Are Men Redeemable?

24 Oct

I was thinking tonight about how the fundamental split in feminist thinking is not about porn and prostitution, or gender identity, but about whether men are inherently violent. 

If a woman is, to this extent, a gender essentialist, she is left with two rough choices: accept the existing male-dominated structure, or devote herself to trying to extricate herself from involvement with men as much as possible. Work within the system quietly, or absent yourself as much as possible. (The third choice of exercising a hostile takeover is perhaps another example of a philosophical split, but outside the scope of this discussion).

If she is a social constructionist, her aims will be different: to work both within the system of patriarchy to support women, and to openly criticize it and try to change it, also from within. This position assumes men as a class are both capable of and willing to accept stepping down from their socioeconomic position of power over women, an assumption clearly unproven.

This question of whether the male class can substantially change their behavior towards women does play out widely in the context of the porn/prostitution debate, though; as does another question: how does what we do change who we are? How much can we detach ourselves from our actions? Violent porn and violent bought sex are quite popular, and by many accounts becoming more so. When does the game become real, and is it ever really just a game?

The existence of men who are to all appearances gentle and actually like women beyond wanting to fuck us, does argue that there is hope. I’m not so paranoid as to insist they are all fakes. I’m even acquainted with a few. I think.

But the thing so many do where they suddenly go nuts without much warning and physically attack people, is still deeply worrisome. Also, does it really make sense to be so complacent about a huge cohort of individuals, many of whom consider themselves entitled to stick things inside another huge cohort of individuals, at will? That doesn’t seem right. That seems kind of violent, actually.

So is “sex-positive feminism” social constructionist or gender essentialist? Is it about progress through normalization, or merely giving in to biological fate? If men are allowed to sexually use us at will, will they be nicer to us? Will they stop hitting us so much?

Or will shit just get worse? Like it used to be, say a few hundred years ago?

I find myself wanting to be a social constructionist but feeling more gender essentialist, if only out of pragmatism. But that gets me back to how what one does affects who one is. Gender essentialism feels like giving up, but so does turning violent porn and prostitution into a growth industry, which is what happens under capitalism, especially when one legalizes things. 

And I am again thrown back to the original question. If we give men more violence, will they become less violent? This hardly seems likely. If we restrict their access to violence, will they become more or less violent? Answer not clear. But we can’t answer it for men, their actions constitute their own answers to this question. And all the mansplaining in the world won’t change that.

20 Responses to “Are Men Redeemable?”

  1. NaturoCath Naturopathy 2013/10/24 at 12:17 am #

    Fantastic post


    • mieprowan 2013/10/24 at 12:25 am #

      Thanks. I looked at your blog and immediately subscribed. :-)


  2. BroadBlogs 2013/10/25 at 11:20 am #

    Male violence against women is correlated with patriarchal culture. So, before contact with Europeans, American Indians on the East Coast were extremely egalitarian and nonviolent within their tribes (the men were warriors against other tribes, though). But virtually no rape or battering of women. In the US as feminism has increased, rates of violence against women have decreased.

    You even find that for men who are insecure in their manhood (esp younger men, late teens-early 20s), that rape is often used to create a sense of manhood. Of course, men only need to prove their manhood when men are ranked above women, which they still are in US culture, though it’s getting better.

    But also as I mentioned in a post recently, in my own family it is the men who are the more mild-mannered. (And when you live with people they can’t fake it forever, so I believe it’s real.)

    Even estrogen has been tied to aggression. If a mother mouse fears for her children she will attack. (Some mice that were bred without estrogen lost their aggression.) Also, while women have much less testosterone than men, they are more sensitive to the testosterone that they have. When you add it all up, it’s hard to say that men are naturally more aggressive than women or inevitably aggressive.

    And, I’m definitely not going to let guys off the hook over some belief that it’s inevitable.


  3. Kyle 2013/11/07 at 12:15 am #

    I would have to blame male violence, when directed at women at least, on male sexual jealousy. It can turn a fairly rational guy into a raving nut, especially when alcohol is involved.
    It’s hard to deal with because most guys are unwilling to self reflect and think about their feelings much less learn to deal with them.
    Jealousy has nothing to do with love, quite the opposite really, its just weakness and insecurity.
    Unfortunately many of us never learn to overcome it, even some you’d think would.


