Note: A lot of this post will be theories, while seeming logical to me, that have zero supporting evidence. However, I don’t feel conflicted by this, as I’m pretty sure there’s no data on the subject at all.
A post that popped up on my dash recently asked the somewhat disturbing question:
If men and women are to be treated equally, does that mean men are allowed to hit women?
The response on tumblr has had to this post, and to other people expressing similar sentiments, is loud, angry, and righteous. And absolutely nothing they are saying is wrong. But they also seem to be missing the point. A good example of this is the following quote:
First of all, assault is assault. I don’t care who you are or what your gender identity (ethnicity, religion, etc.) is, you shouldn’t be hitting people. It’s one of the first things we teach our children: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Use your words. Don’t hit! No one should get a free pass to assault another person.
Everything said above is completely correct. But I think that the person who wrote this is actually missing the point.
Men, from a very young age, are socialized to believe that violence is an important form of social bonding. Fathers and sons, and brothers, will wrestle with each other, putting each other in headlocks, and doing other violent acts. I remember my friends in elementary school partaking in shockingly violent acts towards each other. And this persists for the entirety of their lives; you can see college aged guys fighting over something small and easily making up, even though one of them has a black eye. These sort of pseudo-violent acts are actually social interactions; they’re tests of dominance, with no hard feelings afterwards. And it’s even more prevalent in pop culture.
This is really important. These men are not assaulting each other, in either the winner’s or loser’s mind.
Women are socialized in an entirely different way. I have not enough experience with this to say with certainty, but from what I’ve picked up, women are socialized in a way that teaches them to “use [their] words” in combat, as opposed to their fists. This is also prevalent in stereotypes. Women are passive aggressive, use names, go behind each others backs, but never really physically fight. And if they do fight, it’s an immediate sign that they are utter enemies, Mean Girls style rivals.
And this dichotomy kinda makes sense. In a early human environment, which group do you want to be the good fighters? The people who spend 9 months carrying an unborn child in their torso? And so that need has carried forward through millions of years of evolution, prehistory, and history, until today when we’re beginning to realize that none of us are being hunted by saber toothed tigers anymore, and these gender roles are pretty annoying/damaging/hurtful.
But Men and Women have to interact with each other, and when that happens for the first time, this dichotomy can no longer work.
Let’s look at a hypothetical interaction between a girl and a boy on the playground.
Boy and Girl meet. Boy and Girl start to talk. Boy and Girl make friends. Girl knows what to do with friends, so she talks with him. Boy maybe thinks this is weird, but okay. Boy knows what to do with friends, so he pushes her down. Girl knows this is not what you do with friends, so Boy must not be her friend. She cries. Boy doesn’t know what he did wrong; he is scared.
At this point, Boy and Girl are separated by their teachers. Boy is told that “Boys can’t hit girls!” Girl is told that “Boys will be boys.”
This weird dichotomy of values bleeds into each other and we end up with a weird culture where we don’t punish rapists but we also think male on female violence is somehow worse than other kinds of violence.
Even though it’s the boy who is initiating violence, it doesn’t mean that the blame lies with him. The blame lies with the adults, for lying to him and to her. Similarly, the blame isn’t on the person who asks if he can hit girls now, it’s on our society, for telling him that.
Both the way girls are socialized, and the way that guys are socialized is weird, one sided, and restricts the ways humans can act. It is important that we, as feminists, fight against both types of socialization.
However, most feminists are women. And thus, their expectation of “how the world should work” is informed, in part, by the female socialization they received in a sexist society. So when someone says:
No. You can’t fucking punch me. No where did it say girls can punch guys and guys can punch girls. It’s illegal to assault someone for both fucking genders.
It did say somewhere! Most men grew up in a culture that said “You can punch the people who are your friends! Wait, except girls; boys don’t hit girls.”
From that point of view, it makes a lot more sense why someone would think that equality between men and women would result in men being able to punch women. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s okay for men to punch women. What this means is that (a) people who think that aren’t automatically evil, and (b) we shouldn’t push the female socialization on anyone any more than we should push the male socialization.
I’m not saying that we should be punching everyone else all the time.
I’m not saying it should be illegal to punch your buddy whenever you want.
I’m saying you should make sure that the people you punch, as socialization, want to be punched, as socialization. (Oh look, we’ve arrived at the idea of informed consent.)
This whole misconception is based on our failure to complexly imagine the people who debate feminism. Often they have very real concerns that we simply cannot dismiss as sexism, and yet that seems to be the most common argument, serving only to shut down those who might disagree.
Even though we are trying our best to eradicate gender differences, feminists often are still biased towards things in ways that stem from sexist socializations and upbringings as women. This means that the norms that we try to enforce are not always obviously good from the point of view of people who are socialized as men.
I think that the Principle of Charity isn’t practiced enough; we need to more complexly think about those who hold contrary positions to us, and spend five minutes seriously thinking about how they could hold that position besides being plain wrong, evil, or deceived. This took me two.