Monday, July 15, 2013

Second Class Citizens


For the past few weeks, I've wanted to publish an essay here about the modesty doctrine debates that I've come across online with an angle towards a broader discussion about sexual harassment and/or assault, but then DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court and that post became this post.  The graphic above, which a friend posted on Facebook back in May, stuck with me, but I figured that I'd be preaching to the choir if I shared it here and wrote about my thoughts on the subject.

But then I read an opinion piece on Fox News titled "Men - The New Second Class Citizens" and I decided I had to put my frustration into words.  The author, Suzanne Venker, begins by declaring, "The truth is, men have become second-class citizens." She concludes, "From boyhood through adulthood, the White American Male must fight his way through a litany of taunts, assumptions and grievances about his very existence. His oppression is unlike anything American women have faced."

Now, Venker doesn't cite any sources so I don't know from where she gets her information, but I will grant her the inklings of several valid points.  Yes, men are often portrayed as buffoons on TV.  I don't believe that they're any more maligned on screen than women, who are usually written to be shallow harridans, but okay.  Fine.  And yes, boys and girls learn differently and need unique academic environments in which to explore and succeed intellectually.  But every educator recognizes this; I doubt you'll find one well-respected teacher or school administrator who thinks that, in the classroom, "boys are just unruly girls."

My understanding of Title IX as it regards collegiate sports isn't comprehensive and so I can't speak to her assertions with any authority.  However, when Venker uses Title IX as the pivot on which to change her focus to allegations of harassment and assault - well, I'm comfortable fighting back against that.  She writes:

But the college campus is a breeding ground for sexual activity, which makes determining wrongdoing (and using Title IX to prove it) extremely difficult. Sexual misconduct does not necessarily constitute harassment — and women have as much of a role to play as men do.

Here again men are in an impossible situation, for there’s an unspoken commandment when it comes to sex in America: thou shalt never blame the woman. If you’re a man who’s sexually involved with a woman and something goes wrong, it’s your fault. Simple as that.

Let me share some statistics from RAINN with you, Ms. Venker.

Every 2 minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted.
54% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Approximately 33% of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.

Studies are conflicted on the incidence of false allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape; this article from 2012 explains why it's so hard to put an accurate number on misreported or fabricated sexual crimes. Regardless, according to US law, sexual misconduct is defined as "[encompassing] a range of behavior used to obtain sexual gratification against another’s will or at the expense of another."  That certainly sounds like like harassment to me!  It doesn't matter if the woman in the situation said yes at one point - if, at any time later, she says no and her partner doesn't stop, it's assault.  When you take away a woman's right to decide what is done with her body and by whom, you're not reducing her to the status of a second-class citizen.  You're relegating her to a sort of slavery in which she has no choice and no voice.

When you recognize a woman's right to say no, even if she once said yes, you aren't thereby declaring war on men.  In fact, you're honoring men (as they absolutely deserve) by asserting that they can meet basic standards of respect and dignity towards all.  If a man harasses or assaults a woman, he puts himself in a second-class status, one in which he cannot be trusted to treat women justly.  And that is something a woman should never be blamed for.

27 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I want to get into a lot of this because I do sort of see the point she is trying to make, even if it may not be worded so well, but her points on boys in early education are valid. Having taught in school, I have seen boys "beaten down", if you will, for being boys. Boys are SO different than girls. I saw it in Gus's one-year-old play group, even. The little girls paid attention to the librarian, and the boys played with the toys in the room, paying no attention at all.

    In truth, they do not learn the same as girls, they take school at a different approach, and their manners in the classroom are not the same. While you do get some who have mastered the role of good student, most of them just want to go to gym class and play outside. In the grade above us there was one woman who dealt so poorly with boys who were not good students that we couldn't put them in her classroom, or else they were doomed to a lousy year with a teacher who hated them. I wish that weren't the truth. This doesn't mean, of course, that boys should be allowed to run wild in the classroom and not be expected to sit still and learn, but you have to go into it giving them a little bit of a break. In the end, a 10-year-old's fart joke never hurt anyone.

