Voice: “You’ve come here today to talk about your relationship. Tell me about what’s going on.”
Woman: “He’s abusing me…”
Man (rolls eyes): “I’m not abusing her. I’ve never even touched her.”
Voice: “Abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be abuse.” Turning to the woman: “Tell me, how do you feel abused?”
Woman: “He makes fun of my body. I mean, I know I’m not 25 anymore, but he acts like I’m disgusting. He constantly talks about how stupid I am, and that if it weren’t for him, I’d never make it in the world. He embarrasses me in front of other people, telling them how I’ve ruined his life.”
Man: “She’s just reading into stuff. I don’t mean anything by that.”
Voice: “That’s called ‘gaslighting.’”
Man: “I don’t know what that is, but I know I don’t do what she says.”
Voice: “What she is describing is abuse.”
Man: “I’m telling you, what she’s saying about me isn’t true. And even if it were, I’m not an abuser.”
So, is he right? Is this paragon of matrimonial circumspection, this pinnacle of interpersonal temperance the one who gets to determine his own status as an abuser?
And why is that? Because he’s in perhaps the worst possible position to understand whether his actions are abusive.
Who’s in the best position to know best whether the man is an abuser, to name his behavior abusive?
The woman. An objective third party (the Voice, above.) Certainly not him.
Now, I want to be quick to point out that it is sometimes the case that the abused is incapable, because of the nature of coping mechanisms and because of the power of gaslighting, to feel competent to make a charge of abuse. Some people who are being abused cannot admit to themselves or others that they are the targets of abuse.
However, if a woman claims that she’s being abused, don’t we give her the benefit of the doubt that she knows more than anyone else about her status as a victim of abuse?
Who doesn’t get to define abusive behavior?
This seems commonsensical; like why should we even have to say this out loud? Of course the abuser shouldn’t be able to tell the abused what is and isn’t abusive.
But what seems self-evident about partner abuse (or child abuse), doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to racism.
Why is it that we let racists define racism, instead of the people who are the targets of racism?
The current President of the United States has a history of saying and doing racist things, and when confronted about it, he swears up and down that he’s being misunderstood, or that he’s being attacked by his enemies, or that he may be a bit off-color, but he’s certainly not a racist.
A few of his greatest hits:
After a White House meeting about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, in which he called the people migrating from those places “shithole countries,” the president responded to criticism by saying: “No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.”
After criticizing African American congressman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and referring to his Baltimore district as a “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place,” the president said: “I’m the least racist person you’ll find anywhere in the world.”
After attacking four congresswomen of color, telling them to go back to the countries they came from, he said, “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”
The question that keeps coming back to me is: Why do racists get to define racism?
Why do we have to take the word of a racist that they’re not racist … all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding?
Just because a person doesn’t feel racist, just because they’ve quoted favorably from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, just because they think Neo-Nazis and the KKK are gauche, just because a person has a Latinx friend or bi-racial grandchildren, just because there’s no photographic evidence of them in blackface, just because they have some un-acted upon reservations about asylee children thrown in cages, just because they don’t use the N-word (at least in public), just because they’re fans of Beyoncé or LeBron James, or that there’s an African American family at their church … doesn’t mean they’re not racist—or that they even know what racism is.
Just as abuse is polyvalent, racism takes many forms. Just as with abusers, racists don’t get to be the final word on their transgressions.
As uncomfortable as it might make us, the people who have the highest moral standing and the most at stake in how evil gets defined are the victims—not the perpetrators.
It’s pretty simple:
Nazis don’t get to define anti-semitism.
Men don’t get to define sexual harassment against women.
Abusers don’t get to define abuse.
Racists don’t get to define racism.
A version of this post was previously published on DerekPenwell.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
More articles On Race:
Whiteness Is Not the Absence of Racial Identity Any More Than Maleness Is the Absence of Gender Identity
What Now? Participate. Take Action. Join The Good Men Project Community.
The $50 Platinum Level is an ALL-ACCESS PASS—join as many groups and classes as you want for the entire year. The $25 Gold Level gives you access to any ONE Social Interest Group and ONE Class–and other benefits listed below the form. Or…for $12, join as a Bronze Member and support our mission. All members see the site AD-FREE!
Register New Account
Your ANNUAL PLATINUM membership includes:
1. Free and UNLIMITED ACCESS to participate in ANY of our new Social Interest Groups. We have active communities of like-minded individuals working to change the world on important issues. Weekly facilitated calls that lead to the execution of real-world strategies for change. Complete schedule here, with new ones starting all the time. We now offer 500 calls a year!
2. Free and UNLIMITED ACCESS to ALL LIVE CLASSES. Learn how to build your own platform, be a better writer, become an editor, or create social change. Check out our training sessions. As a Platinum member, you can take them all.
3. Invitation to the MEMBERS ONLY Good Men Project Community on Facebook. Connect with other members, network and help us lead this conversation.
4. Access to our PREMIUM MEMBER LIBRARY with our recorded ConvoCasts and classes. ConvoCasts are a new form of media—and you are in them! Only Platinum Members get access to our recordings. And recordings of our classes are really valuable for those who do not have time to take the live classes or just want to review.
5. An ad-free experience. No banner, pop-up, or video ads when you log in.
6. Weekly conference calls with the publisher and other community members. Our weekly calls discuss the issues we see happening in the world of men in a friendly group setting.
7. PLATINUM member commenting badge. Only members can comment!
Price for ANNUAL PLATINUM membership is $50/year.
Your ANNUAL GOLD membership will include:
1. Free access to any ONE Social Interest Groups.Try them out! We have active communities of like-minded individuals working to change the world on important issues. Weekly facilitated calls that lead to the execution of real-world strategies for change. Complete schedule here, with new ones starting all the time.
2. Free access to any ONE of our live classes. Each month, we have the following: Learn how to be a Rising Star in media, build your own platform, become an advanced writer, become an editor or create social change. Check out our classes here. RSVP for any one class—if you want to take more, just upgrade to an Annual Platinum Membership.
3. Invitation to the MEMBER-ONLY Good Men Project Community on Facebook and all Weekly Friday Conference calls with the Publisher and community. Connect with other members online and by phone!
4. An ad-free experience. No banner, pop-up, or video ads when you are logged in.
5. GOLD commenting badge. Only members can comment on the website!
Price for ANNUAL GOLD membership is $25/year.
Your ANNUAL BRONZE membership will include:
1. Invitation to weekly conference calls with the publisher and community. Connect with other members, network and help us lead this conversation.
2. An ad-free experience. No banner, pop-up, or video ads when you are logged in.
3. BRONZE member commenting badge. Only members can comment on the website!
Price for ANNUAL BRONZE membership is $12/year.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
“Here’s the thing about The Good Men Project. We are trying to create big, sweeping, societal changes—–overturn stereotypes, eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia, be a positive force for good for things like education reform and the environment. And we’re also giving individuals the tools they need to make individual change—-with their own relationships, with the way they parent, with their ability to be more conscious, more mindful, and more insightful. For some people, that could get overwhelming. But for those of us here at The Good Men Project, it is not overwhelming. It is simply something we do—–every day. We do it with teamwork, with compassion, with an understanding of systems and how they work, and with shared insights from a diversity of viewpoints.” —– Lisa Hickey, Publisher of The Good Men Project and CEO of Good Men Media Inc.
This article originally appeared on Everyday Feminism.