The Gender Equality Movement

All inclusive gender equality, not one-sided hypocrisy

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Redressing the Politics of Victimization

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 9 June 2010

I had written what was to me quite an emotional post on male circumcision.  It might not necessarily be evident in the writing because I tend to mask my emotions both in written word and as I speak – that’s just how I learned to express myself – but it is very near and dear to me.  So when I read a post written by male feminist Hugo Schwyzer back in 2006 about how he became circumcised at the age of 37 and then proceeded to speak for all circumcised males (implicitly suggesting that male circumcision is in no way harmful to any male), dismissing their issues and concerns with the practice of male circumcision, I could not help but to feel deeply offended.  I felt a heave in my chest, heaviness to my heart, my muscles tensing up, and I had to force myself to take deep breaths.  And that’s when I knew, beyond a logical standpoint, exactly what it feels to be a victim, the kind of victim you see feminists constantly refer to.

Now don’t get me wrong – I do not criticize Hugo at all for his speaking about his experiences, and in fact I encourage him and anybody to do so.  But what disturbs me is the way he goes about delegitimizing my experiences, dismissing my concerns, and even going as far as to speak for the experiences of all circumcised men (myself included) in that post and in an interview he gave to an article.  Had he ever considered how different his experiences may be from mine?  How his having been circumcised at the age of 37 ultimately allowed him to experience the fully enhanced feeling of sexual pleasure that I will never be able to experience?  How his elective circumcision in no way makes my forced circumcision as an infant not a violation of my bodily integrity?  I know he speaks of women being unable to speak for the experiences of all women (hence why many non-feminist women exist), so what kind of hypocrisy does it take for him to speak for all circumcised men, and ultimately, myself?

Had I read what Hugo said a few years ago, I would never have had such a strong reaction.  This is because what it feels like to be a victim is something you have to learn, not something which is just a given.  It requires a great deal of introspection of oneself, a good understanding your own feelings to evoke such a deep emotion.  In conjunction with this, it requires some knowledge to form an idea of what exactly victimized you, being able to connect yourself with the larger picture and thus make a collective tendency personal to you.  The political is indeed personal (and vice versa), no?

For me to reach this point, it did require a lot of research on male genital mutilation to really be able to conclude everything I had been fed in school and elsewhere in regards to it was bullshit.  I had so many people telling me that it did not impact sexual pleasure in the slightest and it was so easy to accept because for a long time I felt in denial over it.  To accept this and rise against what I had learned was notoriously difficult for me and casted a lot of doubt in my mind about any commonly accepted opinion or value; but, in more positive terms, it is something I attribute to my developing an independent mind and spirit, questioning every detail and making an effort to form my own framework to the best of my ability.  Inevitably, it made me question how true anything really is, how true any of what I learned actually is.

It was about around this time that I began questioning feminism as well.  It was easy to blame feminists for so many of them talking of a woman’s right to the integrity of her body in regards to female genital mutilation but paying little to not attention to how men are violated through male genital mutilation which is so common here at home (and this is not to imply that the two practices are of equal detriment to an individual in any way; but rather, that makes little difference when we’re speaking of bodily integrity as a whole).  But that would not have worked – feminists are not the reason why male infants get their genitals mutilated (though it does make me question feminism’s, as a whole, sincerity for gender equality and its fairness).  In fact, I’d wager that compared to the general population, feminists are more likely to oppose male circumcision but largely don’t give it the attention it deserves.  I could have tried blaming patriarchy, but I’ll never be able to wrap my head around how men can be victims to it in serious ways but have it construed to be wholly in their favor more than women’s favor.  I even at one point thought about blaming my parents, but I couldn’t do it, not just because I love them and don’t believe they’d have done this to me if they knew how I’d feel now, but because I can’t separate them from the larger issue.  The decision itself may have been their fault, but the reasoning they came to it isn’t something I can attribute to them.

Then I came up with the radical question – why blame anyone or anything?  It is quite possible to recognize a problem without attributing guilt to anybody or any group.  It is quite possible to be victimized without a victimizer.  The way male genital mutilation became common in the United States was indeed quite multifaceted and I think pointing to any true person or thing to blame would be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, because it’s too varied to pinpoint.  This is why I’d so much rather focus on trying to raise attention to the problem and find ways to fix it.

This is where I think feminists, as well as many groups under the banner of identity politics, get hung up on.  It’s so easy to dwell and bemoan on one’s victimization.  Pointing out a victimizer makes a great deal of sense, but is it so correct?  Are men really to blame for the victimization of women?  We know individual men are products of the larger issue, so are they to blame?  Who created the overall problem?  The abstract of men?

Such an explanation strikes me as far too simplistic, even when it does get a bit complicated as you get into the nitty gritty.  It may be right in some ways, but the focus is way too narrow.  The factors in who is to blame for the victimization of women is so varied beyond just men that I think, despite what much of feminism has led any of us to believe, it’s just as extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint who or what the victimizer is exactly.  After all, nothing happens in isolation – would men have been able to create patriarchal institutions at the complete disapproval of women?   I’m sure they could have if there was a legitimate reason for doing so – the world even 1000 years ago was a totally different animal than the one today after all.  Could women being the ones who bore children and sexual dimorphism be the ones to blame – nature itself essentially?

Again, too simplistic.  But I’d be hesitant to say that it is not some factor in the whole mix.  And as I said, nothing happens in isolation – for what women were limited from, men had to cover.  Men didn’t get all the goodies.  Fighting, earning money rather than nurturing children, and all that don’t exactly sound all that appealing.  Indeed, they have their own detrimental effects and we’re still able to see these effects manifest themselves in today’s society.

Everybody is victimized, but nobody is to blame.  These are words for any gender equality movement to bear in mind.  While feminism may have set up a framework centered around victimization, which in conjunction with identity politics puts it all together, that makes it appear that you can’t separate the “women victims – male victimizers” model from it, you can deconstruct it and see where it’s getting at, the aspects it criticizes which they are right on in their being an impediment to gender equality.  That is my aim and part of that aim is to reconstruct it to include what I think is a more balanced vision of gender equality.  Victim politics will do nothing but poison a gender equality movement with focusing in all the wrong areas; what we want is to redress the inequalities of gender, not to dwell on them and even embrace such socially constructed differences.

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3 Responses to “Redressing the Politics of Victimization”

  1. Well said. Everybody is a victim, nobody is to blame, and it is up to everyone to work to prevent victimization in the future.

    • Curt said

      Thanks. I don’t know if I addressed this very well in my post, but combined with identity politics, all victim politics turns out to be is just a bunch of different groups vying for the status of being the most victimized. I know it’s hardly ever presented as such (and thus doesn’t appear that way), but it’s what it all boils down to and is ridiculous.

      I’m fine with accepting that many women are victims. I’m fine with accepting that many men victimized women. I’d contend that it’s all quite true. But when it gets presented solely in that dichotomy, the framing of it winds up having many losing sight of the fact that many men are victims and that many women are victimized as well, albeit in different ways of course. It gets passed off as unimportant somehow, as if those men don’t have any right to speak up about it and attempt to redress the issue. The roles of victim and victimizer are hardly unique to just one gender. Gender equality needs to address this framing issue if it ever hopes to see any real results, along with putting a stop to dwelling on one’s own victimization (particularly using such as a path to empowerment, which ultimately divides and perpetuates it all the more).

  2. Alfred C. Schram said

    Excellent. I wish this brief dissertation were widely read.

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