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  2. I've never taught so I definitely defer to your experience here, but you do seem to differentiate in your comment between good teachers, who understand that boys learn differently, and bad teachers, who expect boys to behave like girls and don't respond productively when they don't. From everything I've read, it sounds like the experts recognize this too - of course it doesn't always work in practice, but doesn't it say something about how we WANT boys to succeed in their own way that everyone's trying to figure out how to make it work for girls AND boys? Obviously there are bad teachers, but I just don't see a conspiracy to keep boys down.

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  3. No, I don't think it's a conspiracy, for sure, I just think that there are a LOT of women teachers (who were once well-behaved girls in school, I'm sure) and I think a lot of them just don't understand that there is a difference (and really, in the end, how to deal with it) and that a little noise and silliness is ok in the classroom. Especially those who are older and and seem to get set in their ways. So you have this inadvertent quieting of boys because you have SO much stuff to teach because you are being judged on how they perform on the standardized test (unfortunately) and you JUST want to get it done and can't they be quiet already? And without recess (more teaching time!) it just doesn't work.

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  4. I read that article after you tweeted it and seriously couldn't believe what I was reading. Great post by you and so spot on. Totally agree!

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  5. Just wanted to jump in and point out that Suzanne Venker's point is shared by people on the other side of the political spectrum, too. Most recently, Hanna Rosin's book, The End of Men comes to mind (the only difference is that Rosin presents this as largely a good thing).


    And while I of course agree that sexual harassment on college campuses is disgusting and awful and wrong, I think there's much more at play than a simple, black and white situation in which the women are powerless and abused and the men are forceful and violent and disrespectful. This recent NYTimes piece comes to mind.


    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/fashion/sex-on-campus-she-can-play-that-game-too.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp&



    Not specifically about harassment but it does include some pretty shocking quotes from women who are only interested in finding "hookup buddies," who say they don't even like the men they sleep with, can only have sex with them when they're drunk, could never imagine even having a conversation with them in the light of day over a cup of coffee, etc. To me, this is evidence of an entire culture, one that both men and women participate in, and one that has some very unwanted and scary side effects at times, and one in which so many rules about dignity and respect have been completely obscured. Sexual harassment is a huge problem, but this entire culture is a huge problem too, and they feed off of each other.


    Anyway, sorry for being so verbose today :)

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  6. Interesting food for thought. I may have to check out that article... but anyway, it was interesting to read your thoughts on this. I was thinking that this post might go in a different way, but it surprised me in the direction you took it. Way to open up and share your thoughts about something so important... I know that can be hard sometimes on a blog, especially when it sometimes seems to fall out of the normal flow of posts. I'm still trying to figure out how to voice opinions like this -- if I even will -- on my own blog and seeing this really helps. Thanks! :)

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  7. You are SO right, Kate - this isn't owned by any one political ideology. And it frustrates me and saddens me no matter where it comes from! There's this aggressively feminist stance that's held primarily by the left that it's women's turn to be in charge, and I couldn't disagree more. This isn't a zero sum game! It's not us or them. Men and woman can both be empowered and it doesn't have to be at the expense of the other gender.

    Speaking of pieces that get me annoyed... that NYTimes article! I hate it when our generation is treated as an anthropolgy study. Some people have sex for fun. Some of those people are women. I wish that journalists and scientists would get over it! I agree with you that the idea of women sleeping with men they can only stand to be around when drunk is horrifying. I do. And I think it means we need to teach women to respect themselves more just as much as we need to treat men to respect women. But honestly I don't think that the hookup culture on college campuses is dangerous in and of itself. I don't think think that physical intimacy has to go hand-in-hand with emotional intimacy to be healthy. (I know we disagree on this!) And - situations of blatant entrapment aside - I think that every women has the right to go exactly as far with a man as she wants and then to say stop. Relationships have tons of gray areas, but when we reach that point I do think it's black and white. If a man expects more than the woman he's with is willing to give - well, tough, honestly. He's just as responsible for getting himself into that situation as she is, so he can't blame her entirely for his disappointment and he certainly can't continue when she tells him not to.

    (You know I love it when you're verbose!)

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  8. I'm curious - where did you think it would go? I kind of got tunnel vision when I read the piece...


    (thank you!)

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  9. ugh I can't with Venker. I've already mentioned how I feel about the way that men are portrayed in media (and in my opinion I think that the stereotype is less challenged than the portrayal of women) but to say that "His oppression is unlike anything American women have faced"... I just cannot with her. I would love to give her a nice big slap. Clearly I am taking the mature route on this.


    thanks for sharing this post, Betsy!

