Monday, April 28, 2008

Rape - Lynching and Our Masculinity


Similarities and differences between racism and sexism interest me greatly. The lynching of Blacks is an important part of our racist past. I’d like to discuss below some similarities and differences between the lynching of Blacks and rape as they relate to racism and sexism.

A definition of lynching that I find helpful is: “…a murder committed by a conspiracy of private citizens, with malice aforethought and an expectation of impunity.”

(Judge Garth – stated:) “I see no likeness in principle whatever between burning Southern Negroes in public and hanging Wyoming horse-thieves in private…. We do not torture our criminals when we lynch them. We do not invite spectators to enjoy their death agony….We execute our criminals by the swiftest means, and in the quietest way.”

(both quotes from: “When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories” [Bernestine Singley editor, 2002, Lawrence Hill Books]- {essay of David Bradley} [1st quote p. 119, 2nd quote p. 121-quoting Owen Wister’s - The Virginian { p. 21, published in 1902})

Media portrayals of the lynching of Black men have often pictured them as the consequence of the rape of “innocent White women” or other heinous crimes. Jealousy and anger at perceived economic success seems a much more common precipitating factor. Some White people didn’t appreciate the implication that individual Blacks might be at least their equals.

I find discussion of such purported rapes ironic. White men (and boys) often had the freedom to sexually exploit Black slaves and later their maids and other hired help. A majority of US native born Blacks have White ancestors. “Interracial relationships” were generally forbidden. I’ve never heard of Black women or girls successfully pursuing rape charges against White men and boys.

Where there was sexual activity between White women and Black men it frequently was either initiated by the women or was otherwise consensual. Black men and boys were rarely naïve enough to think that their word would mean anything if accused of the rape of White females.

To publicly plan and then kill someone (as in a lynching) required a group of people to either not see the victim as “human” or convince themselves that the “other” had done something extremely horrific. To feel immune from punishment for killing says a lot. To gather a complete White community to “enjoy” such an event magnifies the cruelty of watching the torturing and killing of animals for me many times over.

THE OPPRESSOR - Flipping the Victim (Strangely) into THE OPPRESSOR

Perceiving Blacks as the “oppressor” seems bizarre. Blacks had little power or influence. Some Blacks committed crimes against Whites. The criminal justice system was hardly lax in punishing such transgressions. To gather a group, plan and publicly mutilate and kill another person takes more than a simple desire for “justice”. Blacks were scapegoated due to Racism as well as the poverty and economic inequalities amongst Whites.

The sexual assault of women by men is both similar and different from lynching. Well known men such as athletes and entertainers often have significant access to sex with large numbers of women and girls. When accused of rape the well known man oft is portrayed as the victim of an “opportunistic woman”.

The male alleged perpetrator may be seen as going through a trauma in facing such accusations. The female alleged victim may be pictured as taking an easy path in alleging rape. It is difficult to know what goes through the minds of most men accused of rape. There seems little evidence to suggest that large numbers of men are seeking therapy for trauma caused by false accusations.

Rape accusations may be seen as more complex when the accuser is White and the alleged perpetrator is Black. It is not clear to me how racism enters into some of these situations, though obviously it may be a significant factor.

For the girl or woman alleging assault, contrary to some popular images, making a public accusation is very difficult. Where the woman or girl was assaulted by a man or boy she knew, recognizing the assault as not being: “I asked for it by what I did” alone often is a major hurdle. The: “I shouldn’t have been drinking”, “I shouldn’t have let him kiss me”, “I shouldn’t have gone into that room with him” kinds of rationalizations alone lead many women and girls to blame themselves rather than their perpetrators.

Despite many years of community education, rapists are often still seen as “deranged” men grabbing “innocent” women. A majority of rapists are “normal” men, similar to those lynching Blacks. Often when women do pursue acquaintance rape charges they are pressured by others to “get over it”, “move on with your life”, “don’t make trouble” or similar and don’t get the support that they need.

RAPE and LYNCHING - some similarities

Unlike lynching most rapists do not intend to kill. Where one woman or girl is assaulted by multiple men, there certainly is a similarity to lynching. The male bonding has similarities to the group spectacle of lynching. Peer pressure may push individual men into doing something that they’d not do alone, similar to what might have occurred in some lynching situations.

