I don’t know about other feminists, but I have very little patience with people who want to undermine equity driven responses to women’s oppression by insisting instead that we focus on men.
“Why isn’t there a men’s refuge?” “Men should be able to go on Take Back the Night too, we experience violence on the street as well.” “Women are just as violent as men.” “Men can be victims too.”
My lack of patience is not because I don’t care about men. In fact, paying attention to masculine people’s experiences has been and continues to be vital to feminist aims of gender equity. No, it’s more that I believe the vast majority of people who raise these issues are just interested in obscuring gender oppression.
There are women’s refuges because in the 1970s and 1980s, women started opening their homes up to other women who were being beaten by their partners. We took over empty houses, and they were filled with women and children not happy at home. The state responded, eventually, by providing cheap and mostly nasty state housing for us, and Refuges sprung up all over the country.
Those Refuges, forty years later, are still busy. The state’s response has improved and women and children are now more able to stay at home – but there are still times when a protection order is just a piece of paper, or the only way to get some sleep is to leave the place he dominates, or there is literally no where else to go, for far, far too many women.
We don’t have men’s refuges because men have never organised in this way to keep other men safe from violence or the threat of violence. Of course, in New Zealand, a woman is murdered every four weeks by her male partner or ex-partner. For men, murders by female partners happen just under once a year, usually in self-defence. So it’s no surprise men have not set up men’s refuge – just somewhat surprising we still have to have this conversation.
I could go on about this ad nauseum, but instead I’d rather point to when asking “what about teh menz?” is genuine. The sexual abuse of boys is heavily under-researched and poorly understood. When Ken Clearwater started talking about the sexual abuse of boys, it was pretty lonely.
Now, Ken is the “self-appointed National Manager” of the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust. He has supported the set up of seven support groups for men around the country, travels regularly to talk about male sexual abuse internationally, and continues to do extraordinary work with male survivors, literally saving lives. The Male Survivors Trust is linked into national sexual violence networks, and Ken continues to challenge sexual violence understandings by describing the blocks to men talking about sexual abuse and/or being victims.
He is, quite simply, an extraordinary man, who in asking “what about teh menz?” actually meant it. His advocacy for male survivors extends feminist understandings of sexual violence, because it pushes us to pay attention to power, rather than use gender as shorthand. The men Ken works with often come to him after experiencing sexual abuse in institutions where as boys, they were targeted because they were vulnerable. In asking “what about teh menz?” Ken Clearwater pays attention, in vital ways for feminism, to the ways masculinity norms damage men.
So there’s my challenge – next time you hear or see this question – tell the person concerned to do a Clearwater. If their concern is real, we might just see some further exploration of power and gender which is good for all of us.