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I promise if you kick that stool out, I won’t hang myself.

The feminist movement, like every civil rights movement in our country, has its roots in recognition of true systems of inequity and prejudice within our culture that did not allow the same opportunities to all segments of the population. In no way do I believe that our society would be better off if the feminist movement had not occurred. Personally, I like voting. I like being able to control my reproduction. I like being nearly thirty and not being terribly pressured or shamed for being unmarried and childless.

I do, however, believe that, like all rights movements, the feminist movement has caused our society to evolve in ways that it did not predict or intend and that we as a society don’t really know how to deal with rights movements in maturity. We don’t know how to put them to sleep once they become more costly than helpful.

What a rights movement is really intended to do within our culture is to educate or train a culture to adapt to new values. Often, it’s a really behavioralistic approach. Pavlov would be pretty proud of us.

Feminism Abridged: Women, as individuals and collectively, began to react to large and small inequities with, “Hey, that’s not really cool with us anymore.” The consequence of this that is that women would not engage in the same kinds of relationships with men that they may have previously. They would not stay in relationships out of duty, and men learned that in order to get the reward – relationships with women – they had to change their behavior. Over time men learned that the expectations for how they treat women had changed, and they fell into patterns of behavior that got them the reward, like any good behavioristically trained mammal. Meanwhile, legally all kinds of changes were taking place that forced, not just individuals but systems, to recognize and protect the rights of women.

Now, more than ninety years after women’s suffrage and fifty or sixty years after bra burning and rage filled feminist literature, we find ourselves in a society where expectations for how men treat women have changed dramatically, but we’ve never really clearly redefined the expectations for men and for how women treat men. It seems that both genders often feel like they are two ships passing in the night or parallel roads that never cross. We marry late and divorce early.

Beyond that, we find the quiet fears and injustices that follow any rights movement – people hired by businesses because they fill a minority quota rather than because they are the most qualified person for the job.

As an educator, I’ve been pondering this problem through the lens that any rights movement’s roots are in teaching new behaviors. In education we talk a lot about a concept called “scaffolding” which is a pretty clear metaphor. The idea is that when a student is practicing a skill that is outside of his/her zone of proximal development – the level of challenge with which the student can successfully engage in a task and be challenged but not overwhelmed – educators must provide the support they need to be successful in a given challenging task. As a society, we do the same thing. We create laws to ensure that certain populations are protected and supported to be able to have equal opportunities under the law. We create movements that support those who were previously unable to be treated with equity to be able to resist the entities that would not treat them as equal.

The problem is that the other part of the scaffolding process in education is removing the supports provided so that the student is able to become more and more independent in practicing the skill. As a society, we don’t do this. The supports stay in place whether or not they’re needed, and some women choose to jump higher from the top of the scaffold just because they can. We, as a society, support them in this because we are too scared to say, “Hey, that’s not really cool with us anymore.”

As a woman, here’s the deal: I’m thankful for the scaffolding for which women before me worked so hard and risked so much. I enjoy the freedom of choice that I am afforded in my life. But it’s time to remove the supports. I have been in the workforce for just over twelve years. Only once have I felt that I might have been discriminated against because of my gender – a director of a school told me in my interview, “Women don’t usually work out with the secondary students.” But they hired me anyways, and I worked out. I am confident that if I encounter the sexism I have heard so much about, I would be able to either seek justice through Title IX reporting, legal means, or I could just seek to work in a better environment. I assume that other women come equipped from the factory with personal choice in the same way I have.

I suspect it is these unnecessary supports and the underlying fear that men who suggest that “equal” may not actually equal “equal” will be denied their rewards and castigated as chauvinists that causes some of the double-standards to flourish quietly within our romantic relationships and less than romantic relationships. Women jump higher and expect more from their romantic partners than they are willing to give themselves.

The unintended consequence is that we all lose: men and women alike. Women engage in abuse within their relationships with amnesty and without accountability. Men are abused by women in ways that are socially unacceptable to talk about. And quietly we hate each other and try to love each other, but mostly we fail to live together in a way that is meaningful and rewarding for all involved.

Shameless self (and other) promotion: If you’re a man and you’ve encountered abuse yourself fill out some surveys.

