Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Misogyny out of Mantrol!!

Trigger warning: Some of the content in this rant may be triggering if you have experienced gender violence or abuse.

I can’t even count on my fingers the number of male anarchists who have abusive misogynist patterns of behaviour anymore. I can’t even count on my fingers on the number of womyn I know who are survivors of male violence. How many womyn have to be beaten or sexually assaulted for the whole anarchist/leftist community to give a fuck about gender violence? To take feminist practices seriously? To hold perpetrators accountable for abuse? To wholeheartedly support the survivors of abuse instead of blaming them?

What is it about the sexism in western societies that so often condones sexualised violence or partner abuse? It’s not even that people don’t know about it, or that it’s a particularly taboo topic. It’s a wilful silence by most men in the anarchist/left movement. I don’t understand why there is such an unwillingness to take a strong stand against gender violence and partner abuse, is it because it’s seen as a secondary issue to more important “public” Political issues? Is it because relationship abuse it still considered as being part of the ‘private sphere’ where it’s none of our business what goes on in somebody’s personal relationships or in their homes?

These attitudes seriously set the goals of feminist/womanist movements back decades. It just goes to show the continued disrespect so many male anarchists have for womyn’s liberation, and that this culture of violence is not taken seriously amongst people I thought were comrades.

Some fucked up comments I’ve heard from male anarchists/anti-feminists in response to gender violence perpetrated by their peers:

But she’s crazy”

As if womyn with mental illnesses deserve to be beaten, or that’s she somehow asked for it and it is her fault she was assaulted. This isn’t just a misogynist comment, it also stigmatises women with mental health problems and doesn’t take into consideration the relationship between ‘craziness’ and long-term psychological abuse. But also, it's easier to dismiss the survivor as insane than have to confront the abusive actions of your friend/comrade.

“I don’t know what to believe, he’s my friend. And it’s just “he said, she said”, you did a BA degree, you know that there’s no real truth in anything.”

This was probably one of the most ridiculous attempts to use intellectual analysis to avoid confronting the issue. Firstly, it’s “he said, THEY said” although it shouldn’t matter if it’s just one womyn saying it or multiple, she should be believed. Why do these people turn up to anti-war or Middle East democracy solidarity demonstrations if ‘there’s no real truth in anything’? Isn’t it just “they said, they said”? The dictators and occupiers have their side of the story too. Why take a political stand on anything? Complicity perpetuates violence and injustice. Neutrality encourages the oppressor.

Learn to connect the dots, it’s not that hard. It’s about power relations, that makes a difference to who’s stories you listen to, especially if you call yourself an anarchist.

“I’ve talked to him, he’s alright now, he’s been to that anti-violence course and he’s done everything he needs to do.”

Don’t you love it when male anarchists decide that a perpetrator has done everything he could so he should be allowed back into the community? Isn’t it just so empowering for womyn and survivor of the abuse for them to make that decision for us?

“He’s not going to assault anyone at the party”

Whether or not an abuser is going to pose a physical threat to womyn in a social setting or not doesn’t address their history of abuse. It completely misses the point that the effects of abusive behaviour are long-term for the survivors and if you’re going to include someone in a space, it is going to make people who care about survivor support feel uncomfortable.

“It was a mutually abusive relationship”

This is often said after a break-up caused by a male activist assaulting his partner. It has become such a common excuse for abusers so they can minimise the abuse and shift the blame to their partner. People who say this often do in a context where they actually blaming the womyn for what happened to her.

“Do I sense a hint of misandry?”

Organising a community response to a male abuser must equate to man-hating right? That statement also an underlying assumption that all men are abusive, isn’t that in itself misandry?

“You’re being divisive”

Yeah, I’m being divisive, not the misogyny or sexism or the violence against womyn that’s divisive. Yeah, it’s the people trying to challenge sexist oppression in our communities that’s being divisive. Makes total sense. Perhaps what is dividing the left is the difference in analyses of gender violence and patriarchy. One side condones it, one side doesn’t or rather one side is complicit, one side isn’t. The division is caused by ideologically opposing standpoints, so how can there be unity?

Minimising, blaming, denying, ignoring

That pretty much sums up anti-feminist activists’ response to gender violence in the ‘community’, which is a continuation of the emotional abuse already inflicted by the partner/perpetrator.

