According to Translink (British Columbia edition), sexual assaults on Metro Vancouver transit are becoming more frequent. If they’re right, then that’s troubling (especially if it’s a significant rate of increase), and I hope that transit, and society in general, is able to reverse this trend.

My concern on this blog, however, is the misandrist rhetoric that seems to inevitably result any time there is news of individual men assaulting women. As in the case of the apparent serial rapist who terrified the citizens of the UBC campus last year, there seems to be a belief amongst some feminist commentators (who are unchecked by the media that interviews them) that, because most reported sexual assaults are committed by men, most men are guilty.

Consider Angela Marie MacDougall, the Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services, who told CKNW’s Simi Sara that:

“…the biggest thing that we have to say is that men have to stop. It’s just really something about our culture where there’s this idea that men can do this type of sexual violence with impunity.”

By the word impunity, MacDougall seems to imply that our culture condones, or at least doesn’t care about, men attacking women. Oddly, in my couple of decades of riding transit several times a week, I’ve never witnessed a sexual assault (even though I’m the sort who’s naturally wary that a bad agent could board my bus at any time, so I’m usually watching for misconduct). Nevertheless, MacDougall says that:

“… 90% of [women], in terms of the straw poll that [she’s] done, and some surveys that [she’s] seen, and research that [she’s] done, experience at least one form of sexual harassment or sexual assault while on public transportation.”

That is an extraordinarily high number, for which I would like to see the source study and its parameters (I think we should always be respectful but skeptical of high numbers coming from non-profit agencies who have a vested interest in convincing donors that their area of work needs significant aid).

Nevertheless, even if the true number is considerably less than 90%, it may still be a deplorable total. That doesn’t mean, however, that men in general are committing these crimes: instead, it’s likely that a tiny but prolific percentage of males are performing these ugly deeds. But MacDougall uses the 90% victim number, before calling out men in general, as a means of luring our brains into thinking that a high percentage of men commit sexual assault.

This trick of language echoes the anti-male word choice used by feminists at UBC last year when there appeared to be a serial rapist on campus. As I articulated in my post TAKING OFFENCE, after the rapist had attacked a fourth woman, and police asked students—women in particular—to be extra careful when walking at night, feminist students complained that this safety plea was offensive:

Instead of telling women not to get raped, they said, we should be telling men not to rape women.

Men? What do men in general have to do with an individual predator?

The anti-male claim that masculinity in general provokes male sexual violence requires evidence beyond speculation. It’s conceivable that our society’s construction (or lack of deconstruction) of gender is partly to blame for some sexual assaults on women. However, that still does not justify blaming men, altogether. There are many men who despise macho culture (which is allegedly to blame), and have no interest in preserving it (for that matter, there are some women who support and cheer on macho men: go to a Canucks’ game and notice that it’s not only the male fans who celebrate the fights). So what does the average male who politely goes about his day have to do with violent criminals?

While the design of our society may have something to do with why some men assault women, and it may be a higher percentage of men who contribute to a psychopathic belief that rape is permissible, I would bet that the vast majority of Canadian men believe that rape is a horrific crime. And yet, without evidence to the contrary, “men” are treated as though they are all complicit in the actions of individual rapists.

(It is an odd extrapolation, which, against any other group, would be denounced as bigotry: for instance, if the assailant turned out to be a member of a racial minority, would we call out that racial group and tell them to stop raping women?)

Nevertheless, not only do misandrist feminists blame all men for the sins of terrible individuals, they also argue that mens’s shared choice of washroom obligates the apparently few of us who don’t directly assault women to take responsibility for our gender’s alleged embarrassment and to talk to our friends about their bad habits. Says MacDougall:

“…this is a social issue that really goes beyond what the police can do. So it does take for the men… to speak with other men about the importance of respecting women, of looking at that culture of masculinity, and the ways in which gender violence is endemic in that, and for those men that choose not to be violent, or to do sexual violence on transit, to raise their voice to those that do. That really matters, and I think that goes a long way.”

I’m touched by the way she says, “for those men that choose not to be violent…,” as though we all have urges to attack women. Who are these men that MacDougall wants me to talk to? I’m not aware that I’ve ever met such a person. In my many years of playing a variety of sports, I’ve never heard a man tell another guy that he enjoys sexually assaulting women in his free time.

