Based on my blog post called More on Social Media and University Radio Show “Echo Chambers” and my conversation in the comments section of that post, I felt it necessary to write this one. Let me explain.
I had a twitter “conversation” with someone from the radio show Scene on Radio (possibly producer and co-host John Biewen, but since the twitter “handle” was @SceneOnRadio, it’s impossible to know for sure).
Marleen, one of the readers of this blog, wanted me to listen to Episode 53: Himpathy (MEN, Part 7), originally broadcast in October of this year, because in her words:
I’ve gone and listened to four episodes. I’d recommend the 53rd one. I would hope that if something like that happened to your granddaughter or daughter your response would be that it ma mattered rather than that the thing people should be doing is telling “good” stories (defined as not bothersome).
Since I’ve expressed somewhat of an oppositional viewpoint relative to how the show’s content is presented, and specifically their misuse of Biblical interpretation, Marleen suggested (at least as I understand it) that listening to this episode might help me realize that I don’t necessarily have to “lock horns” with the show or its co-hosts (the other co-host being Celeste Headlee).
As it turns out, this is one of the episodes that includes a PDF transcript (I looked and not all of them do), so I downloaded and read it (since I can read faster than people on a podcast can talk).
I won’t go through the blow-by-blow of what was said, you can click on the link I provided and see for yourself, but here’s the highlights.
Guest Janey Williams courageously spoke in detail about her own sexual assault, and more specifically, about how, when she disclosed the assault some years later, going so far as to post the information on Facebook, she was generally disbelieved by her friends and even her own Mom (although, to be fair, Janey’s Mom was also sexually assaulted and her responses could have been influenced by her own experiences).
Well, that’s not entirely true. Some friends and her Mom believed her, but they tended to make excuses for the perpetrator’s behavior (since everyone knew him personally and maintained a continued relationship with him, while Janey had moved away and traveled for quite some time)
That’s where the terms “Himpathy” and “Himpunity” come in, apparently coined by Kate Manne, an assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University and author of the book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (published last year, and as of this writing, 84% of 66 reviews were either 4 or 5 stars).
Here are some definitions:
Himpathy: The reflex to extend care and sympathy to the male perpetrator, often more sympathy than we give to his female victim.
Himpunity: The striking, damaging, and downright weird habit in our culture of letting men off the hook for the awful things they do, even serious crimes. Especially if they do those things to women.
Okay, now the central message of this radio show series, according to the show’s “blurb” on their website is:
What’s up with this male-dominated world? How did we get sexism, patriarchy, misogyny in the first place? How can we get better at seeing it, and what can we do about it? Co-hosts John Biewen and Celeste Headlee explore those questions and more. Scene on Radio is a podcast from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University distributed by PRX.
So, an attempt here is being made to take Janey’s particular experiences and generalize them to systemic sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny. That is, the show wants to establish that America, or Western Civilization, or the world uses these concepts and behaviors as their bedrock foundation in order to oppress women.
Remember from my previous blog post that Biewen characterizes himself as:
Biewen claims that he is inherently an oppressor because he is a cis-hetero, white, middle-class male.
I can’t say they’re wrong, and that there isn’t some sort of “rape culture” in operation, but the question is, are all white men guilty of heinous crimes, either by direct commission or by virtue of simply being white males (as Biewen says of himself)?
The reason I ask is that the answer could have a profound impact on white boys growing up today and future generations beyond them. If they are being taught terrible things about themselves just because of who they look like in the mirror, will that really help them become better people and defeat the systemic patriarchy?
More on that later.
One thing that Biewen said was particularly disturbing:
That is misogyny, in Kate Manne’s view. Not a general dislike of women, but instead, it’s the punishment arm of patriarchy. Sexism is the theory, the ideology, that says men are this way and women are that way. That ideology is designed to keep people playing their assigned gender roles. But if sexism stops working and a woman gets out of line, misogyny brings the punishment. It tries to smack the woman back into her place.