Understanding abuse: POWER AND CONTROL/”MANTROL*”

Intimate Partner Abuse is a political issue, it’s about power and control within a wider context of (hetero)sexist gender expectations and male privilege. Abuse is not just physical assault, it’s not just sexual assault; it’s the matrix of emotional abuse/manipulation, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, intimidation, isolation and using political rhetoric to control someone. These are components of an unequal power relationship of domination and subordination. This is a cyclical pattern of behaviour. This is the product of a society that privileges white heterosexual cis-men. This is political. Yet this is not a core priority for so many anarchist men to fight against. It becomes secondary to class, or state political violence (if it is even on the agenda at all).

Misogyny is out of control and the responses from other activists just seem to get worse with each new incident. What might’ve began as outrage to gender violence a couple of years ago (perhaps due to a stronger anarcha-feminist contingency in Auckland) is now complacency and survivor-blaming mentalities. Some people even deliberately excluded survivors at social events so the perpetrators of intimate partner violence can go with their new girlfriends. This can’t keep happening! Enough. Is. Enough.

  • Support survivors
  • Challenge misogyny, ok maybe understand what that actually means and the different ways misogyny manifests in your behaviour, your speech, body language, perceptions, in group dynamics etc.
  • Shoot the manarchist in your head
  • Critically analyse your privileges
  • Learn to not dominate, abuse, manipulate other people
  • Make it a serious priority

*If you haven't seen those TV ads and billboards, "Mantrol" is a term that's been used in advertisements to stop drunk driving, targeted at men. There's been a huge increase in man-focused ads lately, this just one of the bunch. You can watch it on youtube, it is pretty ridiculous.


  1. Agree with the gist of what you're saying, but why the hating on the mantrol ads? Mainstream attempt to deal with a problem, i.e. men drink driving all the time. I'm not out here advocating for them, but I also respect people trying to come up with new ways of getting through to behaviour like that.
    I support the 'it's not OK' campaign because it is trying to make a difference and speaks in a way that is getting results. Its changing behaviours.

  2. you make me want to speak out about my past, i think i will, maybe my story will help someone, somewhere.

  3. That's a really good summary of the ways people minimise misogynist abuse. Thanks for writing this up. I wish that I wasn't so familiar with all of these arguments.

    I think there's one you haven't touched on, which is 'but look at how important he is to the movement' because he's a good organiser, or designer, or tech geek or whatever, and we're supposed to ignore the pain of the person he's abused 'for the greater good' of the movement.

  4. I have some questions about anarchism that have always concerned me. If we abolished the state, courts, rule of law etc don't you think there would be much greater instances of violence against women, children, LBGT and other marginalised people?

    It is bad enough currently in the system we have but at least there is the deterrant effect that someone could be arrested, tried and found guilty for such conduct.

    In countries where the state has completely broken down, such as in Somalia there is much greater levels of violence than in countries with a state, laws etc.

    I know anarchists want a system based on non-hierarchical decision making at a community level (quite different from what happens in Somalia and other places with no state currently). However, how does one stop warlords or bad violent people from taking over if there is no state, no rule of law or police to enforce the rules that communities have agreed on?

    Also I notice anarchists are always talking about other anarchists who still act in a violent or controlling manner, especially towards women. If this causes problems on a small level in NZ amongst the "anarchist community" of about 50 or so people - how would you stop this causing problems in an entire anarchist country?

  5. Joel, I like Maia's comments on the 'Mantrol' ad:

    I honestly don't understand these ads (but I am sometimes very slow about some aspects of NZ masculinity - I used to often have to have tui billboards explained to me). Is the point supposed to be MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! DRIVING SAFELY IS ALSO MANLY BECAUSE IT'S IN THE AD WITH THESE OTHER MANLY THINGS! STOP KILLING PEOPLE!

    I'd understand that. Even if I don't really understand the association between BBQ, cricket, video games, and not killing people, I can see NZTA's point. I'm sure they have many many statistics that show that the demographic they're targetting (I'm guessing it's young pakeha men) are dangerous drivers, and probably they've reached the time when they want address it head on.

    But then there's this line: "If we're not in full control of such a manly thing [as driving] then what does this all mean? [and he gestures to many different depictions of homosocial leisure]"

    And at that point I stop being amused, or weirded out, or confused, and become angry. That a government agency would spend millions of dollars reinforcing the idea that to be manly is to be in control sickens me. As if that idea wasn't deeply ingrained enough. As if it wasn't understood by so many women who have been at the receiving end of men's control.

    That's the problem - each piece may not seem like much. Portrayals of masculinity can seem ridiculous and insignificant - it's just an ad, just a piece of packaging, just a beer company. But each piece normalises an idea of what it means to be a man that is so damaging for men and women and for men who conform to it and for men who don't. And those who want to use it to sell their products seem to be winning over those who want to tear it down.