It’s story time.

Below you will find links to surveys that are intended to document the degree of prevalence and types of abuse perpetrated by women in romantic relationships with males.

By filling out a survey, you indicate that you understand and agree to the following statements:

  • I am a male, and I am answering these questions based on my experience in heterosexual romantic relationships.
  • The surveys do not collect any of my personal data except for that which I choose to supply.
  • I will have the chance to approve or disapprove how my data/stories may be use by the author of the surveys.
  • I will have the chance to choose whether or not and how my name may appear in publication.
  • I will only fill out each survey once and will do so as truthfully as possible.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse Survey

Social Isolation Survey

Stalking/Obsessional Following Survey

Sexual Abuse Survey

Physical Abuse Survey

If you have further questions, suggestions, or would like to contact me about this research, you may reach me by email at shearviscosity@menifesto.com.

The Changing Face of Menifesto

My path towards this venture has been, perhaps, a bit unfocused. It has taken some conversation and difficult questions (thanks to many of you) for me to solidify what I hope to achieve from what I first approached as an experiment.
In some ways it still is an experiment, but one that I wish to change my approach towards.

Some of the obstacles that I recognize that I bring to the conversation are:

  1. My gender – I realize that as a woman trying to talk about this topic, some people will question my motives and what I hope to get out of having this discussion. That’s fair.
    Truth is, every time someone asks these questions of me, I will probably have a different answer, but I’ll get back to that later.
  2. Discussion of feminism – This is a barrier to this conversation that I plan to eliminate for the most part. I’m really not all that attached to the identity of being a feminist, in fact for a long time I didn’t even like to call myself a feminist. I haven’t really found myself to be oppressed as a woman. When I do occasionally stumble across sexism that is harmful to me, I have enough alternative options available to me that I am able to avoid that individual or situation if I so choose. I assume that other women come similarly equipped with free choice.
    I’m pro-me, therefore I’m pro-at-least-one-woman. That’s usually all taking on the label of “feminist” means to me.
    I do, however, personally appreciate the irony of using feminist literature and thought to condemn the actions of women and illuminate double-standards, so I have used the term and literature for that purpose. This personal amusement probably isn’t worthwhile, as much of the dissent about how I am going about this revolves around this term and connotations that this term is laden with.

Some of the strengths that I bring to the conversation are:

  1. My gender – I’m interested in starting a conversation that many guys do not usually have with or around women. Men cannot usually start this conversation without being perceived as giant douchebags even if their points are valid. Because of my gender, I am able to start the conversation with fewer consequences and set up what I hope will be perceived as a safe place to have this conversation as openly or as anonymously as one sees fit.
  1. I’m fairly open-minded – I’m reporting on these shared experiences secondarily, so I have to rely on the self-report of the men who are willing to engage in this conversation with me. Some of the conversations thus far have been challenging for me in a really positive way and in a way that has encouraged me to do a lot of soul searching and reflection. At first glance, some of the comments thus far have made me feel defensive, and I would usually have to walk away from them and come back to them at a later time, in order to respond to them in a reasonable way. When I could see beyond the occasional accusation or assumption and seek to really hear what was being said, I found that I was blown away by the conversation that was occurring, even this early in the experiment.

As I understand it right now, here’s what I hope to achieve:

  1. Bring attention to the double standards and patterns of behavior including but not limited to those outlined in the man.ifesto post.
  2. Collect data and stories to establish a pattern of behavior in some more formal way than, “A lot of the males in my life seem to have this problem”.
  3. Compile this data in some meaningful way and act as a intermediary so that men may tell their stories anonymously without fearing the consequences of choosing to discuss these issues.
  4. Consider how to go about continuing to have meaningful conversation that results in meaningful change
  5. Somewhere, probably, far in the future, I see that this project has the potential to become a book.


In the interest of laying all my cards out – I’m a busy person. I teach high school. I rarely have fewer than two jobs, and I will likely be returning to grad school again in the near future. I will always be a sporadic blogger, and I’m okay with that. That doesn’t mean that I’m not dedicated to this project. It just means that the pace at which I can move it may be slow. That said, if any of you are particularly interested in collaborating feel free to shoot me an email at shearviscosity@menifesto.com. I would love to find some trusted partners.