That makes it sound like “Patriarchy” is a totalitarian country or government with “Misogyny” being the secret police force (think the old Soviet Union and the KGB) that goes out and suppresses the radical female dissidents by raping them.
In the radio program, Janey Williams provided specific details about a single event in which a person named Mathew (presumably) drugged her (he probably did, but Janey herself said she couldn’t be sure) and sexually assaulted her (the part where she was definitely sure of what he did). Given her description of Mathew, it doesn’t seem like he would be so sophisticated as to have organized his behaviors in terms of a larger political/ideological system, and that assaulting her was a punishment for her violating the tenets of that system.
In other words, he is a jerk, a sexual abuser, and a criminal. He belongs in prison. It’s impossible to know if he overtly considered that his heinous actions would be justified by a larger, formalized system or not. Chances are, he did what he did because of his scrambled, personal motivations rather than studying about it in some sort of “Patriarchy handbook.”
That said, this does seem to represent a pattern.
In the news story Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case published in June 2016, former Stanford university swimmer Brock Turner was sentenced to a mere six-month sentence after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, a crime substantially similar to what happened to Janey. The article goes on to say:
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky said on Thursday that Turner’s age and lack of criminal history made him feel that imposing a six-month jail sentence with probation was appropriate. Turner also has to register as a sex offender.
That’s outrageous. Does that mean if someone is young and has no criminal history, they can commit any crime whatsoever, and no matter the severity of that crime, they get a slap on the wrist? If the convict had been African-American, would the sentence have been different? And remember, this occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area, a bastion of liberal, progressive thought, not in some small rural town in the deep South, so local politics probably wasn’t a major influence. If he had done that to my daughter, I would have (proverbially speaking) roasted him over a slow fire.
If I had a sister and she had been sexually assaulted, there’s no doubt in my mind that my Dad would have killed the guy.
Oh, but there’s more. In the news article Jail, probation for Meridian social worker who didn’t report daughter’s sexual abuse:
A Meridian (Idaho) woman who failed to report the sexual abuse of her daughter by her husband will spend 19 days in jail as a result, as well as two years on probation.
Melinda Maloney, age 46, is married to Craig Maloney, 47, a former Meridian veterinarian who in October was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for the decade-long sexual abuse of his stepdaughter — Melinda Maloney’s biological daughter — from the time the girl was 4 until she was 14.
Granted, the victim didn’t tell her Mom about the abuse until spring of last year, but between then and now, Maloney did nothing. Eight months afterward, the victim told her father who called the police. Craig and Melinda Maloney were arrested in September.
I’m glad Mr. Maloney got such a lengthy sentence and I hope that he doesn’t get “time off for good behavior,” because for a decade, his behavior was very, very bad.
Mom failed to protect. Was she a victim and did her own dynamics have a role to play? The news story doesn’t say. What Craig Maloney did was reprehensible, but a parent who doesn’t protect their own child has no excuse and doesn’t get any pity from me.
Unfortunately, these events seem all too common. Just recently, in Cascade, Idaho, a 29-year-old man was arrested for having sexual contact with two girls, one 17 and the other 14. Also this month, five men, including a Lutheran Pastor, were arrested in the San Francisco Bay Area for child pornography related crimes.
There isn’t a person I know who thinks that the perpetrators of these crimes should get a break, receive minimal sentences, have a valid excuse, or any of that. Although Biewen and Headlee may believe they are presenting new and startling revelations to the world about the “patriarchy” and “misogyny,” men of my generation, as old-fashioned and “sexist” as it sounds, were taught to “treat a lady with respect,” and I vividly remember my Dad telling me that “you never hit a woman.” No, believing and protecting victims is nothing new, it’s just been dressed up differently.
My Dad was born and raised in poverty in Oklahoma in the 1930s, so I suppose by 21st century progressive values, you couldn’t consider him “woke.” He and my Mom married when they were both 20 years old, and my Mom adored him. It was a devastating blow when he died suddenly in April 2017. She had been married to him for sixty-five years, literally all of her adult life. To the best of my knowledge, he never laid a hand on her in anger or harmed her in any way. He was a good husband and Dad, even if politically and experientially, he was light-years away from Biewen and Headlee.
Not all men are monsters. No, none of us are perfect, but “systemic patriarchy and misogyny” doesn’t automatically mean all white men are inevitably condemned to being “inherently oppressors,” as Mr. Biewen concludes. There is an alternative which is presented in the following quote:
“Masculinity is protecting others and building families and institutions to keep the monsters at bay.” –Ben Shapiro
I suspect that Mr. Biewen wouldn’t like Mr. Shapiro for a variety of reasons, but he and others do what Biewen’s and Headlee’s radio show fails to do: provide positive alternatives. “Scene on Radio’s MEN” series, to the best of my knowledge (having read transcripts of only two of its shows), presents the problems of patriarchy and misogyny over and over again from a variety of viewpoints. Not once (again, to the best of my knowledge) do they provide even a single, positive alternative for young white men (I don’t know the demographics of who actually listens to this show on a regular basis, but I could probably guess).
I think it was on twitter where I told someone I wouldn’t let Biewen within a mile of my nine-year-old grandson. Children, boys and girls, need positive role models of solid, responsible, and caring men and women. They need to believe that they are not just their skin color, their gender, or their culture. I can’t possibly see now “Scene on Radio’s” content provides that example, not even a little.
I did find an article at “Psychology Today” (more popularist content than well-researched scholarly articles) called Why Patriarchy Is Not About Men written by Miki Kashtan, Ph.D. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but she does present a case that men aren’t just the “patriarchy.” She also suggests a solution to the current system, though I can’t see how it could be universally applied.
Now I come to the question of what each of us can do, from wherever we are, to transform the conditions that sustain patriarchy. The very short answer: embrace nonviolence, and do it fully. Fully means not just the aspects of nonviolence that happen to be easy, or easier, for each of us. Because that tends to reproduce patterns of privilege and separation.
I do not want to presume that I know the particular ways in which embracing the fullness of nonviolence could be challenging for the marginalized. Even more importantly, given where I am positioned in society, I very explicitly do not want to tell people who’ve been systematically marginalized for centuries what to do with their lives, as that in itself would be another form of continuing patterns of separation and domination, regardless of my intent.
That’s not much to go on, but Dr. Kashtan hints that whatever solution is required, it will have to be applied to the entire population base. In other words, whatever “system” you think is responsible for male violence has to change.
I am not a fan of the New York Times because of their extreme leftist bias and, in spite of the above chart, I don’t think their quality is consistently high. However, they did present the story Mass Shooters Are All Different. Except For One Thing: Most Are Men. The Washington post published something similar: What do most mass shooters have in common? Hint: It isn’t politics, video games or religion.
The latter article states:
What binds them together and elevates their likelihood of killing in this particular fashion is a history of antisocial, sometimes violent conduct, not any particular belief set.
It would take too long to explore all of the possible contributing factors that account for this level of violence among men, particularly white men, but I promise you, I promise you, raising a bunch of young boys to blame themselves for the violence of the “patriarchy” will do more to alienate them and actually promote the behaviors you’re hoping to avoid than it will systemically stop male violence. Potentially committing misandry to eliminate misogyny isn’t helpful or even sane (and no, I’m not suggesting any of the people or institutions I’ve discussed in this essay at all desire the solution in the image below).
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. The solution, at least in a general sense and from my personal point of view, is to raise boys and young men in a manner that my Dad would have called “a gentleman,” someone who sees themselves as a protector, a nurturer, and promoter of good, not only personal good, but the good of “building families and institutions to keep the monsters at bay.” In other words, morally strong men who aren’t afraid of being positively masculine just because someone might call them a “sexist.”
As far as I can tell, we seem to be going in the wrong direction.
For more, see:
- Can There Be Intersectionality Between Masculinity and Feminism?
- When Masculinity Isn’t “Toxic”
- More on Masculinity and Femininity
- There Are Good Men in the World