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May 26 2014

About That “Laughing at Male Victims of Violence” Video

[Content note: domestic/intimate partner violence]

In response to the Rodger shooting, which I wrote about in my previous post, some people have been sharing this video, which I’ve seen captioned as “Watch what happens when a man abuses a woman in public and vice versa.”

The video is a sort of public experiment. A hidden camera records what happens when a man starts getting abusive towards a woman he is with, grabbing and shoving her as she tells him to get his hands off of her. Bystanders confront the man and call the police. But when the genders are flipped and the woman is the one threatening the man and pushing him around, people either laugh or ignore it.

I won’t get into how exquisitely gauche it is to post this link, usually without commentary as though it presumably speaks for itself, in response to a post where people are attempting to discuss misogyny and how it caused the murders of six people and the injury of seven more*. (While I am sometimes able to convince people that their arguments are bad, I’m not sure I am able to teach them the sort of basic empathy that most people master in grade school.)

First of all, men who post this link in response to discussions of misogyny (I haven’t personally seen a non-man do this) prove nothing but the fact that they are so uncomfortable with discussions about violence against women that they need to turn them all into discussions about violence against men. As I have noted before, it is sometimes a good idea to learn how to tolerate a moderate amount of discomfort so you can understand where it’s coming from. This is one of those times.

Second, the idea that this video could possibly be a rebuttal to a claim like “normative masculinity is harmful and leads to the oppression of women and to tragedies like the UCSB shooting” is so simplistic and flawed that it really goes to show how little these folks have bothered to engage with critiques of gender roles and with feminism as a whole.

When I see that video, I don’t see any evidence against my opinions about gender. I see evidence in support of them.

We do not have a culture that encourages women to commit violence against men, but we do have a culture that treats female violence against men, when it does happen, as a joke. Why? Gendered norms. Our descriptive norms say that men are stronger than women and can never be physically harmed by them, and our prescriptive norms say that men should be stronger than women and should never allow themselves to be physically harmed by them.

For reference: descriptive norms are culturally dominant beliefs about how the world is and what people do. Prescriptive norms are culturally dominant beliefs about how the world should be and what people should do. Both types of norms are prevalent in sexist thinking, and they are taught and articulated both implicitly and explicitly to children from birth.

The distinction between the two is important. Our descriptive norms about male strength are partially correct, but only in the sense that, on average, people categorized as male are physically stronger in their upper bodies than people categorized as women. And there are plenty of exceptions, and violence can still be committed by a physically weaker person against a physically stronger one.

But prescriptive norms, as I mentioned, are not about objective reality (insofar as such a thing exists, of course) but rather about dominant beliefs about how things should be, whether they necessarily are that way or not. (But people do tend to believe that their prescriptive norms reflect reality, and most people do seem to not recognize the difference between these two types of norms.) Prescriptive norms are values. People may justify them in various ways, but they will not usually be able to present “evidence” for them, because they are not based on evidence. For example, some people tell me that I shouldn’t lift weights because then I’ll become stronger than many men, and men will not be attracted to a woman who’s stronger than them, and being attractive to men is presumably something I care about. Of course, I already am stronger than many men, and some of those men are even attracted to me, and some of those men are even attracted to me partially because of my physical strength. In this way, many prescriptive gender norms fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.

Let’s take the analysis back up one level and see how it applies to men who are assaulted by women. Descriptive norms say that men are stronger than women and are able to defend themselves against them, which is why a common reaction to male victims is disbelief and dismissal. These descriptive norms are incompatible with the idea of a man being hurt by a woman, so believing him when he says he has would require revising or rejecting those beliefs. But it’s difficult for many people to revise or reject their deep-seeded beliefs, and gendered norms tend to be especially deep-seeded because they are so prevalent, so casual, and taught at such a young age. So, neglecting to seriously interrogate their beliefs about gender, many people disbelieve or dismiss male victims.