In rapes where there was one man (boy) and one woman (girl) the male perpetrator may have had various motivations. Males often boast to their peers of purported “sexual conquests”. Sex is “scoring”. Talking of or showing any doubts or related insecurities is admitting failure.

OUR MALENESS - relevancy to the issues

Men may in such situations see the female as the powerful one and see themselves as the weaker oppressed person. “She can go and get most any guy to s__w her while I have to try to sweet talk her and risk humiliation”. Such limited silly perceptions may flip the perceived power dynamics similar to how Blacks were seen as “powerful” and then lynched.

We men often have limited emotional outlets. We have sexual energy. We have pressures upon us to be successful. We often lack the caring support of others. We don’t know how to deal with our frustrations and fears. Big time sports culture, the popular media, advertisements and pornography all feed us myths both of women and “real men”. We find it hard to trust anyone to talk of with about our feelings. It is hard to be in touch with all that may be going on within us.

The myths of “the powerful male” seem a lie to most of us men. Where we do have power, we often see more of what power we lack. I take it for granted that I won’t be sexually assaulted when walking in the dark. I don’t fear sexual assault when someone I don’t know starts talking with me or comes to the door of my house. Few men will see these as privileges of being male.

Being (basically) heterosexual does not make me feel privileged. (It is simply a part of “normalcy” that I take for granted.). I don’t see myself as being “wealthy” though our family income is relatively high. I see our substantial debts. While I don’t feel “poor”, I frequently fail to see our relative “wealth”.

We men often feel like important things parts of our lives are beyond our control. We feel constrained in our jobs. We see limitations in our relationships. We feel imprisoned by our mortgages/car loans/credit card debts.

So how do we, as men, translate our frustrations, angers and fears into raping women and girls and other sexist violence? We often have rigid images of what “maleness” and “femaleness” are. A majority of our violence is likely directed at other males. We fight for “honor”, control, survival or whatever.

To assault both males and females requires us to devalue both the “other” as well as ourselves as men/boys. Where we feel a deep, heart felt connection to others, we may hurt them on occasion, but are unlikely to brutalize them.

To rape, batter and otherwise abuse women and girls, we as men/boys emotionally need to dehumanize the individual-female, as well as desensitize ourselves. The female may become the: “b-word”, “c-word” or similar, not a friend or lover we care about. We may have a consistent contempt for this woman/girl or for all females. Otherwise we probably live in a schizophrenic world where she is both put on a pedestal and trashed as we emotionally run from extreme to extreme.

Recently I was troubled to read in a local paper of the path of missteps of a professional athlete. From his high school days through the present alcohol abuse and the abuse of women seemingly get him “almost in trouble” over and over again. He is now tottering to maintain his career after numerous incidents.

It was particularly painful to read of a college incident where he anally assaulted a very drunken freshman acquaintance. Despite the support and evidence of her friends as well as minimal evidence from his friends, he escaped substantive consequences. His university and the local authorities wanted a sports championship. They did not want bad publicity. They silenced the young woman. Her only option is to sue him now that he has money, which won’t heal the hurts she will no doubt have for life.

Rape is similar to lynching in that the victim often is turned into the “bad guy”, while the perpetrator commonly is at least excused for his actions.

I do not see rape, domestic violence and other sexist violence being seriously confronted until we, as men, begin working seriously on our issues. Our issues relate to our excuses. “Boys being boys” and “testosterone” justify our violence. Such violence is directed at others, both male and female. Left not discussed here are the men who are sexually assaulted by other men and are really extremely emotionally alone.

While most of us do not rape women or fight other men, we are affected by our “maleness”. Being labeled a “p-word” or “f-word” as a boy may impact us significantly as men. We may be taught in sports that we are a failure unless we win. As adults we may judge ourselves in narrow ways as failures. We may not seeing how life can be a far more beautiful spectrum as well as a path where we should build up and support others. We view “patriotism” often in a narrow way, not seeing the heroism of many caring, giving people who nurture the lives of others.

Our hatreds – of others and ourselves are based upon various things. We are homophobic. We are scared of other men, regardless of our gender orientation. Such limitations stunt our growth as people.

As boys we may be given different messages. We may be taught that we are special because of our maleness. Through this we may learn of an entitlement – a privilege - that belongs to us because we are male.

We may also learn that “it’s a tough world out there” and we need to “be a man”. To be a man may then mean that we need to fight and need to win.

