted in these fields. But first we have to pull back the curtain on our unhealthy sexual status quo (Perry, 2008, p. 200).
Admitting there is a problem larger than individual acts committed by individual people must be the first step.
Similarly, the failure of the “no means no” ideology and policies on college campuses to appropriately foster and encourage a culture of consent actually succeeds in the promotion of rape culture. California’s Senate Bill 967, promoting the concept, “Yes means yes,” seeks to address the failure of “no means no” policies to prevent rape and sexual violence by flipping the script, altering the onus of responsibility and reaffirming the necessity of explicit consent.
[…] the prevailing standard has been no means no […] Under such a standard, the enormous gray area between yes and no is defined residually as "Unless one hears an explicit no, consent is implied"…Silence is not consent; it is the absence of consent. Only an explicit yes can be considered consent (Kimmel & Steinem, 2014).
Consent culture prefigures a culture of empathy and of shared values, while valorizing pleasure for all parties in an encounter.
Rape culture in the United States, epitomized by the no means no ideology, is a product of neoliberal capitalism that has constructed sex within a commodity model of transactions (Macaulay Millar, 2008):
Neoliberalism refers to the attempt to reorganize society and the state on the basis of an ideal of the market. Neoliberalism proclaims that the logic of business and money is the best determinant of human happiness. Neoliberalism also says that human beings can’t be trusted, so the market must necessarily dictate what the people want (Penny, 2014, p. 2).
Capitalism is about competition, not collaboration, and assumes limited resources, establishing a zero-sum framework: in order for one to win another must lose. Rape culture thrives on this social framework, shaping intimate encounters as transactions, not shared experiences:
[t]he negotiation is not a creative process but a bargaining process, where each side seeks and makes concessions. Each side wants to get something that the other does not want to give (Macaulay Millar, 2008, p. 37).
Consent does not exist in the commodity model. Yes means yes ideology seeks to shift the commodity model to a performance model (Macaulay Millar, 2008), in which zero-sum transactions cannot exist. Creating a culture of consent is not just about eliminating sexual assault but also about undoing rape culture in its entirety.
It’s In You
Few human acts more completely negate the human spirit than rape. The most cowardly and dastardly act against women is rape. Rape is a clear indication that a culture or civilization is out of control (Madhubuti, 2005, p. 185).
To argue that the United States is a culture out of control is not hyperbole. The stories compiled via hash tags, online campaigns, or simply observing public interactions, highlight the evidence that rape culture permeates everyday society. To understand this reality it is fundamental to establish an analysis of patriarchy and power dynamics of gendering.
Men are doing it, because of the kind of power that men have over women. That power is real, concrete, exercised from one body to another, exercised by someone who feels he has a right to exercise it, exercised in public and exercised in private. It is the sum and substance of women’s oppression (Dworkin, 2005, p. 14).
The easiest thing to do is nothing, and for people of privilege, predominantly men in this case, that is what is expected:
And yet, everything is a reason not to do something about changing the fact that [men] have that power. Hiding behind guilt, that’s my favorite. I love that one. Oh, it’s horrible, yes, and I’m so sorry. You have the time to feel guilty. We don’t have the time for you to feel guilty. Your guilt is a form of acquiescence in what continues to occur. Your guilt helps keep things the way they are (Dworkin, 2005, p. 15).
Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and the well-being of future generations of both girls and boys depend on the dismantling of the patriarchal system and rape culture in favor of a culture of empathy and love. “Only a revolution of values in our nation will end male violence, and that revolution will necessarily be based on a love ethic” (hooks, 2004, p. 11). Achieving this will take time, patience, and endurance, for it will require the confrontation of hard truths about our roles in the perpetuation and acquiescence of rape culture. For as Andrea Dworkin (2005) directly and brutally stated, “the problem is that you think it’s out there: and it’s not out there. It’s in you.” (p. 16).
Buchwald, E., Fletcher, P. R., & Roth, M. (2005). Preamble. In E. Buchwald, P. R. Fletcher, & Roth (Eds.), Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Dworkin, A. (2005). I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There is No Rape. In E.
Buchwald, P. R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.), Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Hill, K. (2014, May 24). The Disturbing Internet Footprint Of Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger Retrieved February 28, 2015, from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/05/24/the-disturbing-internet-footprint-of-santa-barbara-shooter-elliot-rodger/
hooks, b. (2004). The will to change: Men, masculinity, and love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Kalish, R., & Kimmel, M. (2010). Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings. Health Sociology Review , 19 (4), 451-464.
Kimmel, M. (2005). Men, Masculinity, and the Rape Culture. In E. Buchwald, P. R. Fletcher, & Roth (Eds.), Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Kimmel, M., & Steinem, G. (2014, September 4). ‘Yes’ Is Better Than ‘No’. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/opinion/michael-kimmel-and-gloria-steinem-on-consensual-sex-on-campus.html?_r=2&referrer
Macaulay Millar, T. (2008). Toward a performance model of sex. In J. Friedman, & J. Valenti, Yes means yes! Visions of female sexual power and a world without rape (pp. 29-40). Berkeley: Seal Press.
Madhubuti, H. R. (2005). On Becoming Antirapist. In E. Buchwald, P. R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.), Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Penny, L. (2014). Unspeakable things: Sex, lies and revolution. New York: Bloomsbury USA.
Perry, B. (2008). Hooking up with healthy sexuality: The lessons boys learn (and don't learn) about sexuality, and why a sex-positive rape prevention paradigm can benefit everyone involved. In J. Freidman, & J. Valenti, Yes means yes! Visions of female sexual power and a world without rape (pp. 193-207). Berkeley: Seal Press.
Schultz, C. (2014, September 5). Approximately a Third of Americans Have Been the Victim of Sexual Violence. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from Smithsonian.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/approximately-third-americans-have-been-victim-sexual-violence-180952626/?no-ist
Stein, N. (2005). Still No Laughing Matter: Sexual Harassment in K-12 Schools. In E.
Buchwald, P. R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.), Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Brett Goldberg is a 2015 MA candidate in Gender and Peace Building from the UN-mandated University for Peace (Costa Rica), and holds a BFA in Film & Television from New York University (USA). Brett is an activist, agitator, and community organizer. Having spent the last several years organizing with Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Sandy Hurricane Relief & Recovery (New York City), he stepped away from on-the-ground organizing to study gender and peace to learn how to more effectively smash patriarchy. Transparency, accountability, and intentionality are fundamental to Brett in his work and relationships. Believing they cannot exist in a just world, Brett is committed to challenging racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and ableism. No justice, no peace.