Prescriptive norms, meanwhile, are responsible for two other horrible reactions that male victims sometimes face: blame and ridicule. If men ought to be stronger than women and able to defend themselves against assault by them, and this particular man failed to do so, then the assault was his fault. If the mere idea of men being unable to defend themselves against women is ridiculous, then male victims will be ridiculed. Together, descriptive and prescriptive norms about masculinity and strength prevent men who are assaulted by women from being taken seriously and helped.

Back up another level. Why do some people think that the treatment of male survivors of violence is some sort of “counterpoint” to feminist initiatives to prevent violence against women? Because a key component of sexism is oppositional thinking. Namely: men are women are opposites. Men and women play a “game” in which men “win” by “getting” sex and women “lose” by “giving” sex. Anything that’s “good” for women is “bad” for men and vice versa. Giving women more rights–the same rights that men already have–somehow entails “taking” rights or freedoms away from men. Sexism is a zero-sum game.

To people who think this way, it is inconceivable that feminists who are fighting to stop violence against women still care about violence against men and do not want to condone or encourage it. To them, there is no other reason someone would focus on violence against women–not because that’s what they best know how to combat, not because they have personal experience and therefore a personal stake in fixing the problem, not because women are overwhelmingly more likely to be raped, seriously injured, or murdered by men than vice versa. No. The only possible reason must be because they want men to be hurt by women. That’s why they’re trying to stop women from being hurt by men.

This is oppositional thinking exemplified.

In fact, those who fight against the gender roles that perpetuate male violence against women are also helping to stop the mistreatment of male survivors of violence, because these problems stem from the exact same faulty thinking. As I’ve shown, male victims are disbelieved, dismissed, blamed, and ridiculed because men are expected to be strong, stoic, basically invincible. Some people may be more interested in working with non-male survivors and others may be more interested in working with male survivors, but everyone who understands the problem accurately is fighting descriptive and prescriptive norms about gender.

Feminism, by the way, combats both types of norms. The feminist movement has been instrumental in challenging many presumptions about how the world actually works (i.e. women are more emotional than men, women are bad at math, men are “naturally” more interested in sex than women, “virginity” is a thing that exists, etc.) and many presumptions about how the world should work (i.e. women should be “virgins” until marriage, men should not cry or express negative emotions besides anger, women should not have casual sex, etc.).

This, then, is the irony of posting links like this video as some sort of annoying “Checkmate, feminists!” gotcha thing. You may not realize it, but we’re actually fighting the same battle. You’re just so inept that you keep hitting me with friendly fire.

While norms about male strength are addressed and discussed by many feminists of all genders, more men need to recognize these norms as inaccurate and harmful, and challenge them. I see very few of the men who are most concerned about male victims of female violence doing this, probably because they’re not ultimately interested in losing their male privilege. I see no “men’s rights” activism around this issue. All I really see right now is a lot of men*** trying to get in the way of the people who are working to help all survivors of violence, and all human beings.

~~~

*This may end up requiring another post to explain since there’s been so much pushback, but I am continuing to call the Rodger shooting an example of misogynistic violence even though men were also killed. His misogyny precipitated the attack. He intended (and tried) to get into a sorority house and kill the women there. Because they were in his way or because he was so full of fury and violence or for whatever other reason we’ll never know, he also killed some men. Their deaths are as much a tragedy as anyone else’s, and no, it does not in any way diminish that tragedy to accurately identify the motivation for Rodger’s attack.

**Many women who attack men are actually acting in self-defense–a fact which is often ignored when the women are non-white, trans, and especially both. Examples include Yakiri Rubi RubioCeCe McDonald, and Marissa Alexander. The Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project details the problem here. While men who are truly the victims of violence by women deserve justice, the intersections of racism and transphobia unjustly criminalize many women who were actually acting in self-defense, many of whom were already survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence. Many advocates for male victims conveniently ignore this fact.

***But, of course, Not All Men. Just so we’re clear. I just wanted to make sure I included that in this post somewhere. For the sake of clarity.

~~~

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29 comments

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  1. 1
    researchtobedone

    Errorthings.

    prescriptive norms say that men should be stronger than [worn] and should never allow themselves to be physically harmed by them. –> prescriptive norms say that men should be stronger than [women] and should never allow themselves to be physically harmed by them.

    [do] want to condone or encourage it –> [don't] want to condone or encourage it

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Fixed. Thanks!

  2. 2
    Menyambal

    Laughter isn’t always indicative of amused contempt. Sometimes it is a startle reaction to something deeply confusing, or in milder instances, a reaction to seeing something two ways at once, or just unexpected. Puns, for instance, or plays on words, are shifts in expectation. (Different people have different senses of humor.)

    So laughter at the sight of a man being abused isn’t always laughing at the petception of a poor, weak goober. Sometimes it may be a new realization, that men do get abused. Sometimes even, it may be that the sight is so mind-twistingly odd that laughter of confusion come bubbling up.

    The folks who don’t realize that there is more than one reason to laugh may be projecting their own inclination to ridicule onto other people. Their argument is invaliid.

    Most ways, the sight of a man being abused is very unexpected, sometimes bringing on nervous laughter. The paradigm is still that a woman getting abused is a normal, expected thing to many people.

    1. 2.1
      Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

      Given that being laughed at, except when one intentionally is trying to elicit that reaction, is nearly always a horrifying and distressing experience, this seems like another case of Intent Is Not Magic.

      1. 2.1.1
        SallyStrange

        Menyambal was explaining why people might laugh. They were not asserting that the lack of evil intent magically transforms the experience of being laughed at into something that’s not humiliating or distressing. So, no, this is not a case of intent is not magic.

  3. 3
    R Johnston

    About that video: that’s some O’Keefe level deceptive editing. In particular, the third party confrontation at the end of the first scene has a background that goes along with the second scene, not the first scene. Also, lots of reaction shots, but no reaction shots that depict the acted violence. Background people in the physical confrontation shots seem pretty blasé in both scenes. It’s almost as if they shot the same thing over and over, didn’t get much-if-any good usable video, then staged a third party confrontation before–or perhaps even after–shooting on to the second scene, which everybody watching already knew was fake.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Huh. I had assumed that the video was made in good faith even though the ways in which people were spreading it around were not always. But I hadn’t looked at it that closely.

      1. 3.1.1
        R Johnston

        I watched it through the first time with sound off. I was thinking that it might make it easier to see whether the scene with the violent woman was poorly acted and obviously fake, justifying the different reaction. Instead, it really made the visual discontinuities stand out. Then, when I listened, the continuous sound over the discontinuous video was jarring. I could be wrong, but it looks just like it would look if the video had been dishonestly edited.

    2. 3.2
      CWilson

      Exactly! What annoys me about that video is that it looks like it is some sociological experiment, when it is actually set up by the ManKind Initiative to make a point, the point apparently being that everyone runs to help women when they are being abused by men, but no one helps men in the same situation. The ManKind Initiative is, according to Wikipedia, a private charity in Britain that disapproves of the “gendered approach” the government takes to domestic violence. The video appears to be a sort of advertisement to drum up donations for their hotline for male victims of DV. I have nothing against private groups helping male victims of violence, but I strongly dislike the ManKind Initiative’s approach in this video which suggests women have the help they need and men don’t. From what I’ve seen, organizations that try to help women survivors of DV and other violence are chronically underfunded the world over.

      Back to the video again, since it is made to make a point rather than investigate an issue, I have no confidence that the people who run up to help the woman, as well as the people arguing, are not actors. Even if the helpers are not actors, I wonder how many times they had to stage the fight before they got people to react the way they wanted them to. In my experience, the people lounging around the fence desperately trying not to make eye contact with anyone are acting the way most people do when they see fighting between men and women, regardless of which one is the aggressor.

      This is the first time I’ve commented on your blog, Miri, so I want to say that I read you faithfully and I think you are one of the most insightful writers in the whole blogosphere.

    3. 3.3
      AMM

      That was kind of my first reaction, just from reading Miri’s description: how do we know it isn’t a hoax? That every piece wasn’t scripted from start to finish? It’s no different from any other form of anecdata: unless you have reason to trust the person who’s reporting it to you, you have to be prepared for the possibility that it’s BS.

    4. 3.4
      Zan

      In my own experience, I’ve seen this happen. Of COURSE there are abusive women out there….many. Is it a problem on the scale of what women experience….no. But it IS a problem for the men who experience it.

      Remember….even a woman trapped in abusive relationships, are EMOTIONALLY PARALYZED. OF COURSE the physical violence or threat of violence is the trigger, but not all abused women are chained from leaving.
      They are emotionally conditioned.

      Many men can likewise be emotionally paralyzed by verbal and even physical abuse.

      Don’t reduce this to an issue of difference in physicality.

      Women can abuse animals, their kids, their parents, the environment….and they can abuse men.

      I only mention this as a response to those who think the video is deceptively edited, I might be, but what is depicted is quite real in life. To deny it or to diminish it is a kind of first world colonial sidestep.

      But yes, I don’t see how this video relates to the Elliot Rodgers killings at all.

    5. 3.5
      R Johnston

      We Hunted the Mammoth has a post up discussing the likelihood that this video is a fraud.

  4. 4
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    “Many advocates for male victims conveniently ignore this fact.”

    *cough* “Ally” Fogg for one, who went out of his way to manipulate statistics to “show” that female on male violence was “equal to” male on female violence…

    (I still don’t know why he’s allowed to blog here — his positions are antithetical to feminism and he deliberately triggers survivors.)

    1. 4.1
      JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

      Citation please?

  5. 5
    Ace of Sevens

    This is pretty much why I stopped paying attention to men’s rights groups: lots of talk about how ale victims of domestic violence, too, but concluding “so women need to quit whining about it” instead of doing something to help men.

  6. 6
    MadHatter

    Miri, this is one of the best posts on this issue yet. It’s a concept I have tried to get across to many men I know and have invariably done poorly. I’m going to bookmark this for future reference. Thank you.

    1. 6.1
      JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

      Agreed, this is very well said.

      Typo: “Namely: men are women are opposites” -> “Namely: men and women are opposites”

    2. 6.2
      Sharee

      That’s what I was going to say as well. Excellent article! I’ve actually “used” quite a few of Miri’s writings because I’m not as articulate :) thank you Miri.

  7. 7
    Avicenna

    I also think there is an element of “You are getting beaten by a girl? Man you must be a useless man if that’s happening”.

    For all the MRA who speak about woman on male violence, no one is willing to put their money or indeed their own personal time where their mouth is and do the things feminists did for women.

    Look, if we are going to claim MRA are the “Male” version of feminists then not do even the same thing then we are flawed.

    The joke is I run an addiction clinic for mainly men. The MRA still consider me hateful and harmful to men.

  8. 8
    screw dog

    I did a lot of work with male perpetrators of domestic violence and almost all of the work I ended up doing was on countering the battle of the sexes mentality. It was such a core belief for them that we would spend weeks just coming at it from different angles. So much of their abusiveness could be accounted for by their beliefs about adversarial gender roles, simple male privilege, and just plain egocentricism.

    1. 8.1
      Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk

      I would really love to hear more about the work you did, if you would be willing to share? I don’t think it will be off-topic.

      1. 8.1.1
        screw dog

        Sure. I worked for a number of years in a prison, running manualised, closed-group, psychological rehabilitation programs for prisoners. One of the programs I ran a number of times was for perpetrators of domestic violence, which essentially meant anyone who had been violent towards a partner or ex-partner. This ranged from one-off assaults to protracted campaigns of psychological abuse to murder, often together in the same group (we weren’t responsible for selecting participants).

