I am a feminist and a male. Thankfully there exists a few of us. Yet the idea of a male feminist still seems to confuse many men. Indeed after a blog post of mine, exposing a sexist pub quiz in Glasgow went viral last month, I received many tweets and comments from men who seemed not just confused by my identification, but also angry about it. Angry that a man, part of their male collective, would identify as a feminist. Yet I, as a male, occupy a privileged position in society that I was born into due to an imposed patriarchal structure in society; and to ignore that is wrong. And to ignore the atmosphere that the male collective creates, and maintains, is not a position any man should take. That atmosphere is a misogynistic and sexist one, one that places men above women and normalises sexual harassment, violence, and rape, and in doing so perpetuates those very crimes.
From an early age males are given a mixed message regarding what is acceptable and what is not. Teachers for example are more likely to condone misbehaviour of boys than they are of girls; after all, “Boys will be boys.” Those boys may be punished but their behaviour is still regarded as something expected. This attitude develops throughout childhood where misbehaving becomes a ‘badge of honour’ and a way to impress other males in the peer group. Male socialisation has to an extent manifested into forms of behaving badly, aggressively, or in bad taste, yet all of this is regarded as male ‘banter’ and therefore as ‘banter’ it is allowed: “Boys will be boys” after all.
Yet it is within this, that sexism, misogyny, and jokes that normalise sexual violence appear, whereby bonding is made easy through the creation of an “Other,” the sexualised, stereotyped female. Women are therefore positioned below men as beings that exist for male gratification. When a woman questions this, the result is further sexism, rape threats, and bomb threats.
Of course, not all men join in on such sexism and misogyny, yet while it exists then all men have a responsibility to stop it. Rape and sexual violence against women, to borrow the words of Jackson Katz, is a male issue not a female one; it is because of the socialisation of the male collective that rape and sexual harassment continue to exist. It is not a completely individual crime; it is born out of causation factors in society.
As the American Psychological Association has reported, when women are portrayed as objects of male gratification, males are more likely to accept sexual harassment and everyday sexism against women, rape myths, and the stereotyping of women; this culture exists within the male collective and it will continue unless every man helps to change the collective from within. Lads’ mags, and Page 3 are two tangible examples, however this objectification of women is created directly through rhetoric, ‘banter’, misogyny, and sexism, that is created by the male collective and is prevalent in day-to-day life, not just on shop shelves, but on the streets, in schools, universities, and workplaces. Indeed the National Union of Students has published two independent reports (2010, 2012) showing just how sexism and the normalisation of rape through male bonding and ‘banter’ in UK universities has encouraged sexual violence against women.
For example, an individual who tells a sexist joke will almost certainly gain commendation and identity-reinforcement (of masculinity and heterosexuality) from surrounding friends. That individual may never wish to encourage sexual violence, however he is participating in the creation of an atmosphere which does encourage such actions, and his part in that cannot be disregarded. The collective does not become harmful through its mere existence; it becomes an agent of harm through the actions, rhetoric, and identity-reinforcement of its constituent members.
Longer jail-terms and more convictions for perpetrators of sexual violence are crucial, but it will not solve the problem in the long term. Instead every man must accept the reality of their collective and challenge it. There are men who do this, but the majority do not, and even if individuals do not join in explicitly, their silence is complicity. Furthermore there should be no kudos for standing against sexism and misogyny in any of its forms; this is a position that any decent human being should have as their default.
And let’s be clear, when individuals in one group are facing harassment and potentially dangerous situations daily because of another group’s socialisation, arguments of free speech are null and void. Free speech is not the creation of a dangerous atmosphere for some individuals. Certainly no one would, or should, argue that the atmosphere of racism and the hierarchical placement of white people over black people (which resulted frequently in the lynching of black individuals) was an issue of free speech in the postbellum American South; so how can the atmosphere of sexism and normalisation of rape and the hierarchical placement of men over women by the male collective (resulting in the latter being subjected to sexual harassment, violence, and rape) be an issue of free speech? It is not. Indeed sexism and misogyny often denies a voice to women.
Collectives create their own reality. They produce outcomes that individuals cannot create by themselves; however these outcomes are formed through the collective effort of those individuals and the group dynamics created. Men must realise this and challenge their collective from within. If men do not do this, sexual harassment, violence, and rape against women will only continue. This is an issue of collective responsibility, and all men are responsible for stopping the perpetuation of these crimes in society.