I’d say if anyone ever hears anyone else plotting to assault a woman (or any person) on transit, the best thing to do is to call the police. If the assault is in progress, I think that most people will do what they can for their fellow citizens, and I certainly hope that I would step in. Perhaps the strongest people present (usually men) are the best candidates for such an intervention, but I would not do so because I felt guilty as a man that another man was a criminal; instead, if I had the courage to intervene in such a dangerous situation (and I hope I would), it would simply be because I wanted to help a fellow citizen who might otherwise get hurt.

4 thoughts on “ATTACKING MEN”

  1. A nicely constructed argument.
    In particular the Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Service’s comment that “90% of [women], in terms of the straw poll that [she’s] done, and some surveys that [she’s] seen, and research that [she’s] done, experience at least one form of sexual harassment or sexual assault while on public transportation” struck me as an especially skewed point of view.
    She works for an organization that supports women who have been the victims of violence. By definition, its a select population.
    It would be akin to a psychiatrist saying “90% of the people I see have a mental illness; therefore, most people are crazy.” From the point of view of the psychiatrist, it seems to be true because that’s who they are exposed to day after day.
    Although, I imagine in this case, MacDougall is keenly aware of her bias & even though her intention is noble (to stop violence against women), she is likely intentionally using this strategy to ram her point down the listeners’ throats. Perhaps its to inspire action? Its difficult to motivate people because often they don’t try to change even an undesirable status quo until it becomes uncomfortable enough.

  2. Thanks vmacaroon! I like your comparison with the psychiatrist’s biased sample. And you may be right that skewing numbers (if that is indeed what she’s doing here) may be an effective way of motivating some people to want to make positive changes; however, I wonder if the use of flawed and/or misconstrued statistics eventually leads a significant percentage of people to tune out such advocacy groups. Nevertheless, it may be that, on balance, the inflate-the-stats strategy does more good than harm for the agencies that are promoting them. I’m not sure if that justifies such deceptive tactics, but I might be able to forgive the exaggerated numbers if they weren’t also used to justify bigotry.

  3. I am a young woman who has taken Vancouver buses, skytrains, and ferries daily as my sole means of transportation for almost four years. Moreover, I have frequently used transit systems in other Canadian cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, London, Kingston, and Belleville, throughout my life. I have never been sexually harassed or assaulted while using a Canadian transit system, nor have I witnessed any such acts. I guess that makes me the lucky 10%.

    As you imply, MacDougall’s request that men who aren’t sexually violent “raise their voice” to men who are sexually violent is ethically suspect. Suggesting that men, just because they are men, are obligated to directly intervene when a fellow man is being disrespectful or violent towards a woman is a lot to ask. How far does that go? Is she encouraging just verbal interference, or does raising one’s voice figuratively include physical acts? Either way, literally raising one’s voice has the potential to lead to an aggressive and even violent physical confrontation from the assailant. Of course, as you say, many people, in addition to calling the police or pressing the silent alarm, will do what they can to help in the moment without being told this, out of their natural impulse or sense of compassion. That’s fine if an individual wants to verbally and physically intervene, but that should be their choice based on the nature of the particular incident for which they can gauge the risk; they should not be shamed into doing so in every instance. Implying that in any situation, no matter how dangerously violent, a third party should go above and beyond and risk personal injury is unreasonable, unsafe, and unethical.

    Also, on a practical safety level, in cases where the harassment is non-violent, has there been research done to show what the safest means of intervention are? It might be safer to alert the police than to have the situation escalated by a bystander raising their voice, possibly resulting in a physical confrontation worse than the initial event. While some of these male interveners may be excellent negotiators/diplomats who are able to de-escalate a situation, others may lack such skills and make the situation worse in spite of their good intentions. Is MacDougall saying that all non-violent men should be part of an undercover, 24-hour police force protecting the physical safety and sexual honour of women? In any case, civilians are not often equal to trained police officers, so to what extent should a man take the law into his own hands? And also, would MacDougall advocate the same intervention levels in cases where a man is bullying or beating another man, or is male protection just the right of women? While MacDougall seems to place a high value on the lives and safety of women, she treats the lives of men much more cavalierly. To continue your George Orwell reference from your first anti-misandry post, it seems that in MacDougall’s world, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  4. Thank you, Natalie. It is refreshing to hear someone allowing for the possibility that men’s safety matters, too.

    I recall a couple of stories from last year in which women were sexually assaulted in Vancouver at night, and men – who didn’t know the victims – rushed to their aid and scared the attackers away. I applaud those citizens for risking their own safety to help others, and I hope I would emulate them in the same situation. I wonder if MacDougall also admires these intervening men, or does she see them as merely meeting the minimum requirements of their gender?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *