Michael Kaufman says there is no presumption of male guilt. Here’s why.
Before I rant, let me say:
- I do not believe all men are bad and all women are good.
- I intensely dislike any collective blame of men (or women, or, well, any group).
- I think that both men and women can be emotionally stunted, emotionally abusive, and have the capacity to commit acts of violence.
- I do not believe that the presence of a dangling bit of flesh between our legs turns males into monsters.
- I believe men can be great dads, great coaches, and great primary school teachers.
- I do know that some groups of men (such as Black men in the U.S.) often are targeted as guilty unless they can prove otherwise.
- I believe there are sexist assumptions about men, just as there are about women (although both are in the context of societies of unequal men’s power and privilege).
- I’m 100% proud to be a man (although, I admit, I’m not proud of many things done in the name of men.)
- And, against much evidence to the contrary, I stubbornly cling to the belief that men and women are basically good.
Now, let me rant against this silly myth: “the presumption of male guilt.”
Myth One: “Feminists (or Whoever) Say All Men Are Violent. People Always Assume That if Violence Happens, It’s Been Done by a Man.”
Uh, in case you missed the newsflash: most violent acts around the world are committed by men. By far. Overwhelmingly. Off the charts. The vast majority of the world’s violent acts are:
- Violence among men (from homophobic bullying and fighting in schoolyards to armed robbery, from sexual assault of boys/other men to murder and war).
- Violence by men against women (domestic assault, sexual assault, stalking, trafficking into prostitution, etc.).
- Violence by men against children (most sexual violence against children, more of the physical violence—although in that area women give men a run for their money).
I can hear a few of you winge and whine: “Are you saying all men are violent?” Why does that follow? That’s like saying “most cases of breast cancer occur in women,” only to have someone respond, “are you saying all women have breast cancer?”
Just to give a loving hand to any insecure guy who feels I’m attacking him: most men do not use violence in their lives, certainly not as adults. I don’t. Chances are you don’t either. (Although far too many of us do.)
Saying that “most violence is committed by men” does NOT mean that most men commit violence. It does NOT mean that all violence is committed by men. (In fact, in North American schools, violence committed by girls is increasing faster than violence by boys, although there is still more of the latter.) No one presumes male guilt.
Myth Two: “There Is as Much Violence by Women Against Men as Men Against Women.”
There’s a mini-industry of men’s rights types who amass an impressive bibliography to prove this myth solely by quoting each other back and forth.
Here are the facts: in countries (such as Canada) where we have high-quality national statistics on physical violence in domestic relationships (married and living together), if you ask males and females if they’d ever experienced anything along a continuum of physically violent acts—from being pushed or slapped right up to being punched, strangled, or stabbed—you actually do get “gender parity”.
If you stop there, you create a myth. If you dig deeper, you find this:
- True, all relationship violence is bad, but when it comes to measurably more serious violence that requires medical treatment or causes lost work time, there is no symmetry: such violence is far more likely to be committed by a man against a woman than vice-versa.
- Men who experience emotional or physical violence in relationships at the hands of a women are less likely to live in fear of that violence than the other way around. Men might not like it, men might know they’re stuck in a crappy and abusive relationship, but they’re less likely to be living in terror compared to women. In other words, the impact of the violence is not symmetrical and that’s because the level of the violence is not symmetrical.
- These statistics leave out sexual violence in relationships which, when it happens, is disproportionately committed by men.
- In many (but not all) cases, the more serious acts of violence by a woman against a man are either in self-defense or are a final, desperate retaliation for years of abuse. (That’s why women’s shelters and better policing to end men’s violence against women are life-savers for men: they help a terrorized, trapped woman get out of her marriage without thinking the only way out is through killing her spouse.)
Myth Three: “Men Are Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent”
Huh? Ever see the statistics for how many sexual assault charges lead to a conviction? Ever see estimates of what percentage of sexual assaults actually lead to an arrest? If anything, when it comes to sexual assault, the sad assumption is still either that “she asked for it,” “she was dressed provocatively,” “she should have known what she was getting into when she went to that party,” or “she had sex and then changed her mind.” The real presumption is of a woman’s guilt or, at least, duplicity.
Myth Four: “Women Win, Men Lose In Custody Battles”
A hundred years ago, in rare cases of divorce, men almost always got custody. After all, both the wife and children were his property. By the 1950s, women usually got custody on the assumption that women were the more natural parents and, anyway, the man was off at his job and the woman was working as a housewife. But, you ask, has the pendulum swung too far? Is it now presumed that men, if not guilty of something, are, at least, less capable of being loving, caring parents?
Four things to say on that:
- I believe that if a man (or woman) has committed serious or ongoing abuse of his children or such abuse against his spouse (which, research tells us, when witnessed by children, has as negative an impact on the child as if it was directed against the child) he has forfeited his right to custody. It is not emotionally healthy and often not safe for the children if he has custody. That accounts for some cases.
- Yes, there are still sexist judges (both men and women) who stupidly think women are the natural parent and that men are not. On the other hand, sadly, there are still too many of our brothers who seem to have done their best to prove they are not capable of being nurturing parents: when they were married, they only did a small fraction of the childcare and domestic work even when both parents worked outside the home. In other words, courts sometimes might get it right in cases where they say the man doesn’t seem to be a capable parent. (Again, so I don’t hurt feelings: huge numbers of men are great parents. An increasing number of men are in totally gender-equitable relationships when it comes to equally dividing childcare and housework.)
- It is true that some men have gotten a raw deal in custody, alimony, and child support cases. It’s also true that some women get a raw deal. (And it’s also true in the U.S. that men don’t pay 24% of court-ordered child-support payments and only partially pay another 30%, depriving our children of $13 billion a year in support. As good men, that really should piss us off!)
- Most divorcing parents actually get the custody arrangements they want. Except in cases where there has been abuse, both women and men usually want to share custody. (That desire by men to share custody is one of the great gifts of feminism to men: that encouragement and assumption that we can as good parents as women.)
So, let’s not waste time perpetuating a myth that society now presumes men are guilty (or incapable of being good men). Rather, let’s put our energy into:
- helping parents and teachers figure out how we can do a better job raising our sons;
- learning how we as adult men can transform our own masculinity in ways that will be emotionally and physically healthier both for ourselves and those around us;
- working hard to ensure not only that men live lives of gender equality and full respect for the women and men around us, but work in our offices, factories, schools, places of worship, and communities to bring about gender equality and an end to narrow definitions of womanhood and manhood that hurt us all.