I’ve been trying for the past week to write a post about why “men get X too” is such a frustrating response to feminist writing. It’s been hard, because I’ve wanted to write something fair and balanced, looking at several different reasons why it’s frustrating, but it really comes back to one thing for me:
Why is it so wrong to focus on writing about women? What is so threatening about it?
My primary interest in writing, right now, is writing about women. I want to talk about women’s experiences and the problems women face. I want to talk about women’s issues, and women’s only spaces, and about how women are treated in the media. I want to talk about women in history. I think these are valid and important topics, ones that do deserve the time and energy to write about.
When the response to these posts is “Well, what about the men”, I get frustrated. The implication in that question is that writing about women alone isn’t good enough, that women’s issues on their own aren’t important enough. That I can’t write about women, I also must write about men, about men’s issues, because adding men makes it much more important than women could be on their own.
It’s not that I, or other writers about women’s issues, don’t care about male victims of violence, or men in history. It’s that we’ve decided to write about something else. If I decided to spend my blogging time writing about ballet dancers, I don’t think anyone would come along and say “What about tap dance?” If I wrote about World of Warcraft, would anyone demand I also take into account Star Wars: Galaxies?
I wrote a response to a comment I received on my Blog Against Sexual Violence post that I think is relevant here. A friend had commented with “A thought, though. The essay portrays rapists as male and victims as female. This is definitely the vast majority of violent rape - no argument. But how often does it happen to men when the line is simply one of discomfort? Of being falling-down drunk?”
Here is part of my response:
I’m certainly not going to object to either writing or linking to an essay about men as victims of rape - I could easily dig up a few for you to look at when I get home from work tonight, if you’d like.
The reason your comment comes across as “what about the men” is because that’s what you focused on. I didn’t talk about women being raped by other women. I didn’t talk about blackmail or non-physical threats being used to get someone to have sex. I didn’t talk about a lot of other things around rape, but of all of them, you focused on male victims of rape. This isn’t to say that your concern isn’t valid - it’s certainly a valid criticism of the article, because if nothing else I should have made it clear that the main point was the meme of victim-blaming with women (if only you do exactly the right thing, you’ll always be safe! tee hee!). And I do try to make this an okay place for those sorts of discussions, at least in my reactions to them because I think those reactions are important, those discussions are important, and that I want them to continue. But what Melle is reacting to is that, on every feminist blog that I’ve ever read or that she’s ever read where discussions of rape come up, no matter in what context, it usually gets derailed within ten to fifteen comments with some variation of “what about the men” - reminding everyone that men get raped, too, or using the societal meme of “she did something wrong” to point out that we can’t expect men to act like human beings. As though just having a conversation about women victims of rape isn’t a valid conversation all on its own.
It’s like this - if I write an essay (or you write an essay) about male victims of rape, would you want one of the comment threads to be about how women are raped? Wouldn’t that be derailing the whole point?
Women are a valid topic all on their own. They deserve to be written about without having to write about men as well. Women exist as independent from men, they existed historically, they exist in the present. They are raped, they are killed, they are mistreated. These facts are not lessened or made unimportant if someone brings up men. Too many times the response of “men are victims, too” adds some variation of “so stop your whinging”. Don’t complain, don’t speak up, because men are affected by violent crimes more than women are.
So, what is so threatening about writing about women? I’m still not certain, and maybe I never will be. I wonder if it has to do with the concept of “other”. As people far more articulate than I am have written in the past, the default view of the world is “white / male / heterosexual”. “A man walks into a bar” is just a statement, whereas “a woman walks into a bar” must have some sort of explanation for why you specify that she’s a woman.
She’s a woman because she is - and she gets to walk into the bar, too.
Women are not other. Their experiences matter. Writing about women doesn’t lessen men, it just gives women a voice.