Thanks to all of you who have read and commented thus far. I appreciate the support and engagement you have shown and hope to continue to hear from you.

The Brookdale/B5 Debacle: The Myth of “Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice”

Note to the reader: This is an essay I wrote a few years ago, but it has come back to me repeatedly as I consider the double-standards embedded in our culture.
____________________________________________________________________________

A Google search for “concert riots” will yield 891,000 hits, and a search for “concert melee” will yield another 261,000 hits. So what happened at Brookdale Center, a shopping mall in Brooklyn Center, MN, on November 12, 2005 was not necessarily a rare occurrence except for the fact that the mob consisted of “mostly teenage girls” and that I was working in the mall at the time (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005).

I showed up to work around noon that day having no memory of the concert that was to take place that day. I was continually baffled by the number of adolescent girls asking to buy disposable cameras, but finding out what was happening cleared up very little as I had never heard of B5, one of those Radio Disney boy bands composed of five brothers ranging in age from 10 to 16 at the time of the concert, the kind of band that attracts a swarm of girls convinced that they are in love with one or all of the members. The B5 concert started after the performance of an opening band and lasted only one song since the “crowd surged forward and onto the stage” by the end of the first song (Collins, Ford, & Walsh, 2005). Girls from the crowd climbed onto the stage, overpowered the band members, and forcibly tried to remove clothing from them. In the process, members in the crowd were knocked over, stepped on, and a few were treated for minor injuries. Unaware that the concert had taken a turn toward madness, I began to see people running through the mall away from the direction of the concert, two girls came crying into my store – one of them limping. The mall soon asked stores to close their gates while “police from 23 jurisdictions” prepared with riot gear and tear gas cleared the mall of the crowd of 2000-2500 fans and additional customers (Collins, Ford, & Walsh, 2005).

Partially as a result of the intensity of the police reaction to the event and partially because all descriptions from witnesses of the event sounded chaotic and explosive, I was surprised by the way the story was covered in area newspapers the following day, coverage which seemed to minimize the seriousness of the event as well as the actions of the girls involved in the event.

After reading the articles about the Brookdale B5 debacle in area newspapers, I couldn’t help but wonder how the story would be covered if the gender roles were reversed. What if the band were a group of teenage girls and the mob a group of adolescent males who surged onto the stage tackling them and tearing at their clothes? Would no arrests have been made? I was unable to find an example of concert misconduct with this kind of gender reversal which, I suspect, is at least partially due the fact that teenage boys seem less likely to listen to female artists and be present at a concert in such large numbers. Still I feel safe in speculating that a similar situation with a gender reversal would produce a very different story in which the behavior of the fans is not minimized, a story rife with terms of violence rather than euphemistic sterilizations.

The coverage of the Brookdale B5 debacle seems to be an example of what Susan Opotow calls “moral exclusion” in which “individuals or groups are perceived as outside the boundary in which moral values, rules, and considerations of fairness apply” (as quoted in Johannesen, 230). In this case, the female fans and perpetrators of violence are portrayed as outside the boundaries of values, rules, and fairness. Often this exclusion occurs, maybe most insidiously, through poor language choices on the part of those covering a story in the mass media.

In the Brookdale B5 situation, the coverage of both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune meets at least a couple of Opatow’s manifestations of moral exclusion including:
• Misrepresenting cruelty and harm by masking, sanitizing, and conferring respectability on them through the use of neutral, positive, technical, or euphemistic terms to describe them
• Blaming the victim; placing the blame for any harm on the victim not the doer.
(as quoted in Johannesen, 230)

The staff of both newspapers used euphemistic terms to describe the scene. Writers at the Star Tribune described the first fan to jump on stage during B5’s performance as “enthusiastic” (Collins, Ford, & Walsh, 2005). Pioneer Press writers also euphemistically described the situation saying that the “mob of mostly teenage girls rushed the stage…knocking down the musicians and showering them with kisses as they tore at the band members’ shirts and shoes” (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005).