        The programs took a cognitive-behavioural approach, which was augmented with heavy education about emotional expression and socio-cultural factors.

        In my, anecdotal, opinion, the beliefs that were most prevalent, and associated with the worst abuse, were rigid oppositional gender roles, male superiority, and egocentricism. The vast majority of them had mental health issues, but in not a single case was this a motivating factor in their offending. It was often a potentiating factor, but far less so than substance use or limited emotional management skills.

        The psychological scales that we administered (but didn’t really use in a clinical sense) were Burt’s Adversarial Sexual Beliefs scale, the Paulhus Deception Scale, and another one that I’ve forgotten to measure endorsement of traditional gender roles. I’m not sure how good these scales actually are, but they certainly matched my experience with the particular population I worked with.

      2. 8.1.2
        screw dog

        Oh, and one area (and the only one I’ve actually come across) in which I’ve seen a dogmatically “feminist” approach, is in the development of treatment programs for male domestic violence perpetrators. The program that we had (which I believe is actually quite representative) was developed by victims, for victims, with a victim-centric approach.

        The problem with that is that psychological treatment needs to be client centred – which in this case means offender-centric – in order to be effective. So an insistence that “the offender should be challenged to accept the victim’s experience” is not an effective strategy. Unfortunately, that’s the approach that is often advocated.

        In our approach we saw confronting the offender as a GOAL, rather than as a TECHNIQUE. In practice, we tried to get them to the point where they confronted themselves (or each other), rather than it coming from us as authority figures. What this involved was actually taking the time to understand each of their motivations, and exploring their own experiences of victimisation (which were often long-standing and horrendous), all of which was unacceptable to the dogmatically “feminist” viewpoint of the program’s authors.

  9. 9
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    Because they were in his way or because he was so full of fury and violence or for whatever other reason we’ll never know, he also killed some men.

    His roommates? they were reportedly planning to move out, and the third one was unfortunately in the apartment when the plan was launched.

    The man at the convenience store? bad aim? There is a blonde walking in as he is walking out.

    1. 9.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      It’s also that he could not enter the building where he planned to murder most women, the sorority house.
      It’s like concluding which foods you like from the remains of your meal when you were forced to stop halfway through.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    People don’t react the same way to women being agressive towards men for the same reasons they don’t react the same way to children being agressive towards parents than vice versa. Men are stronger, women are at best cute.
    And it’s another example how patriarchy, not feminism hurts men, too

  11. 11
    Smith

    Great post full of excellent points – thank you for writing it.
    While I agree that Rodger’s primary motivation was misogyny, I don’t think it’s fair to say his killing of several men was random. It appears there was significant racism operating as well as sexism.

  12. 12
    queequack

    This may end up requiring another post to explain since there’s been so much pushback, but I am continuing to call the Rodger shooting an example of misogynistic violence even though men were also killed.

    Well, it wasn’t “some” men- it was four men and two women. This doesn’t preclude misogynist intent- apparently, he tried to force his way into a sorority house, and presumably if he had succeeded there would have been more female victims. And yes, his videos and his autobiography/manifesto make it fairly clear that misogyny was his primary motivation, along with sexual frustration (which was related to but distinct from his misogyny).

    But the fact that the victims were mostly men is also not irrelevant; for one, it means this is very unlikely to be classified as a hate crime. I also find it somewhat crass to be reviving the #killallmen hashtag in response to a tragedy in which three men were butchered in cold blood. But of course, the twitter people don’t give a shit about that.

    1. 12.1
      Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

      the #killallmen hashtag

      ….is this actually a thing? O.O

  1. 13
    My Battery at American Atheists 2014 | More Sensibly Organized

    […] when the Elliot Rodger murders occurred. Although I initially hesitated, upon reading posts such as Miri’s analysis of gendered norms regarding women-on-men violence, I feel it appropriate to share […]

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