  4. sellmaeth 2015/07/07 at 6:16 am #

    “Male violence against women is correlated with patriarchal culture.”

    I agree that it likely is. But what is the origin of patriarchal culture? Somewhen, men would have had to use violence to enforce laws that profit only themselves.
    Why, if there was not a patriarchal culture before, did they do this?


  5. Sundazed 2015/07/09 at 2:14 am #

    @sellmaeth: I think part of the answer to your question lays in the invention of agriculture or what some call totalitarian agriculture, as in you fence off a piece of land, clear everything off it and plant one or two things for human use.


  6. Dogtowner 2015/07/10 at 9:34 am #

    BroadBlogs: “And, I’m definitely not going to let guys off the hook over some belief that it’s inevitable.”

    Thank you for this. I just found out that it is THE “radfem [how I hate that term as it reminds me of Women’s Lib] stance” that men are inherently violent. Male babies are, apparently born violent, which for me is the position of those for whom thinking is too much work. Or, as my husband likes to put it, it’s all God’s will, the religious fallback position.

    In our broken, alienated society, we refuse to think in terms of socialization and class analysis. We are all (’cause if it’s true of men it’s got to be true of women; we are not a separate species) programmed genetically and there is no alternative but to accept our foreordained existence. I cannot express how much I despise this sort of non-thinking. It means that poor people are poor because of their genetics, it means that black people are oppressed because of their genetics, it means that women become victims because of genetics. This was never the radical feminist stance of my youth when the idea was to fight socialization, to fight notions of inherent behavior, to fight!


    • Miep 2015/07/10 at 1:27 pm #

      I don’t think that’s a classic radical feminist stance, though some people who consider themselves radical feminists are essentialist about male violence. I see classic radical feminism as being social constructionist.


      • Miep 2015/07/10 at 5:59 pm #

        it kind of reminds me of the self-defense debate, as in how women shouldn’t have to learn self-defense, men should learn to stop attacking us. But they aren’t about to stop anytime soon, so self-defense is pragmatic.

        I do think non-patriarchal cultures are possible, they certainly exist, but the question is how to make them strong enough to overpower patriarchal cultures. And is this possible? And how do we protect ourselves meanwhile?

        I see radical feminism as being split on the essentialist/constructionist debate as to men, but there is far too much good constructionist writing to blithely say it’s not radical feminist. Additionally, the “men are hopeless” crowd often have some excellent insights about women.


  7. Dogtowner 2015/07/10 at 5:43 pm #

    I wouldn’t mind so much if someone said this was what they believed as the Little Dictator position that we all must subscribe to this belief if we consider ourselves radical feminists. I have serious problems with authoritarianism, which I consider antithetical to radical feminism.


  8. Dogtowner 2015/07/11 at 8:13 am #

    I think humanity will be long gone before we could ever end patriarchal culture, which, of course, is responsible for bringing about human extinction. Was there patriarchy prior to “civilization”?


    • Miep 2015/07/11 at 10:35 am #

      Hierarchy came in with agriculture, far as anyone can work out. But there have been patriarchal cultures that were hunter gatherers, too.

      Humans are going to be dying off more as climate disruption progresses. Hopefully there will still be enough of us around to keep all the nuclear fuel rods from going critical, but any way you look at it, not promising.


  9. Dogtowner 2015/07/13 at 8:35 am #

    I’m curious what the “men are hopeless” crowd’s insights into women are — care to share?

    Think about the nuclear fuel rods in terms of geologic time; I believe there have been times of intense radiation on Earth in past epochs. We need to be gone, gone, gone, then the Earth can heal and what unimaginable life forms will proliferate next! Who could ever have guessed that tree shrews living in the Age of Reptiles would burgeon and eventually cause the Sixth Great Extinction?


    • Miep 2015/07/13 at 11:23 am #

      Women who think men are irredeemable tend to think women are the default sex, can do anything, and should be running the world.

      Humans have invented radioactive elements with much longer half-lives than uranium. Any future life forms would have to evolve around that. There are over 400 nuclear power plants in the northern hemisphere and it takes quite a few decades of cooling of the fuel rods before one can even think about disposing of them. They’d have to be stored at the bottom of the ocean, if the electrical grid went down, but eventually could wind up being resorbed into the earth and come up in volcanic action.


