One of the fundamental promises of patriarchy is that if women will just surrender themselves to men, men will protect them. There are two problems with this promise. The first is that it rarely gets kept because what men are protecting women from is generally other men, and there’s no screening process to “other” men who harm women (we instead “other” men who don’t look like us, talk like us, or come from where we do, on the willfully ignorant assumption Men Like Us don’t hurt women). The second is that protection is not particularly a male instinct (as the patriarchy acknowledges in a mind-boggling display of doublethink every time it waxes on about the mother who protects her child at all costs, up to and including her own life), so if you want to have a society in which some people protect others, you need to find a way to screen protective individuals from those who aren’t particularly protective (or are even predators) that’s more sophisticated and effective than “has a penis + uses it on women = good guy.”
The incredibly stupid presumptions here are all born of animal laziness: critical thought takes time and effort. Looking at someone’s skin color or gender and making a snap judgment is easy. Societies expend a lot more effort trying to convince themselves that screening criteria like race and gender work than they would expend at learning what constitutes a decent human being and what doesn’t, but the ability to think in the long term and work out real versus apparent benefits is another form of critical thinking.
Some of the hard work societies do to keep alive the myth that men almost always protect women, except for rare anomalies which aren’t society’s fault, include:
Casting any woman harmed by a man as “not sufficiently surrendered” to male protection. Think about the script we go through when a woman claims she was raped by a man, or a woman asks how to prevent herself being raped by a man. We say stay home, don’t go out, don’t drink, don’t dress sexy, be careful who you flirt with, learn karate – we ask the alleged victim if she did these things, and withhold our sympathy until we learn that she was at home, in a locked house, tending her wedlock-born children, when some horrid non-white, non-English speaking man flew through a plateglass window and brutally raped her.
And yet, as Rana on Shakesville [link no longer works]points out:
What always gets me about the rape prevention attitude is that, well, if you follow the statistics on rape, the best situation for a woman to be in, in terms of the likelihood of a rape occurring, is to be in a public place by herself. The most dangerous place is to be at home with a man that she knows, and, often, trusts.
That’s the problem with the “rape prevention” argument: it purports to offer a solution to the problem of rape by telling women to do things that do not reduce their statistical risk, to do things that are statistically risky, and then goes on to act as if prevention is entirely in the hands of the victim.
Here’s the grim truth, for all you prevention advocates out there: the only way for a woman to protect herself from rape is to become a paranoid obsessive with lethal skills in hand-to-hand combat, who fears and is suspicious of all men, including those she ought to be able to love and trust, and who never, ever lets down her guard.
Is this really what we want for our daughters, mothers, sisters, et al.? Wouldn’t it be easier to teach our sons, fathers, brothers, et al. to be decent human beings?”
Mm, yes, but not so patriarchal. For the patriarchy to make sense, we must enlist everyone in maintaining the delusion that men protect women – or rather, that Men Like Us protect women who are sufficiently surrendered. When Men Like Us hurt women, we must prove the women weren’t surrendered enough. This is what we’re really accusing mistreated women of when we blame them for their own mistreatment. Their crime is pointing out that patriarchy doesn’t work as advertised. And that’s scary, because admitting it doesn’t work would mean change, and if there’s anything that scares us more than critical thought, it’s change.
Another way society works hard to keep up the myth is its attempt to convince us that men who hurt sufficiently surrendered women are Not Like Us. It’s easy in criminal cases, like rape: you just over-report cases where the suspects are men of color, foreign origin, etc., and under-report the ones where it’s a nice white man who worked at the local bank. Actually, it’s just as easy in non-criminal cases, like accusations of domestic abuse that don’t make it to criminal court: over-report the stats on, say, African-American men mistreating and abandoning their wives and children, and under-report it when local white boys do precisely the same thing. And as always, make a false distinction based on the tools various groups use: Men Like Us, who enjoy the privileged of being considered above suspicion, can harm women (or one woman) on the sly while being Nice Guys to everyone else. Men who are automatically suspect because of race, class, etc., are less able to sneakily harm women. By forcing accusations by women to meet a standard of “can’t possibly be explained as anything but a man purposely hurting a woman”, you eliminate a lot of valid complaints against Men Like Us. Which was, of course, your goal.
Men Like Us who hurt sufficiently surrendered women are extremely rare anomalies. When there’s no question that a Man Like Us has harmed a surrendered woman – say, a nice white Christian man is caught beating his stay-at-home-mom wife who was a virgin until they married and never drinks – immediately “other” the hell out of him. Take this opportunity to show your solidarity with surrendered women by turning on this single oppressor. Also, this is a great chance to point out how “stunned” and “horrified” you are to think that this could possibly happen to imply how incredibly rare it is – like getting three Royal Flushes in a row, or being in two plane crashes in the same year.
And finally, silence or cast doubt upon studies and personal stories that suggest Men Like Us harm women routinely and not infrequently. There are a ton of estimates as to how many women have been raped, abused, battered and sexually harassed, but precious few estimates of how many men do these things to women. Because as long as we’re talking about the shocking numbers of victims, we can maintain the delusion that it’s just a few very busy men committing all these crimes. But as the above-linked classic post from Alas, A Blog puts it into perspective:
Mary Koss’ much-discussed 1987 study of rape prevalence is famous mostly for its fidning that 1 in 8 college women have been victims of rape at some point in their lives. What’s not as well known is that the same study also surveyed thousands of college men, asking them about if they had ever forced a woman to have sex against her will. About 4.5% reported that they had.
4.5% of the men in the United States is an incredibly high number – that translates into over six million men.
If you take every doctor and nurse in the United States; and you added them to every librarian, every cashier, every cop, every postal clerk, and every bank teller in the whole country; you still wouldn’t have as many people as the number of rapists in the United States.
(Think of that a second – think of how often, in your daily life, you’ve seen cops and cashiers and all those other folks. Odds are, you’ve run into rapists more often than that).
And that 4.5% is only including the guys who admitted they’d forced sex on a woman, or who were aware they forced it.
The reality is: patriarchy might theoretically prevent some abuses against women, but it certainly promotes a lot of others. First of all, there are lots of ways for a woman to get disqualified from patriarchal protection (not all of them through her own actions), and the patriarchy has the privilege of re-drawing the lines between Good Girls and Bad Girls on a case by case basis. Secondly, power corrupts: you can see this in an example as common as when one sibling is put in charge of the others for too long. If you put someone in power over someone else, then unless you make that power contingent upon certain responsibilities and back it up by removing the power every time it’s abused – if you even know of every time, you run a significant risk of creating a situation of abuse. And thirdly, “surrender” requires women to participate in furthering the protection myth, which makes it impossible for anyone to prove to the patriarchy’s satisfaction that men do not protect women.