The feared and the fearful

This article was originally published on the Deep Green Resistance News Service and was reprinted with permission from the author.

Seven years ago, I was headed out to do my laundry. It was early, before dawn, and the laundromat was across the street. Entering the building, I saw a young woman gasp, before crouching behind a washer with a look of pure terror on her face. My immediate response was to be dumbfounded, and it took the woman only a few seconds to realize that I was there to wash my clothes. She apologized, and went back to watching her laundry. I said nothing to her. Feeling frazzled, I loaded a washer, and then walked back to my apartment, still trying to process what had happened.

The woman had evaluated me as a sexual predator. The woman had evaluated me as a monster. Should I have felt indignant? After all, didn’t my overflowing basket of clothes indicate my intentions in entering the building? And why should I, simply because I was born a son and not a daughter, have been seen as a threat?

But I did not feel indignant. I felt ashamed, and I felt embarrassed. I found myself crying for some time. But I don’t want to give the impression that I felt that I was the victim in this situation. People’s actions reflect their experiences, and whatever led the woman to experience me with such fear must have been terrible.

I can hear some male readers trying to interject here. Is it really fair for a woman to judge all men based on a few “bad apples”? Isn’t it irrational for a woman to treat men as a homogenous bloc of potential abusers and rapists?

First of all, let’s try reversing these questions. Was it fair for men to do such damage to a woman that she cannot help but see us as a danger? Is it rational for a woman who has experienced this violence to deny its likelihood?

Second, these questions suggest a sort of postmodern thinking, in which gender equality is accomplished not by working to dismantle the basis for this power disequilibrium (i.e, patriarchy), but rather by simply blinding ourselves to these entrenched gender differences, and seeing men and women as “just people”. In effect, this strategy boils down to eliminating inequality by denying the possibility of its existence. Because such an approach denies the existence of power, it necessarily benefits those whose power is already entrenched. Beyond that, it allows the privileged classes to dismiss any real movement for equality as “sexist,” “racist,” or “class warfare”.

Finally, we should remember how male dominance affects the lives of women. The most recent study suggests that men rape an estimated 1.3 million women every year. Nearly one in five women in the United States have experienced sexual assault, while one in four have been beaten by a partner. [1] To put these numbers in perspective, consider that of the 2,709,918 soldiers who served the US military during the Vietnam War, 363,590, or about 13%, were injured or killed. [2] [3] To live in the United States as a woman is to live in the midst of a warzone. And so long as that war continues, so long as the male class makes war against the female class, it is absurd to suggest that women should default towards seeing us as a neutral party.

Beyond shame and embarrassment, another feeling rose within me on that laundry day seven years ago. I felt rage. Rage first of all to those whose inhuman actions did such damage to the young woman in the laundromat, and millions of other women every year. I felt enraged also that beyond destroying women, these men are destroying the possibility for men and women to co-exist peacefully. Finally I was enraged about men’s lack of response to this violence against women and against peaceful human relations.

Men can talk all they like about how rapists and abusers are a small minority. We can talk all we like about how we personally love and respect women. But until we act in solidarity with women, until we become allies against sexual violence, until we start doing the work necessary to stop those perpetrating it, we are only talking. If we want to stop being seen as a class of monsters, we are first going to have to work with women to dismantle this terroristic patriarchy.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/nearly-1-in-5-women-in-us-survey-report-sexual-assault.html
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties
[3] http://www.uswings.com/vietnamfacts.asp
Owen Lloyd is the founding editor of the Deep Green Resistance News Service. He holds a BA in sociology from Oregon State University and a BA in cultural anthropology from the University of Oregon. He currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife Sarah and his cat, Skitty.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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