Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Patriarchy Bites

I have often self-identified as a feminist, and in many ways I still am. Somebody recently sent me a video rant from The Nostalgia Chick. I'm not going to embed it because—well, if it were a video game it would probably be rated T (Teen) and if it were a movie probably PG-13—I won't link to the MPAA site because they have no set standards for their ratings, but rather a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives who dole out ratings apparently based on how funny it makes them feel. But that's a different topic for another day. The video I was talking about is entitled The Smurfette Principle and is a comedic feminist treatment of the animated cartoons that I grew up with. And the fact that I saw the funny/hurtful truth in the piece does still put me in the same camp as the feminists, I guess.

But more and more I think that the term doesn't apply quite as well as I thought it did. I first began having these thoughts in seminary, where I was very much in the minority because I was:

(A) Fresh out of college


(B) Male

I have distinct memories of being one of about three men, and the only one of my age, in a class of thirty or forty people. The conversation had turned to patriarchy, and I'd be agreeing with all the things the women around me were saying about the ills of that particular social system. Pretty quickly, however, they would stop saying "patriarchy" and start saying "men." By the end of the class I was slumped down in my chair, hoping that the mob wouldn't notice that fact that I have a Y Chromosome. I regained some of my courage after getting through the cafeteria line and sitting down at a table to discover that the women from my class seemed to have stopped resembling a mob. So I asked them if they had realized that they had taken their language concerning men to a place that closely resembled what patriarchy does to women? And I was basically dismissed, "Oh, we didn't mean you, Josh. You're one of the good men!"


I hope that what she meant was that I'm a man who isn't afraid to point out that patriarchy bites—for both genders. And I've been seeing a ton of stuff floating around the intertubes lately that have to do with how the patriarchal paradigm is hurting men!

For example, I ran across this story about a gentleman on his first day of working retail. He is given several packages of little girls' underwear to shelve, and he's wandering the store to figure out where they go. The funny part is supposed to be when the customer accosts him and accuses him of being a pervert. First of all, do you think it would have happened that way if he'd been female? Secondly, did you know that there are female pedophiles? It's not a male-only sickness.

Let me give you another example, one that doesn't bring pedophilia into it. Let's look at Benjamin Amos, who worked as a shift manager in a Starbucks in Sherman, Texas for seven years—until he was asked to resign because "the regional and district managers didn't like the tattoos" Benjamin had from the day he was first hired. When he refused to resign, he was summarily fired. So far the story is sketchy but possibly legal. The real kicker, however, is "the female employees in the store who have tattoos yet still kept their jobs." The only explanation? "...male tattoos are typically considered to be more threatening and aggressive than female tattoos -- which are considered more decorative and, if that's your sort of thing, sensual." Pure gender discrimination based on the patriarchal concept of all men as rough, tough, and dangerous and of women as fragile objects of desire who are to be put up on a pedestal and gazed upon.

And then... let's go back to this.

I'm usually one who defends comedy as—at times—necessarily inappropriate. If this skit was intended to be a comedic way to bring domestic violence into the spotlight, then it has failed. And the people who cried out against it also failed. It was a good thing to point out that Rihanna was a victim of domestic violence and that it wasn't cool to do a joke about domestic violence while she was a guest on the show. But it was a tactical error, in that the Rihanna piece completely overshadowed the rest of the argument; if the gender roles had been reversed, absolutely no one would have been laughing. Whether or not Rihanna had seen the skit before it went on air is not the question. The question is, what does the skit say to the male victims of domestic violence watching the show?

As I was writing that last sentence, I went to reach for a statistic... but I don't know how many male victims of domestic violence there were in the United States when that skit aired. And the reason for that is the patriarchal paradigm. According to a recent article:
...more than 200 survey-based studies show that domestic violence is just as likely to strike men as women. In fact, the overwhelming mass of evidence indicates that half of all domestic violence cases involve an exchange of blows and the remaining 50% is evenly split between men and women who are brutalized by their partners.
But the patriarchal paradigm says that you're no longer a man if you get beat up by a woman, so the above fact is largely ignored. And I don't just mean by people watching Saturday Night Live. The Department of Justice has historically refused to fund studies to research domestic violence against men. The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women is the only national toll-free hot line that specializes in helping male victims of domestic violence. And yes, they are getting calls concerning male victims—try 80% of all their calls.

But the most frightening thing is that the law is categorically not on the side of male domestic abuse victims. Because women can use the law to continue the abuse. 85% of the two million temporary restraining orders that are issued per year are made against men. Why 85% when 200 studies show that men are just as likely to be abused? But the nail in the coffin is this: A man who calls the police to report domestic violence is three times more likely to be arrested than the woman who is abusing him. How about that for a bad day? What other crime can you name where if you report it, the police are three times more likely to arrest the victim?

And why does this continue? How does this continue?
A recent 32-nation study revealed that more than 51% of men and 52% of women felt that there were times when it was appropriate for a wife to slap her husband. By comparison, only 26% of men and 21% of women felt that there were times when it was appropriate for a husband to slap his wife. Murray Straus, creator of the Conflict Tactics Scale and one of the authors of the study, explained this discrepancy: "We don't perceive men as victims. We see women as being more vulnerable than men."

That's the patriarchal paradigm at work. Call me a feminist if you have to, but there has to be some other word for what I'm actually saying... we need gender equality now.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

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