If you are a man, keep reading. If you’re a woman, this is probably a review. If you adhere to neither identification fully, you may very well teach all this for a living.
Recently, Allan Wilson, a former Green River city councilman, received no jail time after pleading guilty to touching a boy younger than 13 on his private parts. If Wilson completes his probation, his guilty plea won’t even be entered. In February, there were 15 reports of sexual battery in Casper middle and high schools resulting from male students allegedly challenging each other to grope their female peers. During the most recent legislative session, Wyoming failed to outlaw child marriage.
These terrible incidents were pulled from recent headlines, but the systemic problem they represent is far from new. Sexual violence permeates life in Wyoming and has throughout our history. And, let’s be honest, the problem lies primarily with men.
Having conversations with some men about violence and gender is impossible. We’ve all experienced some getting pouty, angry, irrational, defensive, panicked, maybe even weepy when confronted with evidence from an objective researcher that the perpetrators of the most horrible crimes overwhelmingly tend to be male.
According to Department of Justice and CDC publications, men commit approximately 9 out of 10 murders and rapes in the United States. We can also observe that not many women have been convicted of serial killing, domestic terrorism or running organizations that protect child predators.
It is easy to predict the responses to these facts. First, some will say that men are natural conquerors. Second, they’ll note that most men are not abusers. These are not helpful responses.
Men can be protectors without being outright sadists. And, true, most men are not abusers. However, given the demographic realities of who the perpetrators are — the micro-percentage of mostly men who are unidentified and unrestrained psychopaths and sociopaths who get a rush from inflicting pain — it seems that there is indeed a responsibility on all men to guard themselves against social forces that condone violence and to intervene when they see it among their male friends.
Men who do not try to stop abuse are morally complicit, even if they don’t themselves commit it. Collective responsibility may be antithetical to many of us raised in America’s pervasively individualistic culture. The suggestion that each member of a group is responsible for all of its members strikes many as approaching totalitarianism. Please do not worry. We are not calling for everyone’s grandpa to be thrown in a gulag for watching football. But we are saying that men, as members of the offending group, must take ownership of the problem and take action against it.
What keeps good men from coming forward, from, say, telling their friends to back off of a girl who’s had too much to drink? Fear. The primary reason so many men are afraid of discussing or even acknowledging the gendered nature of violence is fear of losing status in the alpha male club, fear of being “feminized.”
A man who believes and defends a woman who has accused a man of assault risks being thought of by others as womanly. He risks being called “p-ssy,” “f-g,” or “b-tch,” and having to deal with all that follows from those insults being thrown. He is terrified — likely without recognizing it — of somehow, through association, being demoted to the victim class, of being perceived as not tough enough, of not being “a real man.”
These are false choices. All men, all trans males, all people who experience masculinity within themselves are already real. There is no need to act out aggressively to prove it.
Also, the gratuitous and grotesque depictions of submissive women in mainstream movies, songs, video games and pornography all work to reinforce the narrative that leads some men to believe that all women — not just the paid actresses portraying fiction — want to be, expect to be, will enthusiastically smile while being dominated. This is a social sickness.
Can we stop idolizing every covergirl, model and actress? And not every free moment should be devoted to binge watching torture-horror movies or playing well-designed first-person-shooter games. Take a break. We respect the God-given right to free speech, up to and including the type of speech enabled by technologies of the information age, but we should be thoughtful, prudent about what kinds of content we consume and how much. Also, taste matters. Just because it titillates or claims to be edgy doesn’t make it art.
Of course, most men are not deplorable. But all men, yes, all who refuse to acknowledge the gargantuan gender gap among perpetrators of violence, all who refuse to talk about it are voting to perpetuate an unsafe society. They are telling the 20 percent of women who are raped at some point in their lifetimes that they are insane or liars and grifters, “hysterical,” and less than human when it comes to their rights, their dignity, their minds, their bodies. They say the same to abused children and survivors of prison rape. A lot of men make jokes about that last one, often with loathing. Have you ever noticed that the topic of male-on-male rape almost invariably makes most men rather nervous?
We believe that a possible solution to this impasse is to persist in welcoming men to the conversation about the toxicity in our society. It’s a discussion that women and LGBTQIA+ people have often, but which too many guys fear even thinking about.
And let’s start raising our boys, if they wish, to be guardians, or even what the United States Marine Corps calls “ethical warriors,” instead of conquerors. (Or all of our children regardless of gender. How about that?)
Finally, men must confront themselves and hold their male friends accountable for defending values, helping the less capable, protecting what’s essential to life, and fighting for their loved ones.
No one should be held hostage to toxic ideals of masculinity and femininity that help no one.