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  10. wait, can we talk more about the men-in-media thing? I think I might not be noticing as much so I should be... From what I see, fictional men on TV and things are either the buffoon or they're the swashbuckling hero. It does seem like men don't have a lot of practical role models in film! But can I hear more about what you think, if you're comfortable?

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  11. Bravo, Betsy! Bravo.

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  12. This is spot on. Thanks for a thought provoking post!

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  13. Absolutely wonderful post, Betsy! It's amazing how many issues could be resolved with just some basic respect for each other.

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  14. Georgia ChristakisJuly 15, 2013 at 10:05 PM

    Love this post.

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  15. "In fact, you're honoring men (as they absolutely deserve) by asserting that they can meet basic standards of respect and dignity towards all." - I think this is a point that is often lost in many of the baseless assertions people sometimes make about women "asking for it" or being responsible in some way for sexual harassment or assault. Let's not shortchange men or women, both of whom are affected by these acts, and instead view all people as capable of basic respect/decency and deserving of the same. It was brave of you to write this post and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

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  16. "shortchange" is the perfect word to what we're doing to men when we expect less of them - it's an insult!

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  17. This link is 1) a little out-of-date and 2) specific to film, not media in general. However, the overall point is still valid.

    Overwhelmingly, men produce the media we consume. Thus, it is on the shoulders of MEN, not women, to change the portrayal of men and women in media. Men are tired of the "buffoon"? Don't blame the tiny percentage of women who are creating TV/films. Men are writing, directing, and producing the shows/films that are so problematic. Ideally, we would have more women involved in the creative process, but that is clearly a long road ahead.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/men-dominate-film-industry-study/story?id=13439590#.UeWYEW1RiBI

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  18. Hey Betsy! I think I thought you were going to focus more on what defines modesty and dive more into modesty culture... (I read your blog post before going to the link). It wasn't really based on anything, just an assumption I had made based on who knows what! :)

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  19. The white American male is the new second class citizen?! Hold up. What? Is she high? #colormespeechless

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  20. it's possible, I guess... not sure what's in the Kool Aid over there :P

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  21. well, to be fair, I think it's on EVERYONE'S shoulder to push for change, but I do agree we need more women running things in media!

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  22. Wait a minute; every comment is only accounting for a few and not all. Let me pose this question. How many European American males do you know? Of those men, how many of them have committed these acts? If you look at the big picture, I consider myself a second class citizen. I can't claim to be on the receiving end of sexism or racism because I am a "white male". I am told to be quiet and take the abuse because what some have done. I walk on egg shells every day, afraid to do anything without someone claiming that I don't have the right to do it because I am white or because I'm a man or both. I have been told directly while looking for a job that "We are not looking for a white male to fill this position, but if you know someone who isn't, send them my way." What am I to think? I am not able to claim I'm being discriminated against because I'm a white male. I have also heard of men being asexually assaulted by women and the commentary replied he deserved it.

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  23. Let me start by saying that it's impossible for every comment on my blog to account for every viewpoint - my readers are a self-selecting group, though I'd welcome more diverse opinions! Now to answer:


    I know three white European/American men who have committed various acts of sexual harassment and/or assault - I'm sure I know many more, but I've only talked about specific instances with three, and that's not including the white European/American men who have harassed or assaulted me. But I don't think that white European/American men who commit these acts are indicative of men as a whole and so I don't think that men as a whole deserve to be put in a second class state.


    It might be easier said than done, but anyone who is on the receiving end of sexism or racism should speak out about it - no one should take abuse because of what others have done. No one deserves to be discriminated against because of their sex or race (or anything else) and that includes white men - the employers who told you that they couldn't hire you because you were a white man were breaking the law and should be held accountable.


    The language used to empower minorities is applicable to anyone who feels marginalized - and that could include you, so stand up and shout and do something! I'd be right behind you.

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  24. I don't have any points to add to the discussion - and I'm well behind the times with this post anyway - but it's a great, well thought out post. I especially agree with your final paragraph.

    [And my mum works with young children and has been reading up on how boys develop/learn differently to girls. She's told me a little and it's been quite enlightening. If they don't sit quiet, it isn't them being naughty. It's just boys being boys. I'd never thought of it like that, even as a teacher.]

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