Men and Victimhood

Recently a friend and fellow podcaster has spoken publicly about his experiences with sexual and physical violence. His story is both upsetting and depressing - upsetting in his relation of abuse and depressing in the description of how unwelcome he felt his story would be.

I have spoken a number of times on Tea With Alice to Dean Mayes, who is an author as well as a hospital nurse. In one episode he describes having been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, the experience of having his report about the harassment dismissed, both at the time, and again later when he tried to tell his story as a contribution to the #metoo movement.

Now, these are two men among a number I know (who have not spoken in public about their experiences, and who I will therefore not expose) who have experienced properly traumatic events, and had the compounding unpleasantness of feeling that their stories were treated as irrelevant or less valid because they were men. 

They felt, and were made to feel, that their trauma was less serious or real, and that this less-ness was a function of their gender: a pernicious twist on the movement to raise stories of female victims and fight the minimisation of female harm.

Now, it is worth saying that structural inequalities add something weighty and smothering and profound to the experience of trauma. Being assaulted as a woman, or someone in a minority feels like more than 'just' assault. 

It feeds off and contributes to broad dynamics about the “place of women” (or other relevant vector of identity based discrimination) in society. It’s a sting in the tail of cruelty when schoolyard bullying is also (for example) racist or ableist. That's because the incident contributes to a sense of a parcel of social wrongs. As such, it compounds or sharpens the individual harm into a cumulative harm - part of a constant avalanche of comparable harms of different sizes that come in a consistent cascade.

That said, I do regularly see people who would never dream of dismissing an instance of abuse suffered by (for example) a woman, readily diminishing harms done to men on the basis that as a group, men are more usually/traditionally/structurally identified as the oppressor group. 

I think it’s one of the major problems of the (worthy) advances being made as part of the identity politics movement - they tie power imbalances and hierarchies to group characteristics, as a proxy for power structures, when the problem is that it is the power structures allow people to behave badly.

The problem is the power and the structures that protect those in power, not an inherent problematic-ness of the group that happens to have the power in that structure.

Am I way off base here? Let me know. 



Post-scripts for the addition of complicating extras:

P.S. That said, there are ways in which gender norms and probably also biology tend to shape the ways in which power is used and misused - physical intimidation and sexual violence can be a smaller reach for those with size and testosterone, for example.

P.P.S. That said, weaponised weakness and the immunity of vulnerability can also be used to create a twisty power dynamic that is hugely pernicious, more difficult to resist and as difficult to escape. If you have not seen the really horrendous damage done by deliberate psychological manipulation, I would suggest you're probably not as observant as you might be, or you have lived a very sheltered and lucky life. 

P.P.S. As well, clear instances of horrendous one-sided abuse are unfortunately very common, but there is a more complicated and nasty set of circumstances that is far more common.

That is a situation where both sides behave badly, feeding into each others' excuses for increasingly bad acts. Here, it's almost impossible to unpick a wrong act from its reaction, and mutual blame becomes a smokescreen for abuse.

This is a bad situation, and very hard to step out of, or step aside from because apart from all of the horrendous traps of abusive situations, there is a sense of moral culpability that can cripple. People in such situations can be incapable of holding their abusive partner to account, because to do so could mean untangling and acknowledging their own bad acts. I think the only way to move forward with any moral clarity is to have hard lines; to hold yourself to account where you can, if you can, and make action your penance rather than your shackle. To acknowledge what part you have played in contributing to a situation without allowing the situation to become your punishment.

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