First my thanks to the commenters in the previous post, So, who are you?, who tried to seriously respond to the challenge I presented. The really stupid comments went into the trash. I tried to keep the balance representative of what came in. About half were personal stories that I won't be posting. Remember, if you want a direct reply from me, use the contact form linked in the top right hand box.
Why is it so difficult to fight back against misogyny and the violence inflicted on women? Reflecting on the different treatment of racism and misogyny as political issues over the last year, I come up with the formulation that both of these modes of domination are formally unacceptable to most people in society, but that misogyny remains excusable. Racism and misogyny are acknowledged as wrong. There are laws, policies and measures to combat each. The formal opposition to each is having an effect. Barriers to employment, education and equitable treatment have been reduced. You cannot espouse racism and misogyny the way you could into the 70s. It is simply a fact that we don't have a white supremacy party (Howard Dean's paranoid fantasies not withstanding) even if we do have a party that encourages racist behavior.
The chief difference, as every newspaper's breathless articles about it demostrates, is that racism is no longer excusable in mainstream discourse. It is a mark against those who use it. This must not be mistaken for its absence or social extinction, only its delegitimation as an unapologetic argument in "polite" society. It is built into the structure of economics, society, education and politics. Even so, it has to hide what it is, abstracted, coded and whistled.
Misogyny can appear in an unadulterated form in public and private. It remains excusable. He was drunk. She was dressed like a skank. You can't blame a guy for reacting like that. Some sluttishness was probably involved. He didn't actually mean kill her, it's just a sports metaphor. You can understand why someone would want to beat her up. He didn't mean to go that far, but when a guy's riled up, he can't help himself. She should have known that would happen.
An excuse in this context is the attempt to shift the locus of agency, and thus of culpability, to the recipient of the violence, so that the actions of the aggressor become reactions to provocation. "You asked for it." The "asking" exists only in the mind of the perpetrator - and those who identify with him, not with the object of his desires.
The point of this kind of domination and exploitation is to perpetuate itself. As I have written about racism, you don't have to be a perpetrator to benefit from its effects. You can piously scold the benighted Bubbas and Bunkers for their expressions of hatred while enjoying the benefits of a system that has and continues to marginalize minorities. To the degree that racism remains, it is because it benefits a significant class of people to keep things that way.
Rape and other instances of violence against women is endemic because this violence benefits men as a class. If it only benefitted rapists then other men would not be so willing to go along. A trammeled, subservient class that provides emotional, physical and economic benefit in excess of what it receives is a nice thing to have around. It provides rewards that are visceral and personal. Societies such as the Taleban and the FLDS are structured around maintaining an exaggerated version of this subordination. It is more efficient and less work to have a less formal structure. Then, all you need to do is keep certain key activities, such as contraception, in a perpetual state of danger to exert a significant amount of disciplinary force. Leverage - it's not just for Wall Street.
We can look at something like the abandonment of the people in New Orleans to die by inches and immediately recognize this as an instance of racism, even when complicated by other matters like straightforward bureaucratic incompetance. White people would not have been left to their fates in that way. Those who do not have an ideological investment in disempowering citizens and a regulatory state can identify and describe the institutional racial biases that put that particular group at such risk. But where is that kind of analysis when confronted with a pattern of men rounding up women and girls and executing them in public places? If the murderers at the Amish school or Platte Canyon High School had rounded up all Blacks or all East Asians and beaten and murdered them, would we be discussing the psychosis of the murderer, or would we be discussing the pernicious influence of racism?
Misogyny is excused away in great part because it is privatized, a "domestic" form of violence that is a manifestation of the bad relationship between particular individuals, not a pattern of behavior endemic to the society. If it is a private matter, there's nothing to be done except hope the people involved "reform". The violence is decentralized, making it difficult to oppose. The violence flourishes most where tradition is strongest - the family home, the military, religious organizations and academia.
This is why the question has to be turned on individual men to drive home that you are absolutely complicit in a social system that excuses rape, beatings and murder of women because they are women. Until men confront and punish the men who engage in this, it won't stop. Which means giving up your privilege, which is more than anything the ability to remain oblivious of the damage done because you have the luxury of not having to face it.
As I said in an email to someone earlier today, perhaps the unrecognized violence here is that done to the men who would never consider doing such a thing, yet are always judged on the basis of the worst they might do. Of all the men I know or come into contact with, there are exactly two who have my absolute trust that they will not do me harm if offered the opportunity to do so. I'm married to one and the daughter of the other. Every other man I am around is on my scale of "probably not an immediate danger" to "get away from him now". I do not ever ride in a car alone with a guy if I can help it. I'd rather walk or take the bus or wait for a female friend or call the spousal unit to come pick me up. I don't meet in rooms with doors closed. I don't invite male friends over unless the spousal unit is at home. I watch what my male coworkers do, listen to what they say, judge how they talk about women, constantly evaluate whether they are erratic, bullying, dominant, or exhibit other behaviors that indicate potential danger. I don't have a choice about remaining ignorant of the behavior of the men around me because it very much is the difference between life and death. Every. Single. Day.
I'm reading the comments on the earlier and finding a lot of excuses for why men don't know what their fellows are up to, or why it's not really what it looks like, or how are you supposed to know if somebody did something, or some other explanation. Mandos (the tender of souls in Tolkien mythology) asks if it is responsible to remain oblivious. It is certainly easier to remain oblivious. It will be less work for you. It leaves the women out there having to defend themselves from all sides, but at least you won't be uncomfortable around the guys while joking about the hawtness of the new girl in marketing. I think that even asking the question indicates a knowledge that the price for your oblivion is the abuse of the women around you.
When I discuss misogyny in my academic voice, men feel reassured because it is an amorphous "they" who are discussed, maybe a statistical sample, it's a problem over there, not here. It's a voice I cultivated in academia so I would be taken seriously, manipulating abstractions that did not challenge the actual situation, which was having a professor with a three decade track record of propositioning, molesting and forcing himself on his female students as my graduate advisor, specifically assigned to him to show to the university that he was "rehabilitated" after his most recent incident, one that cost the university plenty to keep it out of the papers. When my voice shifts, dropping abstractions and addressing the fact that violence against women is done by men indistiguishable from you and I am tired of hearing excuses for why you don't know anything about the crimes around you, you feel personally threatened.
Welcome to the club.