  10. Dogtowner 2015/07/13 at 11:55 am #

    What is the longest half-life of any radioactive element? I used to know this stuff, but have forgotten. It’s still just about nothing, isn’t it, in geologic time?


    • Miep 2015/07/13 at 12:24 pm #

      Tellurium-128, 10 to the 24th power years. I expect the sun would be going red by then?

      On the other hand, maybe Paul Stamets is right and fungi can save us all.


  11. Dogtowner 2015/07/15 at 12:34 pm #

    Thanks for the ted talk; I want to watch it when I have the time.

    How much tellurium-128 is there? I believe there are microbes which actually thrive on radiation, unbelievable as it seems. Nature has miraculous powers of healing, which I believe she could get on with if we were out of the way.

    Wow, you reposted some amazing stuff. I commented on the weight blog. I was amazed to hear praise of Greg Critser who strikes me as a superlative creep.


    • Miep 2015/07/15 at 1:28 pm #

      Thanks. I subscribe to over a hundred WordPress blogs and try to repost the best of what I see.

      Humans are just nature’s cats to herd.


  12. Meg 2015/07/16 at 2:08 am #

    Hello. Long post ahead.

    Constructionist theory condemns women to spend every waking moment of their lives looking out both for their own safety and also trying to rehabilitate men who have historically and presently abused and exploited women. There has yet to be a critique of what ramifications constructionist theory poses to women, and how women are once again expected to wipe the smudges from men’s faces and mop up after their messes. Constructionist theory is typically adhered to by women who are still processing their own social conditioning, and by extension, still trying to understand how males are socialized to be violent. Nothing wrong with that, until it’s decided via authoritarian attitude that all feminists should be constructionists. Constructionist theory is also adhered to by women who are male-friendly, and who still believe that other women are obligated to approve of their little nigels because they don’t make a habit of being intentionally offensive. Male preference goes a long way.

    There are problems with essentialist theory as well, obviously being the normalization of gender roles. We don’t want women to have yet more responsibility to avoid male violence, or be told that men can’t help but rape women. We don’t want males to receive lesser prison sentences under the presumption that they are doomed to fail (even though they are, it’s only a logical deduction). Essentialist theory has the potential to allow men to behave at their worst while simultaneously expecting women to pick up the slack of men’s non-self-awareness by being forced to be aware of men at all times. No, I don’t think women should have to learn self-defense because men are so entitled and out of control that they STILL go around raping and killing women. Men, being that they are violent, require yet more violence to deal with them; and that violence is dangerous and traumatic for women to engage with. Jodi Arias, for example, testified about still waking up in the middle of the night screaming after being forced to kill her ex-boyfriend in self defense.

    Does either of these theories really matter, though? Men are violent, period. Men are directly and indirectly violent to women every day, they are hostile, abusive, and find a sick sense of pride in being aggressive monsters. I have a serious problem with any theory that condemns women to spend their entire lives putting up with male violence or being expected to rehabilitate men when women should be free to live live up to their own full potential.

    On a personal note, I don’t strictly adhere to either theory, I think it’s a combination of both. Men are predisposed to violence and society encourages men to be violent. Men are allowed to live up to their worst while simultaneously prevent women from living up to their best. It’s gaslighting and deplorable to put women in harm’s way by telling them men are deep down good people and are capable of rehabilitation; and it’s insult to injury to tell women that because men are violent, simply being around them is asking to be raped. These mixed messages are part of the reason why feminism is fractured into these two theories; but in reality there is some truth in both. Both theories feed off of each other and are two different versions of hell. My impression of many feminists is that we’re expected to pick one we like best and leave our brains at the door. I prefer not to.


    • Miep 2015/07/16 at 10:48 am #

      Hi, Meg. I disagree with the idea that social constructionism presumes that it’s the obligation of women to fix broken men. Any interpretation of feminism that presumes it’s the obligation of women to do *anything* for men, has failed, in my opinion.

      However, it is possible to see men as a class being socially constructed, while simultaneously seeing individual men as hopelessly broken and best avoided, or, in some cases, different enough from men as a class to be worth trusting. One can believe that men are capable of being different, as a class, without insisting these particular men we’ve got right now are, as a class, capable of or even inclined to try to change.


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