In contrast, witnesses described the scene as “total chaos.” One said, “Girls were running on stage, security guards were throwing them off. The girls were tearing off [band members’] clothing.” Another said, “Things were falling off the stage, girls were falling off the stage, girls started fighting. People were falling down and getting hurt” (Collins, Ford, & Walsh, 2005). In the Pioneer Press article, a witness described the scene as “mayhem” saying that, “people were trampling all over other people and kicking them” (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005).

The use of the description “showering them with kisses” is a stark contrast to a description of the girls tearing at the band members clothing (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005). In fact, the scene described by both newspapers fits with a description of sexual assault that includes, “someone touching, fondling, kissing or making any unwanted contact with your body” (National Center for Victims of Crime). The contact between fans and band members was clearly nonconsensual and vocally resisted according to Kelly, one of the band members, who described an encounter with a girl who stole his earrings saying, “She was actually being very careful about it and taking out the back piece so that she wouldn’t rip them out of my ear… Someone else was trying to steal my shoes. I was just saying over and over, ‘Get off me’” (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005).

The minimizations and sterilization of the situation by staff writers was compounded by the choices they made about quotations used in the articles. Both articles contained quotations from parties with vested interests who minimized the situation and the culpability of the fans. In the Star Tribune article, Christopher Taykalo, a spokesperson for Radio Disney who sponsored the concert, was quoted as saying, “It just seemed like a girl frenzy.” Sarah Ross, a member of Everlife, the opening band, was quoted saying, “I think the crowd was just really excited, and they connected with the guys when they got on stage.” The mall’s marketing director, Shelley Klaessy, defended the number of security guards on site for the event as adequate for the size of the crowd – “10 mall security guards, and at least 11 Radio Disney personnel” (Collins, Ford, & Walsh, 2005). Similarly, in the Pioneer Press article, Brooklyn Park Police Chief Scott Bechtold called the event “teenage craziness” and said that it “wasn’t assaultive.” Jim McMahan, the band’s manager, seemed to allude a belief that the bands visibility to the fans while backstage before the show (a purportedly unusual occurrence) contributed the mob’s reaction. (Gottfried & Sweeney, 2005).

At no point in either article are the ethical judgments or actions of the fans called into question. Though neither article explicitly blames the victims, they seem to implicitly point to fault as belonging to the victim by process of elimination. If blame does not lie with the fans and it wasn’t an act of god, then it must in some way be the fault of the victims. This blame seems socially acceptable partially because the victims are celebrities and society seems to believe that in some sense, by virtue of their fame, they were asking for it. In addition, society seems to exhibit less sympathy for males who are victims of sexual assault or abuse.

The sanitizing and euphemistic descriptions of what would likely be widely viewed as sexual assault if the gender roles were reversed is made even more disturbing by the fact that both perpetrators and victims were minors. The insidious discounting implicit in the way the story was reported compounds the fact that sexual assault and abuse of young boys is often believed to be vastly underreported. Many speculate that the underreporting of the sexual crimes against males is largely a result of a society that may be skeptical or judgmental of this abuse. This abuse is often viewed as a larger strike against manhood as a result of the belief that men are supposed to have the physical and mental strength to protect themselves and that males, especially young males, should be thankful and desirous of sexual attention and activity from females (Male Survivor).

The feminist movement has fought the status quo since the 19th century so that women could expect equity with males in all facets of their lives from voting rights to equal pay for equal work to respect and opportunities to voice their opinions in the public arena. A byproduct of our western patriarchal culture is a tradition in which “women have been assumed to be, by nature…less capable of rationality and more inclined toward irrational emotionality than men” (Johannesen, 216). Usually the discounting of female rationality is fairly obvious and after three waves of feminism seems confined to interpersonal and small group communication as opposed to mass communication. However, the area newspapers’ coverage of the Brookdale B5 debacle is insidiously covert in its discounting of female rationality precisely because it appears to work to the benefit of the females who were not arrested or even publicly censured for shameful behavior, females who seem to have gotten away with something that males may not have been able to. Although it may be initially counterintuitive, the coverage choices made by the two newspapers regarding the Brookdale B5 debacle can be condemned from a feminist perspective.

Although many people think of feminism as being solely about promoting the rights of women, on a deeper level it is concerned with leveling inequalities and the societal structures that serve to keep women or other groups from being perceived or treated as fully human. The integrity of the feminist movement is at stake when both women and the society in which they live passively allow the minimization of both women’s bad and good behavior rather than insisting that females be held to the same standard of acceptable behavior as males, even when this may reflect poorly on the some members of the female gender.

Johannessen writes, “Feminism holds that both women and men are complete and important human beings and that societal barriers (typically constructed through language processes) have prevented women from being perceived and treated as valued persons of equal worth with men” (203). The euphemistic and sanitizing language used in the coverage of the Brookdale B5 debacle served to prevent women from being understood or treated as equal in an insidious manner.

Although, on the surface, females may appear to benefit from the way the story was covered, when one looks beneath the surface, the fans, who were primarily female, were not held to the same standard to which a similar group of male fans would be held. This suggests that either (a) women are not believed to be capable of making the type of ethical judgments that would have prevented the entire incident, or (b) the adolescent boys who were victims were in some way deserving of the females’ actions. Neither one of these options are particularly appealing and both demonstrate a lack of equity between genders. Whether this lack of equity tilts in the favor of males or females is irrelevant. Either way it demonstrates a sobering inequality present in our society.

So what ethical responsibility does the media (and society as a whole) have to treat males and females with equity even when this means holding them equally responsible for the consequences of unacceptable actions?

Linda Steiner argues that news should not merely “legitimate and reinforce existing institutional structures and values” (as quoted in Johannesen, 215). From this perspective, the coverage of the Brookdale B5 debacle fails miserably as the both newspapers continued to reinforce prevailing value judgments and stereotypes without any voices of dissent (save my letter to the editor of the Star Tribune). Both publications effectively muffled the voices of the victims and minimized the actions of the perpetrators while continuing to reinforce a double standard wherein sexual violence against females is condemned but similar violence against males is minimized, joked about, or denied completely. In addition, both publications treated females as moral exclusions from the broader society and continued to perpetuate the myth that girls are all “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

References
Male Survivor (2007). Male Sexual Victimization Myths & Facts. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www.malesurvivor.org/myths.html
The National Center for Victims of Crimes (2008). Sexual assault. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32369
Collins, T., Ford, T., & Walsh, J. (2005, November 13). Concert sparks melee at mall. Star Tribune, pp. B1, B9.
Gottfried, M. H. & Sweeney, P. (2005, November 13). Girls mob B5 stage, overcome boy band: it took 70 officers to restore order. St. Paul Pioneer Press, pp. B1.
Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in communication. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

To my dissenters (mostly women): A pre-emptive strike

  1. It is not a way to sidestep the very real issues of sexism and violence towards women, often perpetrated by men.
    Many women may feel as if I am side-stepping the real issue that women have been and are being oppressed. This is a fact, and not one that I am denying. Neither is it one that I am sidestepping. It is, however, not the issue upon which I am, specifically, trying to shine a light.
  2. It is not a victimization competition.
    I am not interested in comparing which gender has the shittier end of the stick. I don’t think that conversation is or has ever been beneficial, nor has it necessarily allowed us to get any closer to equality.
  3. It is not a compare your worst ex-_____________ stories challenge.
    Truth is, most of us have at least one shitty ex-_____________ story. I have them. I assume that most of you, my readers, also have them. What I’m interested in is what appears to be a pattern of willful manipulation by women and men willing to put up with this manipulation for decent lengths of time. I’m curious what it is about our society that is making this behavioral pattern acceptable to either gender.
  4. It is not a way to legitimize classifying all women as crazy.
    A certain subset of the female population makes choices to intentionally manipulate men. Like abusive men, they often prey on men at the lowest points in their lives and self-esteem. These women are psychologically abusive and, often, financially manipulative. They use outdated male gender roles to take advantage of men’s finances and provider mentalities. As with any subset of any population, this subset of the population does not represent all women.
  5. It is not a blame game.
    Both genders have a role in this problem, mostly as a result of falling too easily into our gender roles without thought.
    It is no new concept that women have a unique power over men that is often perceived as (but is not limited to) sexuality. Even Aristophanes knew this in 411 BCE when he wrote Lysistrata – a comedy about women who take over the treasury in Athens and withhold sex from their husbands until the men can work out the differences and make peace to end the Peloponnesian War. Women have to be conscious about how they use their power and not use it in a manner that harmful, manipulative, or abusive to others.
    Men, also, have a role to play. If women tried to use this power unsuccessfully enough, they would probably stop trying to use it. Sometimes you guys just have to walk away, even from hot girls and even if you’re lonely. It’s Pavlovian. If they keep hitting that lever and getting a reward, they will keep hitting that lever.
  6. This is not about “equality” that is special treatment.
    Equality is equality. I am not seeking special treatment for either gender. I am seeking to find out how we, as a society, nurture both genders to be able to have emotionally healthy relationships between two whole people who use their power with rather than over their partner.
    Imagine the power of that amalgamation.

Man.ifesto

One unintentional byproduct of my serial internet dating has been that I have become a crazy ex-girlfriend story collector.

Most of the stories go something like this: I once had this girlfriend, and she was crazy. Here are a bunch of crazy things she did to me. Let me tell you about the myriad of ways she manipulated me and took advantage of my kindness/lack of balls/ wallet/ ignorance.
Some of the stories involve clever nicknames like “shit-show” or “ex-fiance”.

What baffles me even more than the fact that this occurs on a regular basis, is the fact that some men seemed to feel (at least, at the time) that they were just doing what any “nice guy” would do – footing the bill, not pressing charges when she writes checks in his name, continuing to date so that she won’t kill herself, etc, ad nauseum.

Another commonality among these stories, is that the women in these stories are often ex-fiances or long-term girlfriends, which means that men seriously considered spending their lives in a constant state of fucked-up-ed-ness.

I have also collected a series of break-up stories that start like this, “You’re hilarious and you’re my best friend and I really SHOULD be head-over-heels in love with you, but…”

Maybe there is a root of bitterness, but I think there’s something more.

When I hear these stories from dates and male friends, I think that there is no way myself or any of my most functional female friends would put up with the kind of bullshit men do, en masse. And, IF we did, we have been trained through years and years of feminist guilt-tripping that we really SHOULDN’T be doing this to ourselves. After all, women of years past did not vilify cock and write angry we-can-do-everything-without-you-and-your-patriarchal-control literature for us to go around supporting jobless men and letting them control our every move.

I have some hunches about what I’m observing:

  1. Gender roles and expectations for women have changed dramatically in the last fifty to seventy years. However, they have only altered very slightly for men and most of the change has to do with how men are expected to treat women.
  2. There are double standards. It is socially acceptable (and, perhaps, expected) for women to treat men in ways that men could not treat women.
    To a certain extent, men seem to expect to be treated this poorly, to just “put up” with manipulation and lies in order to maintain relationships. They don’t expect their female interests to show up to the party without their bullshit backpack fully loaded.
  3. As with any situation rife with double standards, there are mixed messages. Not only do women know that they control the most valued commodity in the straight, male community – Vagina: The oil of the middle beast – they also know that they don’t have to be particularly careful about how they wield this power. Due to the trifecta of gender norm confusion, pussy power, and generations of men just “dealing with” women, women know that they can pretty much call the shots. The problem is, that many women seem to have no qualms using power over others to their advantage. Ethics and equality be damned.

So riddle me this:
Am I dating and friending an unfortunate, but unrepresentative, sample of the male population?
Or is this a real cultural phenomenon that can’t really be fought without men looking like assholes and chauvinist pigs?

Here’s my take.

  1. While I’m sure that my sampling is unrepresentative, I do believe that this is a societal issue that extends beyond the scope of my experience.
  2. Feminism, at its best, is about equality and when one gender is exerting power over another gender for the sake of manipulation or exploitation of the other, it is unethical.
  3. Men are unlikely to be able to start a conversation about these issues without being vilified, without being accused of wanting the “good old days” back.

So I’m starting it.
I’m 29 years old and female and I’m writing you guys a Man.ifesto.

Let’s have this motherfucking conversation.