We may learn either or both of these messages. We generally don’t learn that we are a “caretaker” of others. We don’t learn to help heal the emotional wounds of younger siblings. We don’t listen deeply hearing the hurts of our peers’ hearts. We frequently manage the financial and logistical needs of our aging parents. We often find it much harder to be with them emotionally, because being “male” doesn’t include such deep emotional bonding.

OUR DENIAL - as The Dominant "Class"

Racism in the U.S. continues to be a major problem. Its persistence relates strongly to the fact that it is perceived as a “Black Problem” not a “White Problem”. Black people don’t share the luxury that we White Folks have of ignoring our ethnocentrism. We can and do choose to look at racism only briefly when forced to face a racist incident or similar. We are blind to the realities of Racism that People of Color have repeated reminders of.

Similarly we men generally ignore rape, domestic violence and less visible sexist incidents. We see “the blood and gore” of the moment, but stay clear of the deeper issues.

For some of us things such as parenting and our own aging may help us grow as individual men. We may develop empathy for the women in our lives.

We find it hard to move beyond being “the good guy”. Our support of our children rarely leads us to become an activist for children. We become active often only when pushed by our experiences parenting an autistic child, or facing a similar daunting challenge.

Our support of women and girls rarely leads us to activism.

We generally don’t develop support systems with other men to help us confront our drives towards gender based violence. We certainly do little to systemically work to end male violence. (Despite the fact that we kill men and boys as well as women and girls this is seen as a “women’s issue” not a “men’s issue”.)

MOVING TOWARDS CHANGE - ending the Violence

I hope that eventually we as men will see how “quarterback kills” are us as men maiming and in the end killing ourselves. Being the “strong silent man” may be just as bad as the “strong tough guy”. In either case we are likely lonely, always on guard and hurting in our hearts – as men. When we feel cornered we may lash out doing things like calling other men “p-word” or “f-word” – tying our homophobia with sexism.

We often have lonely lives as men. Where we appear popular to others, we may still feel like we’re never good enough. We may also feel like we’re putting on a show, not being our real selves. We often lack deep, caring friendships. Touch may be ensnarled within us as “sex”. We can pound the guy on the back. We can’t be hugged by him, because then obviously one of us is an “f-word”. With women we can’t be a friend without a sexual edge. If hugged, we don’t feel the caring of the hugs. More likely we only have touch through sex or showing how tough we are.

I’m not optimistic that we will end the rape of women and girls out of “our humanity” as “caring men”. The forces which support sexist violence are strong. For most of us men “helping women” isn’t a strong enough motivation to drastically change our masculinity.

I hope though that we will see how masculinity kills and maims us as men. We pay a horrific price being male. Youth violence kills and cripples far too many. Our emotional isolation tears us apart. Being “a man” can be deadly. Equating “heroism” with being killed in wars is a very limited view of our masculinity. Where we have “male issues” such as how many of us as boys have major learning disabilities or dealing with our potential for getting and surviving prostate cancer, we ignore the issues unless we can’t do it any longer similar to how we generally deal with male violence issues.

Our (U.S.) mortality rates per 100,000 population (2004 data) are shown below:













































From birth on we males are significantly more likely to die than girls and women are. Our death rates jump relative to women as we move into our teen years. In our mid to late 20’s the rates start to move gradually closer to the rates of women. I’d guess that our “maleness” hits its peak in its deadliness as we drive, drink, use drugs, and kill each other the most as teens and just beyond. As we age, if we survive, I think we get a little “wiser”.

If we as men do see our real need to take better care of ourselves, we may start to change how we view masculinity. Our “saving ourselves” as men for ourselves may start by us looking at how we hurt other men and ourselves. Out of this “self-interest” we hopefully will learn to respect and learn from women and girls. Through this we may finally begin to end rape and other sexual violence.

I would rather that male support for women would come much more directly from ethical choices and “doing the right thing”. History tells me that this is unlikely to happen. We White People have to date not made ending racism a “White Issue”.

Blacks did not achieve a path towards equal rights by Whites “doing the right thing”. Black soldiers coming back from both World Wars fought for equality. College students in historically Black Colleges used sit-ins and boycotts to demand their rights.

I hope that sexist violence and racism will both disappear as we become part of a better world. We should support diversity and respect each other both at home and abroad. It will take a lot of difficult work to get there.

Feedback is most welcome! Thanks!

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