  6. Forgiveness and compassion is of course out of the question in this narrative. Doing anything of that sort, of second chances, or new beginnings, rebirth and regeneration is nothing more than weakness and part of the dominating, abusive rhetoric that enables men, particularly cis men to continue exercising their privilege, power and domination in order to subordinate womyn.

  7. You say that a woman who accuses a guy of abuse should automatically be believed.

    I object.

    I'm a male who has been falsely accused of sexual abuse.

    False accusations happen. Males can and occasionally are victims.

    Not for one second would I want to cheapen the experiences of female survivors of male sexual violence. In the realm of abuse of power, most perpertrators are men.

    However, sometimes, when it comes down to "he said/she said" people shouldn't automatically believe the women simply because she is a women.

    False accusations can render men powerless. Simply being accused is extremely damaging.
    My own experience was personally deeply psychologically damaging. The accusation damaged my social network, damaged my sense of security and broke my heart.
    It also created in me a kind of paranoia that effected (and still effects) how I act when I begin intimate relations with women. I find it harder to trust.

    I have to say again - I don't want to take away anything fom the experience of female survivors of male abuse. Male abuse of power is a much greater problem then false accusation of men, and needs to end.

    But when an accusation is made and the facts seem unclear then there may be some merit to stepping back and asking questions about what could be going on.

  8. I find it quite helpful in these situations if someone actually tells me what is going on. Then accepts that I want to make my own enquiries. Especially because, as you probably know, many abusers are quite happy to admit their abuse. Often it's public, which helps.

    But my experience is that often I'm accused of supporting an abuser before I even know that there's a problem. Or blamed for being part of the problem because I haven't pre-emptively shunned someone based on hearsay. Plus I have at least once publicly disagreed about who was at fault.

    FWIW it does actually help some abusive partners to have someone approach them, ask about a particular event, listen to their explanation, then say "ok, yep, you were definitely in the wrong. I'm going to shun you until {victim} publically forgives you. The only exception is that if you want help I will try to help you". Many people, especially men, are often more comfortable with clear explanations and rules than with secret gossip and silent treatment.

    I don't think it's too much to ask to afford even men accused of violence the barest minimum of natural justice.

  9. Anonymous:

    It sounds like your experience of being falsely accused was very difficult.
    We need to remember that sexism and patriarchy affects EVERYONE. and hurts everyone. There is a real need to work TOGETHER to end it.

    I think even before we get to how to deal with specific cases (who do believe, how to hear all sides) it is everyone's responsibility to work towards ending patriarchy, supporting feminist ideas and goals.
    there's a real need for men to openly state their support of survivors. To pull eachother up on their behaviour. To work together on themselves and other men and realize how patriarchy affects them, destroys their relationships and the lives of people close to them. They need to think how to be in solidarity with womyn.

    Unfortunately your comment:

    "My own experience was personally deeply psychologically damaging. The accusation damaged my social network, damaged my sense of security and broke my heart.... I find it harder to trust."

    is exactly how too many womyn feel in this scene and in the world.

    It's why we fight against it.

  10. Typical feminist excess. Of course, when someone is seriously victimized (s)he deserves caring and due process. However, the claim that a woman's allegations should always be believed is ridiculous. Women commit plenty of crimes and fraud is common.

    While men commit approximately 80% of the most serious partner violence including homicide, when it comes to less serious forms of violence male and female partners commit it about equally often. The 20% committed by women is still significant.

    The 'power and control' model is spurious as an explanation of the vast majority of partner violence. The 'patriarchal power and control' was a feminist formulation with little validity. Perhaps a few percent of partner violence involves males trying to enforce their patriarchal authority, and there are at least as many relationships in which nasty, abusive women rule the roost and their partners. All partners attempt to control their environments and a small proportion use physical violence or other forms of violence to that end. Most partner violence arises out of relationship conflict in which both partners use various forms of violence to each other. Women much more often deny or minimize their contribution.

    It's not uncommon for women to be physically violent repeatedly towards their male partners who understand and forgive and never involve police, but if the man ever hits back or even pushes the woman away such that she falls, she immediately calls the police, misrepresents the events, applies for a protection order etc etc. This happens quite frequently, that's just how it is. If a woman believes her man has cheated on her, watch out!

    While many aspects of our civilization were developed by males, the claim that we live in a 'patriarchy' is fantasy. In democracies each woman's vote is as influential as each man's, and there are more females than males. The claim of patriarchy is as silly as the claim of 'rape culture' in a society that has special police divisions to investigate sexual crimes which are punished more severely than almost any other offence.

    Why not try some honesty, realism and balance?